Vanity Fair (Spain)
Actor, poet, photographer, musician and always exquisitely provocative. Half Danish, half-American, half Argentinean. This is Viggo Mortensen. And there is no doubt that Hollywood pampers him: this year he beat his own record by shooting three films within six months [sic]. Besides, he strives to keep a very special relationship with Spain. In this interview, we discover why sleeping with him may mean waking up with a different man every morning.
© 2008 Vanity Fair España.
Viggo Mortensen arrives late. He is wearing blue pants and a San Lorenzo de Almagro t-shirt, the team he loves the most, whose flag he opens as a protective cloak and, from a corner, it will dominate our entire meeting. He is sorry for the delay, he promises to dedicate us more time than we had agreed on and he tries to compensate us by taking out of his bag three or four boxes of alfajores (a typical Argentinean sweet), that he spreads out on the table while he blames them for the delay: "I am late because I went to buy these." Nobody complains in the face of such a sweet strategy to silence us. What else does he carry in his bag? He lets us snoop: another t-shirt, a CD from the Estonian musician Arvo Pärt, and the latest product from his publishing house Perceval Press. And more music: Time Waits For Everyone, a piano recording by Mortensen himself, which will play as background music while we carry out the interview in a soft Spanish with an Argentinean accent, eroded by the other languages in which he can get by: English, French, Swedish, Russian, Italian and Danish. Mortensen is a man with many sides. Actor, photographer, poet, publisher and musician. Father, friend, lover and acute observer of the universe. Sleeping with him must be stimulating, not only for the obvious reasons. It means, according to him, waking up with a different man every morning.
Why does a reserved man, who hates what fame brings along, choose this profession without looking stupid?
"Because we actors are a bit mad. I like going out to a party from time to time, but I'm not looking for exposure. I have nothing against those who look for the limelight, but if you expose yourself, be careful. Then you cannot complain when they don't leave you alone."
Is success an antidote to fear or, on the contrary, does it feed it?
"I'm always afraid, and I always will be. Every time I finish a shoot I think about taking some time to prepare for the next. But sometimes projects come quicker than you think, as happened with Appaloosa. Right after that we started The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy's novel, directed by Australian director John Hillcoat. That means added fears. If I weren't afraid at the start of a movie, I would feel strange."
By now, the actor has managed to obtain a thermos with hot water: "Do you want to try mate?" he asks.
Where do you feel you are from?
"I was born in New York [on October 20th, 1958], I lived in Argentina and Denmark for family reasons. Because of the friends and the time that I spent here, I feel like I'm at home in Spain. But now my home is in Los Angeles. I'm American by citizenship and passport. I could have the Argentinean passport as well. I don't really care about them. If only we were not required to use one at all!"
Perhaps it's a coincidence, but it happens that all your friends are artists. Exene Cervenka, your ex-wife, and the mother of your son Henry, sings, paints and writes. Do you feel obliged to surround yourself with creative people?
"Not obliged. I get along with people who do things. My brothers are geologists, but they work in my publishing house, Perceval Press. They play the guitar and they are very creative. I'm not always surrounded by artists, though most of my friends are. An artist is one who observes, filters and then expresses something."
In the act of filtering, there can always be manipulation. Spanish psychiatrist Rojas Marcos said on one occasion that it is impossible to live without a small dose of self-deceit.
"We all lie to each other and to ourselves; everyday we show ourselves to the world in a different way. You wake up and look at yourself in the mirror, you brush your teeth, you choose your clothes, and you prepare coffee....Without thinking about it, you create a man with his own personality and that is different to the one from the day before, and that you show to the first person you see. There is a very good phrase in an X band song (my ex-wife's band): 'Life is a game that changes while you're playing'."
I'm going to risk giving you a very high grade in intellectual capacity. What about emotional intelligence?
[He pauses to think while he rolls another cigarette.] "I don't really know what that is. The way you control your emotions? Do I really look so organized? I control the chaos that surrounds me, but when it comes to emotions, it's a mess.
And from that controlled chaos, do you think you are bringing up your son better than you were brought up?
"You learn to be a son when you become a father, and you repeat all the things you criticized before."
It must be hard to be the son of Aragorn and a punk singer.
"We set the standard so high that sometimes they may feel lost, inferior, I don't know. I don't think my son has felt that way. If there's something his mother and I have done well, it is never pressing him about the things he has or doesn't have to do. We travel with him, we show him things and we awake his interest in things. Henry responds because he is a very special person. And because we treat him that way: as a person, not as 'the son of....' With lots of love and as a unique human being."
Does he know what he would like to do in life?
"He has worked in some films, he has talent for acting. He writes well, but I do not try to encourage him or make him change his mind about being a poet, even knowing that is very difficult to earn a living as a writer. He's 20 now, and he's trying to find his path on his own."
The challenges of the teen years are behind. Your conclusions?
"You will never be his partner. My son is very loving but one day, ending the ritual of our Friday night movie, he said that he preferred to go with his classmates. That breaks your heart, but it has to happen. Do you have children?"
