The Horse Whisperer
By Honie Stevens
16 April 2004
Daily Mirror (The Ticket supplement)
He is not your typical movie star. While most A List celebs like to relax by hanging out in exclusive nightclubs and at showbiz parties, the Lord of the Rings star prefers to spend his free time composing poetry, taking photographs and painting.
After his worldwide success as Aragorn in director Peter Jackson's multi-Oscar winning trilogy, he takes top billing for the first time in the new movie Hidalgo. It tells the story of the greatest long-distance horse race ever run.
Held yearly for centuries, the Ocean of Fire was a 3,000-mile race of survival for local horses across the burning Arabian Desert. But in 1890, a wealthy sheik (played by Omar Sharif) invited American cowboy Frank T Hopkins (Mortensen) and his mustang Hidalgo to compete against the world's greatest Bedouin riders.
Here, New York-born Viggo, 45, tells The Ticket about life after the Rings.
Do you feel more weight on your shoulders now you are the star carrying a major feature film?
I don't feel that. Maybe other might. Maybe I'm in some sort of denial, but I don't think so. I felt the same on this movie as I did on Lord of the Rings.
Your character fights at the battle of Wounded Knee. Does that era of American history interest you?
I've had a long-standing interest in the Native American culture and I have been down where we filmed in South Dakota before. As I was riding with the Natives during filming I got to know some of them. I even worked with a medicine man to learn to speak the language.
I think it was great that Disney made such an effort. They could have shot the Wounded Knee massacre in California. Instead, they shot it on location with extras who were from the region. A lot of them were descendants of people who were either killed or survived the massacre.
When I was there, I said to a lot of people, 'Yeah, of course I'll come back,' and I meant it. I knew I would, because I had already made friends there and I had a predisposition towards the culture and the place.
After filming, you kept the horse which played Hidalgo. What made you do that?
I don't know. I thought about it all during the shoot and then, towards the end, I asked his owner Rex Peterson what he thought. He said he was happy for me to have him. I just wanted to keep up the relationship. It wasn't a question of possession, it was staying in touch with him.
Do you have a ranch on which to keep him?
We've got a friend's place just outside of town, where I can go and ride him a lot.
So he's quite a special animal then?
Yeah. Well, he's unusually intelligent and unusually self-possessed. He's also very easy going and calm for a stallion. To be able to fall down and then to stay there when there are cameras all around and lights and the wind's blowing, and allow me to do dialogue and so forth. He was incredible.
Did Omar Sharif share a lot of stories with you about the old times?
Oh yeah. We were in the Sahara Desert in some of the exact locations where he worked on Lawrence of Arabia more than 40 years earlier.
Did you play any bridge with him?
No, I am not that foolish. But I did sit this close to him. He would talk about David Lean, or he'd talk about the first time he met him when he was coming to be cast, and then shooting with all the adventure and misadventures. Not all of which are suitable for public consumption!
What's next for you?
I don't really have a plan. Right now I'm kind of doing this publicity thing every day. It doesn't leave much time and leaves me pretty tired.
How do you find time to run your publishing house?
Usually I guess it's at night. I do a lot of it over the phone. A lot of it's computerised now, as far as the editing goes. We publish a variety of people, writers, painters and photographers.
Are you a politically-motivated person?
I don't know that I'm more politically motivated than anyone else. I'm curious about the world and I have a resistance to just assuming that what I see on TV is the gospel truth.
I do think the upcoming US election is an important one. It is a crucial time in American and world history. The leadership of the United States has been instrumental in making a pretty big mess of things in a lot of ways, so I think a change would be good.
Ever considered standing for election?
Shit no! Movies are complicated enough and there's enough deceit, bluffing and media manipulation in this business. I don't need any more thanks.
Last edited: 16 June 2005 14:31:37