R: Our next guest is apparently the kind of person who makes the entire staff of Air America lose its mind which has been very fun to watch today. Viggo Mortensen is here in the studio and his gangster role in the new David Cronenberg film Eastern Promisesin my personal layman's take on it kind of opinion, um, really awesome. I'm very impressed. It's nice to meet you. Thank you for coming in.
V: Nice to meet you. I've enjoyed listening to you.
R: Oh! Thank you! Really? You're a not so secret liberal.
V: Uh, no, there's no secret about it at all.
R: Does it, do you have to make a decision about how public to be in your politics. Does it effect your opportunities in the art world?
V: I don't really care.
V: No (laughs)
R: (laughs) Good. I mean you have a lot of different jobs. You uh, you have this movie star thing going on but you're also a pretty accomplished visual artist and you have this Perceval Press, you are the co-owner of Perceval Press and you are in a band and you do all sorts of different kinds of music.
Do you feel like that's all one job or do you feel like you have a lot of different jobs?
V: No, I think it's all one job. I think anybody who engages in any artistic activity is just curious about life and making sure they learn as much as they can and notice as much as they can along the way in what is really a pretty short journey regardless of what you might think happens afterward if anything. What we do know is we're here for a short time and I'm just curious. But I mean I don't think you have to be quote unquote an artist. As a person you can live artistically just by paying attention to what's going on and that includes politics, that includes art, that includes people that includes obviously many things, everything, the environment--
R: But as-
V: the radio (laughs)
R: artistry. But if you are an artist, if you do that for work, your success effects the amount of the rest of the time in your life that you can spend doing things.
V: True enough. Well, in terms of movies, I'm on a worldwide tour with David Cronenberg which is always fun, whatever excuse to hang out with him I think is fun. I like his sense of humor. I like his sensibility. He's very astute and uh, a keen observor of people and human behavior. So it's great to be with him. Laugh a lot. Learn a lot. But it does take time to prepare. If you're going to prepare your role as an actor or as a director properly that takes quite a lot of time and focus and energy. So does shooting and promoting as we're doing now. It takes time. And it's true that it takes time away from other things. But you know, I manage to get off a few pictures, take a few pictures, write a few things down late at night in hotel rooms as I bounce around the world.
R: It's an opportunity cost in terms of time, but there's also the other side of it, which is that if you make a lot of money and get famous as a moviestar, that lets you, that allows you the time and resources to live your life more the way you want to, I guess, I mean, but -
V: Well, yeah, if you get some money you can help people in direct ways but you can also - it's a double-edged sword - your views, whether they're well-considered or not will reach a lot of people (R: yeah) and be commented on harshly, depending on what side of the spectrum you're on politically, or perceived to be. I've sort of been misquoted a lot and, uh, have been attacked for saying what I felt was true - and was was even patently obvious - about the ongoing occupation of Iraq and meddling. You know, I've always felt that it was, to say the very least, a shame that the U.S. doesn't seem to have learned anything from its long and disastrous series of misadventures, uh, meddling in the affairs of other nations and other peoples, you know- and you know the cost to our national treasure, and by treasure, I mean both blood and gold, is legendary (laughs ironically), you know, for the past well over a century now. And it seems like instead of learning, it just seems to be getting worse and worse, like we want to hasten the demise of our power and our credibility in the world, it seems like. And sadly, I don't think there are too many voices that seem to have a legitimate chance within the kind of rigged system, the election system we have, the political system.
R: I wonder, though, if you think that what's going on in American politics right now in our decisions about the war and other things is really apocalyptic, like rushing into the abyss. [V agrees but can't discern what he says exactly] Then does that , is humanitarian work and humanitarian representation like doing, like this kind of film Eastern Promises in the way that you've done it, in the other parts that you've been involved in, is humanitarian work, the thing that, is that part of activism and trying to stop this headlong rush into the abyss?
V: Well, it can be. I don't tell people what to do. I try to mind my own business. But we are all connected you know. And if we don't - some of us don't like to think about it that much, when it's not convenient. And what you do and don't do, especially when you are informed and could say something or do something or are, as I am, in a position to be heard. I mean here I am on the radio. I'm not just in some bar in lower Manhattan talking to some guy that's going, "Yeah, yeah" or "no, no, no."
R: We obviously set up the studio wrong.
V: Yeah, where's the beer? But you can, I think it's maybe immoral not to do something. It's not surprise that the people running for President are playing it safe as usual. It's disappointing, but not surprising, but I don't know, you've got to try. Just because it looks pointless... I applaud Dennis Kucinich for speaking it out. (R: yeah) You could say, well he doesn't have much chance of winning. I guess you never know til it's over. But it's important that certain voices are heard.
On the Democratic side, I think he's the only one that's really being honest and has any guts. You know there were things that I felt were interesting for a while about Obama, but I think he's just playing it safe. He's copped out on the gay rights issue because the polls say this and that and he's essentially kissing up to the fundamentalist religious types in the country, you know, um, he's making peace with an isolationist world view. And by guts, I don't mean what he's done, what he's talking about with attacking Pakistan or something. It's just stupid. He wants to sound like a man who can win, do the job. It's just, it's disappointing and you know, I'm not saying that you have to be a Democrat.
