The actor takes a darker turn and raves about working with David Cronenberg in A History of Violence
Image Takashi Seida.
© New Line Productions Inc.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy catapulted him to fame, but Viggo Mortensen has definitely earned his stripes in Hollywood. His career spans over twenty years, including a brief role in Peter Weir's Witness. Viggo has made some good choices after LOTR's success and avoided the lure of commercialism. A History of Violence is a classic David Cronenberg film, dark and introspective, with some of the seamier sex scenes of 2005. Viggo seemed really taken by Cronenberg's approach and raved about him throughout the interview.
This is a different kind of role for you. What attracted you to it?
Viggo Mortensen: There are a lot of okay scripts around, but there's always going to be good material. Something like this needs to be handled with a light touch if you want to get all the layers. You need someone like David Cronenberg and that's the thing that drew me first. If he's doing this, it's going to probably be interesting. I really felt like this was a collaborative effort, an exploration that we all undertook. There was a lot of room to sort of play with things. There was a lot of room to experiment and try things and go a little too far sometimes and so forth. He's a terribly efficient director. I guess he always does this, but on this movie, it finished right on time and I think a little under budget. He's really, really organized, and it's nice to know you have that.
So David really sold you on this character and the film?
Viggo Mortensen: Any questions I had, he answered them and then some. I wouldn't have wanted to be in this movie directed by someone else. Because there would've been a good chance that it would've just been some kind of revenge story, or vigilante type story. And that would've been kind of dull, and not very ground and thought provoking. This is thought provoking on so many levels because he's just a lot more intelligent and has a much clearer vision than most directors.
How's your elbow? It was rumoured that you got pretty banged up in the second sex scene.
Viggo Mortensen: No more than Maria [Bello] did. My elbow's okay.
The sex scenes are quite risqué. Were you worried about being over exposed? Or did you put your trust completely in David?
Viggo Mortensen: We had David protecting us both. You felt that you were in good hands. When we were doing that scene in particular, he didn't call cut. He rolled for a long time, which is how it evolved. It was uncomfortable, but I think both Maria and I recognize that that was right. It was kind of a microcosm of their relationship in a way, that power struggle. David has always has dealt with that. You know, the role playing, the struggle for having your own identity and how you fit in a relationship. The idea that we all have secrets, some secrets bigger than others, is a normal human thing.
There are some pretty gory scenes...
Viggo Mortensen: I think that's why he did it. He made it so that people can see what that is like. Not pleasant, but it's shown very briefly. There's not much of it, but it's memorable, because it's very matter of fact, and he gives it strength.
Was there any scene in particular left out that you wanted to remain?
Viggo Mortensen: There are a few things, very little though, because he was so organized. His script is so tight by the time we shoot. There's not going to be a lot that's left out. But there are a few things that I think he'll include on the DVD.
Maria spoke about another sex scene in the water that was cut. Was it more explicit than the other ones?
Viggo Mortensen: No, it was a lot colder. (laughs) It was at night in Canada. It was cold. It was just near a gorge. We got to jump off this cliff into the water. That was fun. That'll be fun to see that scene. I can see why he didn't use it. It just wasn't vital. It was a sweet scene though.
How has Lord of the Rings affected your career? Do you think you would be considered for a part like this without having done those films?
Viggo Mortensen: No, I wouldn't have gotten this role if it wasn't for having been in that popular project. So that's just a practical thing. And it was nice to work on this movie, and the one I did after. I did a movie after David's movie called Alatriste in Spain. If it wasn't for Lord of the Rings, I don't get a lot of thought, to be honest with you.
You're quite an accomplished painter. What's the difference between acting and painting?
Viggo Mortensen: They're all connected. To me, it's all about the storytelling. They're just different ways of doing the same thing. It starts with observation and then taking what you have and adding that. So I don't see it's that different.
Was your character in the A Perfect Murder always a painter? Or did you ask for that?
Viggo Mortensen: It was in the script. He was pretending. That was his cover for just trying to get money off people. But, obviously, he needed to be convincing enough so that her character and her husband's character actually thought this was an original artist. So I just asked who was going to do it. Usually on those movies, especially studio movies, they'll go rent a bunch of pictures or get someone to paint a bunch of fake ones. I said can I try it? And they let me do it. It was a little bit unusual, but it was fun.
What are those medals you're wearing?
Viggo Mortensen: For luck, this is San Lorenzo. This is Saint Christopher.
We've heard you're thinking of becoming a hermit?
Viggo Mortensen: Well, I don't know. Actually, I don't know if I could be any more of a hermit. I don't get out a hell of a lot. Maybe not doing movies, I don't know what I was talking about.
Do you really think of quitting the movie biz?
Viggo Mortensen: Oh yeah, all the time, for years. Sometimes it can be very frustrating. It's very unusual; at least it has been for me, to have an experience like I had on History of Violence. Where the director doesn't just say he's a collaborator, but he actually is. And where you have as much fun as we did. This is a twisted and very dark story. There were days where it was, those sex scenes or the violent scenes, you know, uncomfortable. But mostly we're laughing all the time, because that's how he is. I think it's probably the reason he makes movies, instead of staying in whatever ward they keep him in between shoots. (laughs)