The Viggo Question & Answer Session at C.U.N.Y.
6 January 2006
New York Times Arts and Leisure Weekend
Interview at C.U.N.Y. 1.6.06.
© Viggo's Knight. Used by permission.
JM: Um...it's time...let's have some questions from the audience. We have microphones on either side...um...all questions about Lord of the Rings that are specific in detail are gonna come from somebody here...
VM: (interrupting) Oh you see that shirt over there? I told you there would be some people...
JM: Oh. Would you stand up with that shirt? He has shirts like this backstage.
VM: Right! Nice! (applause) I...I have one for you that's similar. It's...I think it's clean. (audience laughter)
JM: I told you, I hope it's not. (laughing)
VM: It's this. (applause) And I know it's in somewhat bad taste to promote a product, you know, but...uh...the product of, you know, free speech, democracy, peace, I think those are worthwhile promoting. So here you go. Nice pyjamas, you know. (applause)
JM: All right, audience, come on. No...no...where are the microphones? They are up here, so if you would bravely come up here? Yeah, over there. So...there you go.
Q1: Hi, Viggo.
Q1: Um...we've been talking about your acting work. My question relates to more of your artistic areas...um...do you attribute your art to your spirituality, or does your spirituality come from your art, or...whatever you want to go in that direction with this question?
VM: Um...well, I think that artists have to a large degree...um...you know, in the past century or more, not all of them look at it that way probably, but they have taken potentially the place of priests. Certainly of government leaders by and large, in terms of being the people in society who...um...don't just look at history, don't just tell you what's been going on, don't just look at what's going on right now, but who actually...um...you know, think about what might happen or what should happen, and...um... in that sense there's potentially a spirituality to being an artist. And like I was saying to Janet before, I don't separate the paintings from the movies and the photography or whatever. I mean, I continue to be interested and try to integrate new things I learn, you know, as much as possible. And I enjoy working with other artists that, for example, that Perceval Press publishes, because they show me things that make me think in a different way about my own work. That's why I like to go to movies, that's why I like to go to museums, that's why I like to walk down the street, you know. So, you know, ideally everybody is an artist in some sense, because I think art is...it's just...for me anyway, it's...it's observing and filtering, which is what we do anyway, and giving, even if it's just for yourself, an honest answer to what you're seeing, or version of what you think you've seen or felt, you know. Another long answer that didn't really go anywhere, but (audience laughter) you know what I mean, I think.
Q1: Well, thank you, I appreciate...um...you've taken the guts to take the administration to task. That's wonderful.
VM: Oh well that's easy. (applause) Thank you. It's unfortunately all too easy to do so.
Q2: Hi...um...just two quick questions. How do you find the people that you publish? Are they acquaintances of yours or... because, like the Furlough 55, that gentleman is...is the person that actually develops your own images, or...
VM: Yeah. It sort of goes into it in the book a little bit. It was just a freak thing, a lucky thing that I saw some images that the father of the guy who I'm working in a lab with on, on putting together images for the books, you know, for the reproductions. Um...he showed me some black and white pictures from the fifties, they were really beautiful. I said, "Who took those?" And he said, "Oh, my dad." I said, "Oh, he's a photographer." He said, "No, not really. He's a doctor and he's retired, and he was in the army in the Fifties, stationed in Europe." And there was something about the pictures that were really advanced in terms of photography. He had obviously looked at, you know, I don't know...um...lots of different photographers from the Thirties and Forties. It looked like he had a real understanding of composition and all, it was just... I said, "Are there more of these?" He said, "Yeah." And he brought in all these negatives and it was interesting. It was also interesting in that particular case because these pictures captured something that is...that's gone, you know. In the Fifties, mid-Fifties, you know, we were as Americans pretty well liked around the world, and...um...we had done, you know, some pretty good things recently, you know, in the Forties, for people in Europe and other places. And there was an innocence and...um...there was something beautiful that's more or less lost...um...that these pictures captured, you know. The way that people...cause there were a lot of portraits in it, the way these people, who you don't know who they are, but...um...the friendliness, the lack of guardedness, I guess, in these portraits, spoke to what...how they looked to this soldier taking their pictures. Sort of somewhat clumsy, over-friendly American, you know, and...and I liked that. But no...generally, it just depends...that was one lucky thing. Um...there was a book that we put out last year, an Icelandic painter named Georg Gudni...
