'History' Repeats Itself For Mortensen

Source: Boston Herald

A modern-day revenge thriller, A History of Violence (new this weekend) lets Viggo Mortensen do some of that spectacular cutting-down-his-enemies work that made his Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy so compelling.

Yet for the soft-spoken Mortensen, the violence wasn't what made the role.

"My interest was working with David Cronenberg," Mortensen said during a one-on-one Herald interview, referring to the Canadian auteur whose past controversies mixing sex and violence include Dead Ringers and Crash.

For Mortensen, the story of a small-town stalwart - a married man (Maria Bello plays his wife) and father - whose criminal past is exposed "needed a director who had a light touch and was very intelligent. This is kind of a psychological study of a family, a community, and David has shown an ability in a lot of his movies for dealing with those issues of identity and social interaction. Otherwise, it risks being a very decent but not entirely original exploitation sort of movie."

History of Violence may not delve deeply into roots or consequences of violence, but Mortensen credits Cronenberg with making a revenge movie "that is as much about anti-violence in a sense, without ruining the story, as it is violence."

Mortensen has just finished another (violent) epic for next year based on a Spanish series of novels that might, like Lord of the Rings, spawn a series.

"The film is Alatriste, which is the first of a series of novels - set during the Spanish Empire, the Golden Age of Spain, which is a fascinating time - that are extremely popular in the Spanish-speaking world. The first English translation just came out called Captain Alatriste."

The only thing this grittily realistic Spanish-language film shares with Lord of the Rings, he said, is that it's a big undertaking.

"It's a huge one for Spain; they have never done anything on that scale before - a huge budget and battles, all that stuff. But it's much more of a realistic story. It's got historical personalities in it and fictional ones."

Once again Mortensen plays a professional soldier.

"If you were making a modern-day version of this, the equivalent would be an American sergeant who is never going to be an officer because he says what he thinks with his superiors. He's in Iraq and was probably in the first Gulf War and so forth. He's been a soldier for 25, 30 years. That's the character I play in this period piece. Through his eyes, you see the highs and lows of Spanish society."

When he looks back, does Mortensen see Aragorn as a role he was destined to play? When filming began, Stuart Townsend (of the new TV series Night Stalker) was Aragorn; after only two weeks, everyone agreed he was too young, and Daniel Day-Lewis was paged. But the Oscar-winning Last of the Mohicans star requires months of preparation, not days.

Mortensen didn't even have days to decide about the role that changed his career.

"I had the balance of a day, sort of, to think about it," he said. "I talked it over to my son because it was going to be a long absence. It turned out to be more or less four years on and off, steadily working.

"It just seemed to be one of those fated things. I'm grateful for it. I have a lot of friendships that endure from that time."
Last edited: 25 September 2005 07:55:20
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