The chemistry between Viggo Mortensen and David Cronenberg works. They worked together in A History of Violence, and they pair up again in Eastern Promises. On this occasion, he plays Nikolai, the driver of one of the most important families of organized crime in London and Eastern Europe. In person, Viggo has nothing in common with his character. Nikolai's harshness turns into complicity and familiarity. He is a Hollywood star, and he knows it, but he doesn't buy it.
What is your relationship with David Cronenberg like?
We have a good time together, share the same type of humor, we laugh about the same things and we work in a similar way. He also prepares thoroughly before shooting, and his ego does not prevent him from accepting what others may bring to the shooting.
To play Nikolai, you decided to spend some time in Russia
I had already learned what I needed to know about the language to play my part fairly well; in fact, I did not need to go to Russia, but it really helped me. I like to keep in my mind the places my character is from: what the forests look like, the food, what makes people laugh... To know how they react in each instance.
In Eastern Promises you play a bad guy. Is it more appealing for an actor to play a villain?
Nikolai is as good or as bad as you or me. He has many different aspects, many nuances, just like all the characters in Cronenberg's movies.
But in movies like Lord of the Rings, it is pretty easy to tell who the good and who the bad characters are ...
It's true. It's a different way of making movies. Although Aragorn also had nuances. I thought he must have been tired sometimes, which does not usually happen with a fiction hero. Aragorn got tired, angry, he made mistakes, he had doubts, fears... I tried to present a character that would look like a believable human being.
Has Aragorn left a mark in your career?
If I had not worked in Peter Jackson's trilogy, I wouldn't have filmed with Cronenberg or Agustín Díaz Yanes. I know that the success of those movies opened the door so that other directors would want to work with me.
In Eastern Promises there is a scene in which you have to fight naked in a bathhouse. What do you remember about that scene?
I know it sounds weird, but we laughed a lot shooting that scene. It was ridiculous when they cut to shoot another take and I stayed there, naked, without knowing very well what to do. Cronenberg is very good at those times; in complex situations, he makes jokes so as to break the ice; it's his own way of creating a relaxed atmosphere.
What are you filming now?
A western, Appaloosa, directed by Ed Harris. It's the adaptation of a novel extolling friendship, that takes place in 1882. Renee Zellweger and Jeremy Irons also star. He plays a very interesting bad guy, a person who is very difficult to understand.
Apart from acting, you write poetry, have a publishing house, you like photography, you paint...
I like to observe the world from an artistic point of view. It is important to pay attention to life. I like to draw, take pictures, read, go to the movies, and above all, to observe.
Have you had a chance to reconcile with Almodóvar after the comments you made when he did not show up for the Goyas?
The truth is I have not had a chance to see him, but I don't have problems with Almodóvar. I said what I thought; I don't know if it was a good idea or not, but that's how it came out. I saw a certain behavior and I gave my opinion. I don't regret what I did, but I don't have any problems (with him) and I wish him the best. He is an important artist and he will continue to make interesting movies.
How do you deal with fame?
It's like everything else, if you take it too seriously... It's part of the job. And if people go to the theater to watch one of your movies, and they like it and applaud... I'm not going to complain! The red carpet and the pictures is weird, and sometimes, blinding. If you don't take it too seriously, you can be a part of it without buying it.
Since you like soccer so much, wouldn't you like to work in a movie about it?
I think it is very difficult to make a good movie about any sport. Well, I could play the part of a coach because I am rather old to be the soccer player (laughs).