Q2: It's excellent.
VM: Oh, thank you.
Q2: That was an excellent book.
JM: I'm going to go to the next question, cause it's sort of like a lightning round.
VM: That was just that I met him at a gallery.
Interview at C.U.N.Y. 1.6.06.
© cityladynyc. Used by permission.
JM: At a certain point we're going to have to clear the room, so let's get a lot of questions...
Q3: Good evening. My question is this -you are an artist of many different media...um...if you weren't an actor, or a painter, a photographer, what do you think you might be doing with your life right now? I understand you have a degree in political science. Would you have taken that route? Would it have been something entirely different? Or can you not know?
VM: I don't know. I'm gonna give short answers now. (audience laughter)
JM: Very nice.
Q4: Good morning, Viggo. I'm sure you've got many wonderful roles ahead of you but so far in your career what role has given you the greatest sense of accomplishment or satisfaction with what you did and how it came out?
VM: Well, there isn't any role I've played that I haven't found something of interest in the character, you know. I'm aware of the fact that the majority of the movies I've been in have not been necessarily masterpieces, which I would say History of Violence is. Um...I don't...you asked me if I have a favourite character, or I got the most out of playing, I...I don't really know. As I said before in terms of process, the process of preparing, and no offense to any other director, but of making A History of Violence, the way it was put together, the way we worked together was ideal.
JM: The thing you're working on next is very exciting, too. The "Captain Alatriste"...Alatriste?...novels there are...um...there are I think seven or six of them. It's hugely popular in Spanish. Is the film in Spanish?
VM: It's all in Spanish, yeah. And...um...
JM: Can you say the name of the character in Spanish?
VM: Capitan Alatriste.
JM: OK. (audience laughter)
VM: His full name is Diego Alatriste y Tenorio...um...and it's a soldier of fortune, you know, in the seventeenth century. Pretty interesting period.
JM: It's...it's great stuff. So...
VM: It's great. Well, the books are out now, starting, as you said, in English.
Q5: Hi, Viggo. I was just wondering how does being a famous actor affect your personal life?
JM: Really well, I bet. (audience laughter)
VM: Um...well, you know, there is...there is a certain...um... Yeah, certainly any loss of privacy is compensated handsomely by the opportunities I've had to travel and to, you know, learn about things in making movies. So I'm not really complaining about that. But it is an issue that for me...um...I'm a little more guarded than I probably would be if I did another line of work. But I really can't say because this is what happened, you know. So I don't know how it would be otherwise.
JM: Let's say you are in a restaurant with your son, and you're talking about something important and somebody comes over and says "I'm a huge fan of yours, could you please sign..." What do you do?
VM: Um...I'm generally, I think, pretty good about that. I'll start...I'll apologise to my son or whoever I'm with and do it. But at other times I'll...I'll be able to, in a polite way say, "You know, I'm..." and I have done this a lot, "I'm on vacation, all right, it's Sunday morning, I'm with my son, you know, perhaps another time." And then some people would be very insistent and say, "Well I've come. I'll never see you again." or something. And I understand, (audience laughter), but, you know, at a certain point...I'm not very good at drawing a line sometimes and then they pile up and pile up and I get annoyed sometimes, but...anyway...
Q6: Over the years a number of Viggo-based web fansites have turned up on the internet. A couple of them...Musings, for one, Errant Vines, Viggo-Works, have within their membership a number of people that were inspired by you to take up some form of art and self-expression. Those sites have some incredibly talented people on them, and I wondered if you ever had...had the occasion to visit the sites and your comments, whether you have or not.
VM: One of the ones you said I've seen...um...and I've heard about that and had people tell me tha...that, you know, I...either, "I used to draw" or, "I used to write as a teenager but then I felt like, or was made to feel like I wasn't good at it, and left it and then I'm doing again." Supposedly because, you know, something that they had read of mine and so on, you know. That's great. I'm very flattered by that. And in general I find that people...like whether it's that they want an autograph, they want to connect or exchange a drawing, I think that's a...um...I'm really flattered by that, because it means that the stories I've been in...cause obviously they know me first and foremost generally from acting, I think, but it could be stories and paintings, too. The stories have meant something to them, that something has connected. And to me that's what art is anyway. Ideally it's about connecting with the world and with people, so that's...that's a good thing. I'm...I'm very honoured by that.