If you're a Republican, what do you have there? I don't know. McCain seemed liked a guy with the integrity, but if you're more right wing in your views, but uh, and a guy who's been through a lot in his life and can speak from experience in terms of the military. But I really feel that he's sold his moral currency, sold his soul to Jerry Falwell and George W. Bush. You know, he's not - if I were a Republican, I don't think that I would feel that he was any more honest and courageous than, say, Hillary Clinton or Obama on the Democratic side. It is a little disappointing. I just hope the poeple who, like Kucinich, who have the intelligence, the preparation, the thoughtfulness and the guts above all to speak their mind when it's not convenient, I hope they stay in there as long as they can, no matter how futile.
It's going to take a lot. I mean there's not much that's been done to the country in recent years. It's going to take a lot, a really brave person who is not afraid to lose and if they win, miraculously, is not afraid to only serve one term. That's what it's going to take - and then some! You know, and I don't see anybody other than say Kucinich really going for it in that way on either side, you know?
There's one thing I thought about in Eastern Promises, the movie I did, which has nothing to do with the presidential election, obviously, but its a story in which, you know, there's a certain amount of savagery, difficult circumstances in which the midwife, played by Naomi Watts lives, her life is not easy, her family life. And the character that I play, this Russian underworld type and he lives in a kind of brutal world. But both of those characters in some way have a moral compass. You know, in spite of the fact that there's no reward for it, uh, they're not going to get any thanks. In fact, they're putting themselves at great risk. They are compelled to do the right thing, like a Kucinich. They're compelled to act on what they know, no matter what the cost. And there are people like that.
It is possible to turn things around, but it's going to take something really strong, a really strong stance and follow through from someone.
There's a thing I was going to say..There was this, have you ever heard of Alfred Kochitsky (sp?), he's a Polish-born, among other thing, a pretty good philosopher, and he said one time, "God may forgive your sins, but your nervous system won't," which I thought about that a lot when making the movie. (smile in voice) And I think that you could say that about the country in terms of the elections. God might forgive your sins but your nervous system won't. To me, the nervous system of the country is, among other things, the judicial system, the school system, the health care system, you know, civil liberties generally, the infrastructure of the country - the roads, bridges, the - everything. Uh, we're really sick right now. We're really, really doing badly and it's going to take more than one good president, one, it'll take the best president this country's ever had, the gutsiest, the most honest, far beyond any president we've ever had. We'll have to take the best president anyone's ever seen in the world and it'll take more than just one term from that person to put us back on something like a good track.
R: I'm worried, though, that what we're looking for in order to find that is the perfect person, the person with the perfect biography or the perfect experience or the perfect set of things they've been through already in their life. And that's what we can talk about. That's what we can imagine as a country in terms of a character, we get drawn into the character and we can't yet talk about the systems that are broken in a way tha engages people.
V: No, well, it's a lot about the look and the idea. I mean the idea of a woman being president, that's great, the idea of an African American person being president or vice president, that's great in principle, but what are they saying? (R: yeah!) That's the problem. What are they talking about?
R: The idea of bridges that are well-maintained, not exactly exciting.
V: Yeah. And just elections in general. I mean it's never going to get better until we have a limited time to campaign, a set time like in some other countries, like Canada, European countries where let's say you have 4 months whatever. It starts on a given day. You are not allowed to have ads of any kind, you're not allowed to campaign or spend money on campaigning until that date. And you must stop on a certain date, let's say the day before the election, I don't know, or the day of the election. And everybody gets the same money. And it should be federally funded. There's no question about it. And then it's up to you. If you're cleverer in terms of the PR people you hire with that given money and you have a better campaign and your ideas are better or are put across better or more effectively then you may win. But until we have an even playing field, you're never going to get the best candidates. It's going to occur to people to run who have something to say, something really to contribute and who may not just be people who want to be powerful. And, I don't know, maybe it's the best candidate money can buy.
R: And in order to get to a changed system, we may need a brave candidate to break through with the existing system which might mean somebody really unexpected, to um..
V: Yeah, I don't know how it's going to happen, but I am, I am eternally hopeful.
R: If Dennis Kucinich is listening to this right now and hears you say nice things about him and calls you and asks you to do something, would you say yes?
R: Dennis? [as if she's calling him] (laughter) I not going to give you his phone number but pick him up on the Google. Viggo Mortensen, its really nice to meet you. I've wanted to meet you for a long time, not because I, not only because I'm a fan of your acting work, but because you've always seemed like an interesting guy. So it's really nice to do this, to meet you.
V: Well, thank you. And keep on going. I listen to Air America as much as I can - a lot of - that perception thing we were talking about, a lot of it is in the media and I drive all across and up and down the US a lot and there's only small pockets, as you know, where you can get Air America on the radio. You can go through some major cities and then it sort of fizzles out after a while, you know. You are the underdog. But you are doing things right and I think persistence does sometimes pay off. Patience pays off.
R: I'll stick with it as long as they allow me to. Absolutely.
V: Thank you.
R: Viggo Mortensen's movie is called Eastern Promises and it's really good and you will read a lot of reviews that talk about a couple of scenes in the film that are violent. And if you are skeeked out by movie violence like I am, let me tell you, it is a movie that has a couple of violent scenes, but you should not not see it because of that - because the movie has a lot else going on including absolutely nailing this London underworld Russian mafia thing that just blows you away. Go see it.