Early Years

Fishing with his dad
Fishing with his dad.
© Mortensen family.
Now I see things in hindsight and what I learned in those years is what has made me who I am today. And, even though I recognize that I'm a rather strange guy, I don't think the end result has been so bad. - Viggo Mortensen

Early Years

The eldest of three brothers, Viggo was born in New York in 1958 and given his father's name. Viggo is, he says, considered in contemporary Denmark to be a slightly archaic, eccentric name for a young man. "It would be like being called Herbert..."

The Rebel King
By Chris Heath
GQ magazine
April 2004

"...I was always running away. I did that a lot. [Another time] when I was a child, about two-and-a-half, I crawled out of bed and across the road and crawled into someone's house on a Sunday morning. I was in the kitchen playing with all the pots and pans, and they called my parents, who had been calling the police. I think they said: 'You are missing someone, and he is here playing with our kitchen knives.'"

Viggo Mortensen
Sympathy for the devil
By Chrissy Iley
The Observer
19 April 2009

'One day when I was about 6 years old, I read my first comic without help. I was in sick in bed one stormy Buenos Aires afternoon. There alone, while the rain ticked against the window, I browsed my little treasure, admiring the drawings thoroughly, when suddenly I realized that I understood, more or less, what those "little balloons" were saying. I went back to the first page and began to read. It took a tremendous amount of effort and I don't know how much time - an hour or more, I suppose - but I read and understood the whole comic. When I got to the end, I was surprised and proud. And then I got angry because I knew that it wasn't the end of the story. It never is the end with comics. Like the story of this world; things never end. That comic was a copy of Batman from 1964 in which "The Green Lantern" appeared.'

Viggo Mortensen
Sobrevuelos Column
Translated by Ollie, Rio and Zoe
5 January 2013

When Viggo was 7, his parents sent him to boarding school in Argentina. "It was a strict school, isolated in the foothills of the mountains," he said. "Other than holidays, I really didn't see my parents. The other kids were miserable, always crying or wetting their beds. But I was pretty self-sufficient. So I guess it must have suited me."

Back in the saddle 'Rings' hero Mortensen is riding high with 'Hidalgo'
By Nancy Mills
Daily News
25 February 2004

"Only with my mother did I speak English. We only spoke Spanish." he recalls. "And suddenly I'm in a small town in northern New York where nobody speaks it. That was a big change."

A History of Defiance
Daniel Mirth
Men's Journal
October 2009

Didn't you live in South America for about nine years as a kid?

Yeah, I was 11 when we moved back to the States. I couldn't believe the swear words, the slang, the music - all the kids were into Blue Oyster Cult and Grand Funk Railroad. I was a closet Carpenters fan. I'd sing 'Top of the World' to myself on the way to school, but when I got close to campus I'd shut up.

The Hot New 39-Year-Old
By Dennis Hensley
Movieline magazine, 1998

When he was 11 his parents divorced, and he moved with his mother and two younger brothers to upstate New York, near the border with Canada.... "my brothers and I spoke only Spanish. But you quickly adapt. I somewhat replaced it with French. We were not that far from Quebec, so I [replaced] my football team with the Montreal Canadians hockey team, which has the same colours".

Viggo Mortensen's grand plan
Telegraph Men's Style Magazine
By Sheryl Garratt
26 March 2013

'According to my mother I never went anywhere as a child without a pencil, and I drew all the time. Recently she gave me a notebook with some of my old drawings. I especially noticed one I drew when I was 7 - it was rather wild. On the top it said: 'Little Red Riding Hood', and then there were a lot of oil colours mixed together, almost abstract. I really liked it. But across the drawing it said with a red pen - and underlined: VERY BAD! Some teachers still think that is motivating...'

Viggo from Hollywood
By Poul Hoi
M/S (Danish magazine)
August 2001

As an 8-year-old, Mortensen played "the ass end of a dragon" in a school play...

The Other Side of Viggo Mortensen
By Paul Young
Variety Life
October 2003

"I remember trying out for a play once in junior high school, and as soon as the audition started, they said 'Speak up! Speak up!' And I just stopped and took off. I wasn't really cut out for it."

Viggo Mortensen
Viggo Trip
by Liane Bonin
Flaunt magazine #39, 2002

"I didn't have friends when I was little that I know now - there wasn't any sense of continuity like that," Mortensen says. "But I got to see a lot of things and learn a lot of things. And I learned to rely on my imagination, and on myself."

Finding Viggo
By Alex Kuczynski
Vanity Fair magazine
January 2004

In high school, the shy kid began carrying a camera everywhere he went. Structuring his vistas within a viewfinder was a natural impulse. Already he had hopscotched through many disparate worlds, never lingering long enough on any to burn a permanent image. .....

Viggo Trip
By Liane Bonin
Flaunt magazine #39
November 2002

...as an adolescent, he felt comfortable behind the lens of a camera. Mortensen says he started taking pictures as a teenager, although he wasn't "really serious about it." For him, the camera not only offered a sense of control over his surroundings but a kind of veil to help him feel invisible from a world he found both intimidating and inspiring.

The Other Side of Viggo Mortensen
By Paul Young
Variety Life
October 2003

"I very strongly feel that I share a common past with my family in Denmark. And feel connected to the Scandinavian mythology, when I walk in the forest at Jystrup, where there are many tales told of what has happened. The Danish woods look like Tolkien's, they are the kind that doesn't look dangerous, but if you walk alone by night in the forests of Denmark, you can feel the energies of the past. I felt that already as a child, back then when I played with swords there outside my uncle's farm, played and felt like a Viking."