Q7: I was wondering about...you're always talking about the interconnectedness of your art and of poetry and of music and of painting, and a number of the books you've published, like Mike Davis' books, deal with mythology. I wondered if there are sources you drew from in creating the character of Tom Stall, maybe sort of an American mythology
VM: Yeah. I mean, I always...I think there is...there is very few first or original stories and we tell...constantly are telling different versions of those stories all over the world. This is why, you know, if you study mythology, at all you see there are so many incredible, inexplicable at times, connections in terms of ritual and storytelling all over the world, and that's always interested me. So every movie is connected to those first stories I guess, and with History of Violence, you know, he's talking about the devil or the monster and all that stuff, and, I mean, you see the elements of History of Violence in Greek tragedies. You see it in The Double, you know, Dostoevsky, you see it in a lot of...it's a constant, you know, that theme, particularly with brothers, you see that a lot...um...the other, you know, the mirroring, and all those things. So yeah, in the case of this story it was specifically...um...I thought about those things quite a bit and I enjoyed working with someone like Cronenberg who is supersmart, well-read man with a huge library. And someone like William Hurt, you know, my brother...um...who also is an incredibly intelligent man. This was really fun. It was like a...you know, getting paid to go to this great, you know, university course, I suppose, in tragedy, you know.
Q8: I've enjoyed all your varied, different characters you've played, whether hero or devil eating Christopher Walken's heart...
VM: That was fun.
Q8: And I like the way you change your appearance for each role, physically, your body language and so forth. That's my statement. My question is...I understand tomorrow night you're going to be presenting David Cronenberg with an award in Palm Springs...now that's quite an honour isn't it?
VM: For me to do that? Yeah, absolutely. Well, it's for him, it's long overdue.
JM: What's the award?
VM: Visionary...I mean, best director. It's like a visionary film maker award at their festival.
Q8: Did he choose you to present the award?
VM: I don't know that. I don't know that.
Q8: Well thank him anyway.
VM: Oh OK. No, I'm really glad to do that and I think he's gotten nowhere near the credit he should have gotten.
Interview at C.U.N.Y. 1.6.06.
© Viggo's Knight. Used by permission.
Q9: Hola Viggo. Felicidades los Reyes Magos.
VM: Muchas gracias.
Q9: Y dos preguntas. Number one...who do you admire most as an actor or actress?
VM: That's a very very dangerous question to answer and, you know, if you ask me about painters, photographers...um...I'd probably give you the same answer, which is I wouldn't pick one. There's a lot of people out there that I've learned from. There isn't one...one model, you know. I've worked with a lot of people that I admire.
JM: It's only the New York Times. It won't get around. (audience laughter)
VM: Uh...yeah...I don't really have a good answer for that.
Q9: Not necessarily people you've worked with but others.
VM: Well...you know, I guess I could say as far as getting into acting that...I was kind of in the moment as far as a cuurent movie at the time...or recent...Meryl Streep was someone that I looked up to quite a bit and The Deer Hunter...she was the one that really..., and Chris Walken. Meryl Streep was someone I really admired and Greta Garbo also. There was something about her. There was something that she almost always was able to transmit, that I think is a mystery to me. And there's a performance by Maria Falconetti in Joan Of Arc...The Passion Of Joan Of Arc because that was the only role she ever did and afterwards she sort of lost it I think because Carl Dreyer probably drove her crazy - and that film maker I like. But those women I guess are sort of...but I wouldn't say they are better or worse than others but I just sort of gravitated to what they were doing.
JM: Garbo, that's a really interesting answer.
Q9: Numero dos. Puede aceptar un regalito que le traje? Es un libro.
(Would you accept a small present that I brought for you? It is a book.)
VM: Pues...si quiere dejarlo aca, pero mejor ahora no porque tenemos que continuar con esto. Me lo da despues.
(Well...if you would like to leave it here, but not now because we need to continue with this. Give it to me later.)