A 10 year old boy, who has asked me for your autograph, signed as Aragorn.
The actor accepts the blank piece of paper, borrows a pen and writes with slightly slanted letters: "For Juan, with all the affection from Aragorn, Alatriste and Viggo". It's time to return to the photo session. "We will continue later, OK?...." he says as he lively goes up the stairs.
© 2008 Vanity Fair España.
And like he said, he returns after hours of flashes. He tells us that, without a break, he went from promoting Eastern Promises to the shooting of Appaloosa , directed by Ed Harris, with Renée Zellweger, Jeremy Irons and, once again, Ariadna Gil. The premiere in the States is going to be on October 3rd. That story about the Russian Mafia left us with an image of Viggo with a Russian soul, and a body to desire in the bath scene, in which he appears showing nothing but his own flesh. "There are very few directors that I consider masters in the art of moviemaking, and Cronenberg is one of them, just like Buñuel or Carl Dreyer. He pays attention to detail and he does his research just like a mad scientist. He cares about acting. A lot of good acting is lost because of the lack of tact of some directors."
Like yours, that was left on the cutting room floor in The Purple Rose of Cairo?
"It is like I never was in that film. I think it's common in Woody Allen's way of making movies. He throws out lots of material. He almost shoots the same film twice."
You are really fit. Are you worried about age?
"Not about age, I am 50 years old, but time worries me ever since I was a child. Sometimes I would wake up and think: what a pity, I'll die without being able to finish all the things I have to do in this life. That annoyed me. I'm not afraid of death; it is anger about the limits of time."
You look like the prototype of the patient man, in the slow mode of doing things without a hurry. How do you hide your moments of worry?
"I do not hide them, I simply cancel them. With lots of energy, curiosity and drinking lots of mate (Laughs). Do we switch to el Rioja?"
Do you know they call you the white-haired version of Brad Pitt?
[Displaying indifference]. "Really? I hadn't heard about that. I don't think it's good or bad. I do not know Brad Pitt and I don't think I have anything in common with him. Those are things people say to find you a label."
Viggo likes charms and really believes in their power. He takes one out of his bag; one that, according to the Mexican tradition, protects against corruption. His son gave it to him before shooting Eastern Promises. After all, the movie was about the mafia. Now, he wears a stone that was given to him while he was working in New Zealand.
Superstitious or religious?
"Very superstitious. I believe in luck and in the thousands of ways attracting it. I can go into a Mosque, or into the San Isidoro of León Collegiate Church, and sit there until things happen. I love visiting temples, churches, places that are supposed to be sacred, and that includes a cinema or a theatre. Where there's acting, there's communion."
Even in a soccer field?
"Yes, in my soccer team's: San Lorenzo de Almagro."
Mortensen has an honorary lifetime membership card for the soccer team whose colors, blue and red, he wears every time he can. He got it through some sort of initiation ritual: he went on to the field and faced the tough fans (named: La gloriosa) who shouted at him: "Son of a b..., queer gringo actor.....All this mixed, at the same time". He knelt on the field, pulled up some grass with his hands and began to eat it.
Tell me if this is right: do you still drive the car you bought 20 years ago?
"It's a truck and it works very well."
Are you farsighted or do you think that saving means you don't trust the future?
"I'm not a wizard when it comes to finances, but since I've been very lucky lately, I think I can afford to waste some money, in part, helping the ones who need it more than I do."
That sounds like the typical philanthropy that cleans bourgeois consciences.
"I'm not talking about that. I don't usually talk about the things I do. I'm helping my own family, for example. I think it is better to help in an anonymous way."
You have a degree in Politics from St Lawrence University (1980); you're a very good speaker, closer to Eastwood than to Schwarzenegger. Do you think you could do politics for a living?
"No, I don't think so. A couple of years ago, I helped Bob Johnson, a very conservative guy from a poor place in the north of New York, who had changed his ideas because of the dreadful social policies. He asked me for help after reading on the Internet about a speech I had made a year before about the awful sanitary service in the United States."
Who do you call when you need some advice?
"My friends and, above all, my son. He convinced me to accept working in The Lord of the Rings films. I hesitated because I didn't know the story well, and we were going to be separated for months. I listen to him and I decide."
Do you remember any good vacations, even if they were short?
"Yes. After the Good shooting (2007), while in Hungary, my son came to visit me and we traveled by car throughout the different locations of the film, we visited Auschwitz and our family in Denmark. Very good vacations, though short."
Do you have a girlfriend or are you in love?
"No. If I had one, I wouldn't tell you here. It's very difficult with my way of life. It would have to be someone that could put up with a lot."
This phrase is yours: "You can never know people 100 %". What percentage do you show of yourself?
"It depends on who's in front of me. Maybe I've said some odd things, but it's all true. And you're right; I don't allow others to see too much of myself."
Last edited: 12 November 2008 15:05:48