Viggo Mortensen was born in New York but he feels at home only in Buenos Aires, where he feeds his fever for soccer (he is a fan of San Lorenzo de Almagro) and cultivates the arts which allow him to express himself. Cinema is only one of them.
GQ Italy: May 2007
Image Matthias Vriens.
© 2007 CondéNet Inc.
We really seem two children, each one fifteen years old at most. Instead, we make almost ninety years together. I'm speaking with Viggo Mortensen for twenty minutes, and the only topic we have been able to discuss are the old and blessed soccer player picture cards.
Argentinean football players, to be more precise. The "Boy" Vieira against El Coco Telch. Things dating from around the end of the Sixties. It's like a sort of "I've got it" or "I'm missing it" play of memories.
He is a passionate fan of San Lorenzo de Almagro, while I'm a Boca supporter. It all happens because we are in Buenos Aires and it's one of those delicious and warm days at the end of the summer, where the simplest thing to do is lose ourselves between memories and mate, the local tea Viggo loves so much.
Viggo, born of a Danish father and American mother, speaks about Argentina with great passion: he spent his life in Buenos Aires until he was 8, to the point of speaking Castilian with all of the "s" dragged, as is typical of the Spanish spoken down south. He came back to Buenos Aires when he could, twenty years later, then many times again, to find out that, among all the places in the world, this one fills his soul.
"When I came back for the first time," he says, "everything seemed much smaller, because the memories of a kid make everything appear bigger. Even before the plane landed, I felt at ease. After I got off, I immediately found again the people's habits and the lifestyle. And of course I have been infected. You can't go through Argentina staying away from soccer. San Lorenzo is the football team of the area I know best: Boedo. It's a popular area and the people who live there have always had to work hard. In fact the team I love so much, the one from the Sixties, was called 'carasucias', which means dirty faces'. They were very pragmatic people. They won four soccer seasons in six years. They were just unbeatable. Not even your Boca at its best could do it."
Today San Lorenzo, whose coach is Ramon Diaz, former player of the Italian teams Inter and Fiorentina, is again the championship leader. The men change, but not the spirit. The stadium is called after a garage, 'Nuevo Gasometro', and the people from Boedo in their daily life have always worked hard. A reality quite far from the Viggo's reality.
" I am what I am and there is nothing I can do. But I have never changed a bit of myself because of my work or, worse, because of the success I have reached. I am privileged, but I have never taken advantage of it. I go to the stadium in the curved sector, with a scarf around my neck. I owe so much to my Spanish background."
What do you mean by that?
"I was born in New York, I travelled all over the world and it's difficult to label myself as being from one place or from another. When I grew up in America though, meeting other Latin people like me, from Mexico or from Puerto Rico, I understood that we had something in common. Even if they all seemed quite weird because of their different accents: I thought they were all idiots, but the idiot was me, instead."
In the historical drama Alatriste, you portray a Spanish soldier in the wars of the XVII Century, speaking Castilian.
"I am an old romantic, and I love costume movies. Elizabeth is my favourite."
But this one is more of a war movie. Did we need it?
"It is a movie about a dirty war, very hard and difficult. It certainly isn't a glorification of war."
Then what is it about?
"The character, the director and the whole project won me over. I wanted to be Alatriste at any cost. Movies about the French or English imperial wars have been made, but about Spanish history there is an unexplainable gap. Alatriste fills this gap. But it is a movie about the human condition, more than a movie about war. It tells the fight from the point of view of a soldier who, at a certain point, doesn't understand anymore what kind of battle he is fighting. There is also the torture problem. An up-to-date topic, don't you think? I believe that in Iraq there are very few American soldiers left who still know what they are doing over there."
You are often blamed for putting politics in every interview you do.
"I think that this is an undeserved blame, because I never did anything to get it. It all began during the time of Lord of the Rings, after September 11th. All the reporters asked me if that movie had a metaphorical sense. They asked which character could symbolize Rumsfeld or Bin Laden. Of course there wasn't any bond, because when Tolkien wrote that novel none of them were alive. But this is what the media want, so sometimes you have to adapt. I know I am a public persona, and if they ask me a question, I speak my mind. And I don't care too much if the answer is politically correct or not."
In Hollywood this doesn't help.
"In my life, I never did anything while weighing the effects of my actions. If you ask me what I'm planning for the next two years, I really don't know. Acting, writing, taking pictures or painting are all things which answer the necessity to express what I have inside me. And there is no preferential order among them, only chances that I try to take day by day."
Then, do you have any plan for the next two months?
"I don't belong to any social circle. I don't attend parties in order to meet this producer or that director. I'm quite lucky for being able to preserve my little own world away from show business. I receive proposals and I understand I have certain needs. I have to put myself to the test. There is only one thing which rules my choices: I do things where I can learn something. In the next two months? I hope to publish a couple of poetry books through my publishing house."
Yes, I forgot the publishing house.
"It is small, we publish no more than eight new titles each year. I know, it's hard for me to get everywhere, but publishing the work of people that no one else would do, gives me a lot of satisfaction. I often say: life can make you feel crazy or even gloomy. But bored, never."
If you had become a soccer player...?
"I really wasn't good at it. I can play, but only for fun. I'm a good fan, though, I wear the 'azulgrana' shirt, the one with the San Lorenzo colours, even at the movie premieres."
See you at the stadium, then?
"I can't wait. But this time, we win!"