VM: Muchas gracias.
Q10: Hi Viggo. I'd like to thank you because you've inspired me to explore my own artistic self also but I've seen a couple of your photography exhibits and they were wonderful. I'd like to know when you're going to do an exhibit of some of your paintings that you've had in some of your books.
VM: Um...well, I haven't...taking photographs and working on them although time-consuming isn't as requiring of time, you know, isolated time, for me as finishing a painting. I have a lot of unfinished paintings and I don't know, maybe...I don't know if I'll do it this year.
VM: Well, thank you. I have a photo show coming up soon.
Q10: Yeah, I know in L.A. but I'd love to see an exhibit of your paintings.
VM: Thank you.
JM: Do you have anything planned in New York?
VM: Um...Robert Mann Gallery where I've shown before...maybe showing there this fall, probably the black and white pictures from the book I gave you.
Q11: Like Ms Maslin I'm a great fan of The Indian Runner and I was wondering if you'd take a moment to discuss your favourite scene from the film, the finished product or just any story about the film. Especially in the context of what you were saying about brothers, people in relationships vying for position, because there's certainly a lot of that in the film.
VM: I'm really terrible at the anecdotes of the movies, you know, and I read these interviews with people and I don't know if they're prepared or just...but, you know, there's some great little...I'm terrible and you've heard me just rambling on. But I can tell you when I read the script, in terms of the brothers, that...
JM: Did you know the song before you got the script?
VM: Yeah, I did.
JM: I've got a brother named Frankie...
VM: Bruce Springsteen, yeah. I really...I kinda liked the older brother part more but, you know, Sean would have none of that. (audience laughter) I don't know why but I sort of liked the idea...I guess because it was, in a sense, less there on the page...whereas Frankie was written a certain way and, you know...
JM: No good, he's just no good.
VM: Yeah, well, he was written as really bad, bad...but in the end we actually added layers to that which I'm glad so he wasn't just bad, there was a reason there. But I liked the older brother I liked something about him because to me again it's that mirroring thing. It's...so when is he like his brother, you know, such that he can understand him so well...you know what I mean? There must be something there and I think he must have had a lot of fun playing Joe, you know.
JM: We're going to get eight questions into five minutes.
VM: OK I'm gonna do it.
Q12: I'll be fast. First of all my daughter's here, I hope I'm not embarrassing her by doing this. I have your book Coincidence Of Memory, I love your poem about the oceans, I just wanted you to know that. And I have a real curiosity about something I read in article where you had written poetry when you were doing Hidalgo and someone broke into your car and stole it. Did you ever get it back? I really need to know this.
Q12: You didn't?
JM: I'm sorry.
Q13: Hi Viggo. I'm really an admirer of all of your works but I'm particularly interested in your paintings and I wanted to know whether you ever make available to the public any of your paintings, or reproductions of your paintings?
VM: Well...all the ones that I've finished, except one that I kept, have been sold so, yeah, when I finish them I'll...they'll definitely be for sale.
Interview at C.U.N.Y. 1.6.06.
© cityladynyc. Used by permission.
Q14: I really enjoyed the recent poem Done in the book Linger...
VM: Mmmm...there's a typo by the way.
Q14: I'm sorry...?
VM: There's a typo in that poem.
Q14: There's a typo?
VM: Yeah it says, "to to" and I didn't mean to so cross that one out. (audience laughter)
Q14: I liked it because it helped me remember a time when I had the luxury to mourn something for a long time, long enough to see the blood mixing with the pavement. Now that I'm older it seems like I have to spend more time getting over things so I can get to other things and I don't have the full time to mourn it. I don't think there is enough attention paid to your work and I was wondering if you could read that poem for us.
JM: (A kind of disapproving) Ooohhhhhh...
VM: I won't get to the other questions though will I?
JM: Let's vote. Who wants him to read it? Who wants the questions answered?
VM: How about we answer the questions really fast and if there's time I'll read it.
JM: Really fast. Yes?
Q15: Not really a question...thank you Mr Mortensen. I had the opportunity to visit Pine Ridge Reservation in October and it was hosted by a family of the Lakota and I stayed there for a couple of days and...um...I've taken on a fund-raising event for a OST Healthy Start programme and I would like to know if you would please accept this shirt on our behalf.