Viggo Mortensen
The American Dane
By Susanne Johansson - Translation by Majken Steen Thomassen
28 November 2001
Source: BT (Berlingske Tidende) a Danish newspaper

"We arrived in Northern New York near the Canadian border, and there were no Spanish-speaking people at all, one black person in the whole county, some French-Canadians, and no tradition of football. It was just completely different. But when you're kids, you adapt very quickly. Within a month or two, I knew all the swear words."

Viggo Mortensen on leaving South America
I've taken on too much...
By James Mottram, The Independent / UK.
23 October 2007

'To live in Denmark and South America, and later return to the USA, made me learn there are many cultures, all very respectable, and many ways of seeing life. On the other hand, so much coming and going has left me without any roots (although I feel at home in many places) and has deprived me of good friends. Childhood friends. In truth, I miss that.'

Viggo Mortensen
A Multi-talented Hero
by J. A. - translated for V-W by NacidaLibre
27 August 2006

They say that childhood is the homeland.

I suppose it is. From time to time, I´d read a book in Spanish. After some years, I began travelling; I met people in New York, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Spaniards, Argentinians, Uruguayans, and re-entered that world with my out-of-date slang.

Viggo Mortensen - All of Us are Mestizos
by Carlos Shilling - translated by Ollie, Remolina, Rio and Zoe
November 2010

"Every once in a while you do something really dumb when you're a kid and you realize when you're an adult that that's dangerous, but.. you know.. There was one time when I was coming home at the end of the day, going through the paddocks, and you open the gates from horseback, and the last gate I was about to grab the latch and there was this beautiful, beautiful snake wrapped around it..it was orange and black and white stripes. And I thought 'I'm going to take this home and show it to my family'. And I tried to grab it and he tried to get me. And I like whacked it just to stun it and I grabbed it by the neck and opened the gate and got through, closed it and said "Dad, dad, look what I got." And he freaked out, cos it was a Coral snake, which if you get bit I think two minutes, three minutes, you're dead."

Viggo Mortensen
David Letterman Show, 2004

'We lived in Buenos Aires, but most of all in the Chaco, where I learned to ride with my three brothers. My father, who is Danish and a farmer, would take us fishing and hunting. I shot a rifle for the first time when I was three years old. It's one of my first memories. He took me duck hunting, didn't have any luck, and when we were leaving I think that to amuse himself he asked me whether I wanted to kill a duck. It was dark and he said, "You're going to hear the flock pass over us. That's when you shoot.' He held me in his arms, if not the rifle would have made me go flying. The flock flew overhead, I shot and a dead bird fell out of the sky. My father was so shocked that he didn't stop me when I went into the lake to get the dead duck. It was very cold. He noticed, followed me shouting, and pulled me out of the water. We walked for a couple of kilometers. I remember I was trembling, soaking, and carrying the duck. I didn't want to let it go for anything in the world. At a nearby house, a family lit a stove and then dried my body a little; my clothes were soaking. My father carried me almost naked, wrapped in a towel. When we arrived home, my mom didn't understand at all. "Why is the baby blue? Why is he naked and trembling? Why is he clutching a dead duck?' She decided to give me a warm bath so I wouldn't get sick, but I wouldn't let go of the duck. She complained, but my dad convinced her to let me keep the duck. So that's how I took my bath, with the dead duck in my arms, I was towelled off with the duck, I had dinner without letting go of the duck and I finally fell asleep hugging the dead duck in my bed. When I woke up, it wasn't there anymore. I complained to my mother and she told me that we were going to eat it for dinner, because it was going to go bad. I think I didn't understand very well. But anyway, those are the kind of things that happened to me in Argentina with my father.'

The Late Show with David Letterman
November 2005

'[It was] a combination of a fist and a barbed-wire fence. I was drunk on Halloween, and so were the other people I was with. It was mistakes of youth.

I was 17 and we went to a clinic and the doctor was 80 at least and it was 2 or 3 in the morning. He just started sewing because he realized I wouldn't feel a thing, which I didn't. My friends outside ordered pizza. I remember after, they were feeding me these pin-sized bites that night.'

Viggo Mortensen on his scar
Mooning Over Viggo Mortensen
By Stephen Schaefer
USA Today 1999

"A lot of those jobs, particularly the factory work, were physically hard and mind numbing. But having that background of menial jobs and manual labour gave me an appreciation for the people who show up to a film set before I do, leave after I do and only get paid a fraction of what I do."

Viggo talking about his early jobs
Viggo Mortensen on Good
By Angus Fontaine
Time Out, Sydney
9 April 2009

....I went to see films with my mother when I was a child. Towards twenty, I lived for a year close to London, and I went to a cinema which only showed classics. I discovered Bergman, Ozu, Pasolini, Dreyer ... It was a revelation. It wasn't just that I liked going to the movies, it was that on leaving the theater I wanted to enter this world......To discover Bergman, Pasolini, Ozu, Dreyer, at twenty, that was a revelation. Could that be it, the movies? My jaw dropped in admiration. These filmmakers really inspired me. I like the simplicity of Ozu, I like the films of Carl Dreyer, which capture so well the pain of the human condition. I like the purity of Bergman and Pasolini. It was after I discovered their films that I became very curious about film as a means of expression.

Viggo Mortensen: The Soul of a Warrior
By Juliette Michaud
December 2002
Source: Studio Magazine

'Now I see things in hindsight and what I learned in those years is what has made me who I am today. And, even though I recognize that I'm a rather strange guy, I don't think the end result has been so bad.'

Viggo Mortensen on growing up in Argentina
"I'm permanently dissatisfied"
By Amelia Enríquez - translated for V-W by Margarita
30 August 2006

Last edited: 24 April 2013 14:51:53