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Under the identity of Strider, the royal heir Aragorn walked in a discreet way without attracting attention. The actor who played him in the film version of The Lord of the Rings, Viggo Mortensen, is very much like the character. He can also be seen walking through different cities - among them Madrid - without anyone noticing his presence. Despite his discreet appearance, he is a very cultured, charismatic man, with intelligent eyes. He who was also el Capitán Alatriste on screen is now premiering a Western about friendship called Appaloosa.
How did Ed Harris propose this project to you?
I've known Ed Harris for a long time. He's a likeable and generous guy. Our friendship deepened when we filmed A History of Violence together and that's been very important for this film, because we play two guys who've been friends for a long time, and you have to get across a certain connection and trust.
A little later, we met when we were promoting A History of Violence at the Toronto festival. Robert Knott's screenplay on which the film is based had just come out, and he gave it to me so that I could have a quick look at it. I read it and it seemed wonderful to me, because it had a solid plot and interesting characters. It had dramatic tension. So I called to ask him what he was going to do with it and he told me that he had the rights and that he was going to make a film. He would like to star in it with me.
It wasn't easy for me to decide to accept the offer. I had to promote Eastern Promises and film other projects. I was going to be free very little before the filming began and I didn't like going with time so tight. But he insisted and told me that I needed little preparation because I already knew how to ride a horse. He was very understanding, so I accepted.
You prepare your roles conscientiously. Did you have time to do research on your character?
I studied all that I could. I read about the veterans of the Civil War since my character was one of them. I studied the drawings of Frederic Remington, [who] specialized in describing the American West. I think I arrived there sufficiently prepared.
What does this film bring to the Western as a genre?
I think it´s better written and directed than the majority of Westerns being made now. I think it bears a greater resemblance to the classic Westerns from John Ford, Howard Hawks, Anthony Mann and Sam Peckinpah.
Ed Harris has directed it with a lot of sensitivity, and in a realistic way. It has turned out so well and sequences flow so naturally that it seems like an easier film than it actually is. But it has a lot of work behind it. I think that the sequences with my character and his are very intense and describe two very different characters very well. Mine is more cultured, his more straightforward.
Is the central theme of the film the friendship between the two characters?
It´s friendship in general. Not only is the friendship between us important, but also a great friendship develops between my character and that of the Spaniard, Ariadna Gil. It´s a very nice case of a relationship between a man and a woman, very different from the friendships usually seen on screen. And her character is very interesting.
Obviously, the most important thing is the relationship between my character and that of Ed Harris. It´s very much like the relationship with my old friends. It is normal to go through different phases, and sometimes a lot of difficulties arise with family and friends. You always go through difficult moments. But the people who are worth it are always there, although there is not an abundance of such people. You find out when you have a problem and discover there are very few people you can call. The film is about this sort of friendship.
I think that both have been together for such a long time because they know how to respect the private space of the other. They are not a pair of stifling friends. You can see that very well in the sequence where I tell Ed Harris that Renée Zellweger has asked me whether he is married. He asks me to tell him what I answered and I say to him that I´ve told her the truth, that I didn´t know. Our characters have been together a lot of years, and mine doesn´t know if he is married. He guesses he isn´t, because he hasn´t seen his wife, but he can´t be certain; and if he didn´t tell him, he didn´t want to ask either.
How has it been to work with this great actress?
I met Renée Zellweger a long time ago. She came to an opening of an exhibition of mine. We also had friends in common. I knew that it would work and she confirmed what I already thought, that she's very nice.
I also think that she made a very courageous decision to play in this film, because her character is far from likeable. She is a sensitive, vulnerable and also insecure woman who's not very suitable for Virgil (Ed Harris). Everyone knows that his marriage cannot work except Ed Harris himself. My character also thinks that, but since he is his friend, he doesn't want to tell him anything. It's difficult for the public to identify with a person like that, and she's not going to get affection from the public playing this character. But despite that, she wanted to do it.
You have just finished filming the adaptation of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. With the crisis that we are experiencing, do you think there could be an apocalyptic end of the world like in the book?
I am an optimist. I know that things are very bad, but I always say that as long as the final whistle of the game hasn't been blown, hope still remains. Even when you are losing 4-1.
Your characters are distinctive in that they express themselves in few words. Is that a coincidence?
I don´t plan my career. I don´t go in a certain direction or think what genre I´d like to do, or what director I want to work with. I do the characters that are offered and that seem interesting to me. I like physical work, and I think cinema is a visual medium, so characters have to express themselves through their actions. It is also certain that I feel drawn to characters who almost never speak, and who when they do, have a lot to say. Maybe one day I´ll find a play that I like and spend two hours on stage talking non-stop. Who knows. I´d rather not plan ahead.
Peter Jackson is producing the film version of The Hobbit, directed by Guillermo del Toro. It looks like there are going to be two films, and the second is a bridge between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings which will bring back characters like Frodo. Have they contacted you about returning to play Aragorn?
I'm certainly not in regular contact with Peter Jackson and I don't know. I know that they have the rights to those two [sic] books of Tolkien's, and also to the appendices to The Lord of the Rings. So in theory, they could use material from those sources about my character in his youth. What's more, I think I could do it. During a break in the filming of The Lord of the Rings, we filmed a scene from the beginning of Arwen's and Aragorn's relationship. I was unshaven and had very long hair, wore elven clothing, and I think I turned out believable as a young version of my character. It was a flashback to when they are in Lorien, and Aragorn starts to remember that. But later on, that scene wasn't included either in the theatrical release or the extended edition. They could go back and retrieve it now. We walked through the countryside hand in hand.
If they have more to tell about my character and the script is believable, of course I'd accept. In fact, it would be hard for me to have another actor play Aragorn.