"We are all artists" - Viggo Mortensen

Source: 7 Dias

Between disputes with the coach of his club, San Lorenzo, he is premiering his first film shot in Argentina. How he lives out the two passions of his life: acting and soccer; his refusal to make long term plans, and the powerful link that exists with this country where he spent his childhood. "I'm an observer," he defines himself.

© Haddock Films.
"Was it what you thought you were going to see?" Viggo tosses out, expectant, curious. The interest in the question has to do with his first movie filmed in Argentina. His presence and his kindly expression impose a calm. Zen calm. Even the tone of his voice is very far from a shout for a goal from his beloved club, San Lorenzo de Almagro. He speaks in perfect Spanish, shaded by sounds that denote his residence in Madrid for several years. "It's what happens. The Spanish fuck up the language for me. Two or three days and I'm fine again. They corrupt me, but when I come back from here, they say, 'What's the matter with you that you talk like that?'," he acknowledges. He keeps a little notebook with cardboard covers and a black rubber band in his hands the whole time; handwritten annotations are visible. It might be supposed that he keeps in there some of the poems he usually writes, but no. "They are my shooting notes from the film. It's like a filming diary. I have it in case I forget something," explains the actor who [takes this] opportunity to put himself inside the skin of two twin brothers, Pedro and Agustín, who meet again after many years. He does it in Todos tenemos un plan, the first work of Argentinian Ana Piterbarg. The deep Tigre, peopled by grey and desolated landscapes, the one that has nothing to do with the one tourists see, is the perfect frame in which to weave the plot of this thriller. And it´s also the Delta, the one which also brought back memories of his childhood, the same one he spent in this country until he was 11, when he returned with his recently separated mother and his two brothers to his native Manhattan, in New York. At 53, Viggo realised his dream of filming in Argentina; "I´ve been wanting to do it for years," he admits.

The film´s title is Todos tenemos un plan. What´s yours?

I haven´t got a fixed one; I have a plan for today, one for tomorrow, the plan for about the next six months of work. I try to plan trips and family stuff, but everything always turns out slightly different. I think that plans are not that different from dreams; they are like dreams with another [kind of] will, conscious dreams. People think that a plan fails or works, or comes to nothing, but it's not like that; plans change because we change, circumstances change.

You don´t like planning much then...

No, because it´s not worth it. Circumstances change; your desire changes. As Anna Akhmatova says, a Russian poet who wrote something lovely. She was speaking of that craving that rancorous craving that you carry inside for years, thinking that person did something to me, made me feel ashamed, punished me, insulted me, something terrible that happened in your life; we all have moments where we think, "I should have said that to him." And she said something I appropriated, among the many things I was gathering, when I was preparing this role. She said "The justice that triumphs after many years is not the justice your heart was yearning for, nor is your heart the same heart." Suddenly you realise that it no longer matters to you; you are not angry anymore... He is dying of cancer, how can I be angry with him, or he dies, or the situation changed. That thing I wanted so much to have is no longer important to me.

You once said, like Sofía Gala's character, that you had discovered that you wanted to do good. Do you still think that?

I like that philosophy. Having that as a general plan of doing the right thing without looking at to whom, that seems nice. It's lovely.

When was the first [time] you remember wanting to be an actor?

Compared with other actors quite late, at 21 or 22. At 20, I began to watch films, theatre and I wondered how it was done. Because anyone who goes to the movie theatre likes or doesn't like the film, but you don't think, "If I had to do that, how would I do it?" So it was from curiosity.

Today they define you as a multi-faceted artist: an actor, you like music, you compose, you write poems, paint...

It's all the same thing - looking at things, observing, interpreting and reinterpreting what you see.

If you had to define yourself among all of them, what would you say you'd be?

I'm an observer. An artist. But I think that all people are artists. You go walking down the street and hear something that a person says and already you're imagining something about the life of that person. Then, someone is speaking on their phone in the line at the bank and he says, "No mom, that's not going to fall down" and hangs up. And you've already invented a complete story about who he's speaking to, who or what is going to fall down. The way you pay attention is already an artistic activity. To survive in the world, we have to interpret our sense of what is happening and at times, it's important to know. People can separate artists and those that think they aren't [artists], but all of us are artists. It's something that we do all the time, interpreting signs that are given to us and other situations, imagining consequences. It's a way to get involved, to link yourself with the environment, with what surrounds you.

At this point, does being famous weigh on you?

What makes the work of observing difficult for me sometimes is having to think, "Now I'm going to have to move away from this spot; they've already seen me." But lately, that doesn't happen as much because I'm not making one film after another in the United States. For example, if I go to Japan, not so much; when I went to Russia to prepare the role in Eastern Promises, no one recognized me and I was there a couple of weeks and it was easier to do what I wanted to do. But in Argentina, it's something else; if I come here, people know me on the street.

You were born in the United States and you are North American, Danish and Norwegian. You were raised between here and Venezuela. Why is this tie with Argentina so strong?