VM: Sure. Thank you.
JM: Next question...
Q16: I really enjoyed your preface and introduction to John Howe's art book which was in French. I...a...wondered if you wrote that in French or was it translated from English and second in the Best Non-Required Reading and I wondered if you have any plans to do any longer writing, any books in the future that you have because god knows you've travelled everywhere so you must have stories. I was wondering if you have any plans for that?
VM: I'm probably going to put out some short stories that I have. One that actually...but I'm not going to give that away. But what was the thing with the French thing you were telling me about?
Q16: John Howe's art book introduction...
VM: Oh right.
Q16: It's in French so I wondered whether you wrote that in French...
VM: No...well, I mean, I can write in French, just not as well as that translator, but I wrote in English and it was a book put out there so...they translated it, but they showed it to me.
Q17: I wanted to know if you allowed Henry to see HoV and...
VM: Yeah and he's going to be eighteen in a couple of weeks.
Q17: Well I know he is and he knows it's your profession but I was just wondering how he viewed it and...even though he knows it's 'acting' it's a very intense film and it's very...I saw it at a New Line screening and then I saw it at Lincoln Center
VM: As far as how he...no go ahead...
Q17: No I was just going to say, you know, I think a lot of people don't really understand how intense and simple that film is and cuts to every person so I can understand at eighteen he would see it but of course he's eighteen and we're in our forties...how does he view the film?
VM: Well you'd have to ask him how he views it. I know that he thought it was a good movie, generally speaking, and in terms of him knowing what's real and what isn't, you know, his whole life he's been with me in movie sets and he has a good understanding that what I do...although unusual, compared to what the other dads in his school for example do, it's still a job and I still have a lot of anxious moments. There's a lot of homework that goes into it, you know. It's a job where you have to show up, be ready and you have to do your job well enough to keep your job, you know, and get another job. So he doesn't have...I think he has a fairly healthy idea of what it is, what the make believe process is.
JM: Question, question, poem.
Q18: Hi Viggo, you actually may have answered my question already when you were talking about how you wanted to keep time for yourself to do your various artistic pursuits, you know, but given your passion about and knowledge of politics I was wondering if you'd ever...even in the future would consider running for political office?
VM: No it doesn't look like...I think I'd rather direct a movie...(audience laughter)...which is also difficult. But..you know I think a lot of people are being inspired who otherwise wouldn't do it because it's being done so poorly. Really I think, personally, we have a democracy only in name now. We have a kind of a failed state. We have democratic institutions, we have in principle separation of church and state, we have in principle checks and balances in government but really they don't work, hardly at all. They work less and less and, I mean, there's no industrialized country in the world has the degree of fundamentalism as right at the heart of how society works or such a preoccupation with it, such a questioning of scientific fact etc, etc, so...I'll stop there...so I can understand how a lot of people who hadn't thought about it otherwise are thinking about it. I mean, I support them.
Q19: Hi Viggo, my name is Carrie and I made a promise if I got here today I would ask you if you're aware of Viggo Chronicles and I also wanted to thank you and give you this for making my 40th birthday priceless.
VM: Oh OK. What's Viggo Chronicles?
Q19: It's a website and a lot of people I think are here that are supporters of it, and they asked me the last time I met you at History of Violence if I asked you about Viggo Chronicles. I'm like, "I'm sure he's aware of it." And they were, so...
VM: No, I wasn't. But I know that...well, I'll look. (laughs)
JM: Um...very fast...two questions. How many of you have ever been to a Viggo website, a fansite? And...um...isn't there anyone here who's gonna ask a hobbit question? (audience laughter) Here's the poem.
VM: Oh, OK...she wants to give me something. OK, thanks a lot. Oh, wow...this is in New York, right?
Q19: From the premiere of A History of Violence.
VM: Mmh. Good movie. (audience laughter) So, am I reading Done?
JM: Yeah. You did it. We were both terrified. It worked out. See?
VM: OK...um...hmmm... (reads Done) (applause)
JM: Thank you Viggo.
VM: Thank you.
Last edited: 17 March 2007 14:41:05