It's because of the link with the past; I spent my childhood here. The first decade of your life is very important; it leaves a mark on you.

Viggo - Guido. Yes, to Viggo, his childhood in Argentina is stuck in his very soul. The cocktail of cities, nationalities and other things could have made him forget his past for other places, but that childhood marked him so much that the grand passion of his life is San Lorenzo. It's only enough to touch on the subject of his team during a chat and his eyes shine, his smile widens and even an anecdote can generate a burst of laughter. And Viggo no longer is the Hollywood actor who played Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings or the one nominated for an Oscar as Best Actor for Eastern Promises. He's a neighborhood kid; he's the one who collected picture cards of his idols, "los cara sucias" [the Dirty Faces], the ones he began to love not because they win championships; "I like the the way they play with courage and fun. Bambino Veira called him "Guido" once by mistake and that name stuck for the Cuervo supporter. He carries San Lorenzo in his heart, but you also always see it - this time, it's a chain with the club crest and a bracelet with its colors, but even his maté thermos has the crest. He can end up almost going to jail because he went crazy over a Pipi goal in Washington airport, or writing in his column on the official club website with total freedom: "Caruso's arrogance is going to burn us and his schemes are perverse" and generating a dispute with the coach. San Lorenzo is a passion, the kind of passion that only someone who loves the team that much can understand. And he is its ambassador to the world, in every way possible. "Every time I go to Argentina, I go to the San Lorenzo store and I buy all the decals they have because I have the habit of sticking them up in cities, airports, in the stadiums of other teams, " he recounts and ends with a sly smile, "to mark territory." He also stuck those decals up in the city of Rosario. "I remember a game with Newell's in 2008; they almost killed me. A frustrating game. Only a few minutes remained and we tied and won the game. When I left the field, it was very intense. They threw things at me, half in jest, some not, and I had to run away. Then, the following day, when we left very early, I stuck all the decals around the stadium; no one was there, of course." The laugh that the memory brings confirms it. Yes, to Viggo, San Lorenzo is stuck in his soul.

Would you like to be club president someday?

No, I would have to live here and I don't think I could. I do what promotion I can for San Lorenzo and try to gain attention for my club.

Do you know Tinelli? Do you like what he's doing for the club?

I know him. I can't say that I know him well. I like that he's from San Lorenzo. I like anyone who's from San Lorenzo.

You are the owner of a publishing house. You publish Argentine poets. Have you formed an opinion about Argentine culture?

Well, I arrive here on a night flight and turn on the TV in the hotel, and like everywhere in the world, almost everything you see on all channels is shit, but I seeEncuentro, for example, and it's valuable. Even if you've lived in Argentina your whole life, you can come across things that you didn't know, about actors, about the history of your country, cities. It's very interesting; it's very well done. And if the government changes or if the government, the Federal [government] I mean, were to say, "Well, we're not going to use that; we're not going to invest in that" and that disappears, the culture would suffer. That's happening now in Spain, for example, with a conservative government.

Has the Spanish crisis affected the culture a lot?

and .... yes, the economy is fucked, but how it's cut back, who has been punished and who hasn't, that's the major thing that's responsible for the damage done. The culture is suffering a lot with this Spanish government.

A while ago you said that 90% of the films you make have to do with independent cinema. To what do you attribute that?

Yes, but it's not that I prefer making films with relatively small budgets; if they offer me a big budget film and it's a role that I think I can do and that interests me, I'd do it with all the gusto in the world. The truth is that when you are filming, whether there are five cameras and two hundred people in the crew or one camera and a crew of twenty people and you are freezing in the Delta, it's the same thing, because when you are in character, the work's the same. That doesn't matter. It hasn't mattered to me. Things have always worked out more or less for me and if they haven't worked out for me, I have something else to do. I've been able to earn a living for a long time and today I'm increasingly conscious that money is not the most important thing. From my father's side of my family, a Denmark saying goes, "The last suit has no pockets," or you can't take it with you.

So, you don't get attached to things?

Not much. I love things, books, objects, photos. I have a lot of things, but I like to give them away as well. There are certain things that have sentimental value.

Like San Lorenzo t-shirts, I suppose?

But I give a lot of them away; I have so many. For example, all of my cousins from Denmark came, almost forty. We were all at home, in a tent, sleeping bags. They were there a couple of weeks and when they left, I had San Lorenzo t-shirts for all the children. There were like 20 but I had shirts from all different eras. Because they liked soccer and if it weren't for me, they wouldn't know that San Lorenzo exists. Denmark is a small country of five million people, but they are very much soccer fans; it's the national sport and there are always good players that come out of there.

And what things would you never get rid of?

(Thinks) Well... the t-shirt that Beto Acosta gave me, for example.

Then I was right about the t-shirts?

And Viggo laughs, heartily, with that smile that his beloved club always brings out in him.
Last edited: 4 September 2013 20:11:56
© 7 Dias/Susana Parejas.