His screen debut was back in 1985 as a young Amish farmer in Peter Weir's Witness. Since then he's been in over 30 movies including The Portrait Of A Lady, Carlito's Way and G.I. Jane. He's now starring in the first instalment of Lord Of The Rings as Aragorn (a.k.a. Strider), a role he will play in both the follow-up movies. Credited with a sterling performance as the brave but broken Aragorn, here he talks to Virgin.net about making the movie, the Harry Potter phenomenon, sword-fighting and his new tattoo...
A: Is the adventure finished, or is the release of Lord Of The Rings where the real adventure begins?
VM: "Well it hasn't finished because we're going back for some pick-up shots and some re-shoots next year, just as we did this year, to complete two and three. But in the sense of it being completed, it is completed. I look at the process as being our work. The rest is the director taking our material and making his version of the events of the shoot and, in this case, his interpretation of the book. I had my fun, and I was one of the lucky few that were there during this, not always an easy experience. I'm proud to be part of that team."
A: People are comparing this to the Star Wars trilogy. It's going to change your life, isn't it?
VM: "I'm not interested in even using the energy to try to form an opinion of what it might all mean. I just know I did my best to serve two masters, Tolkien and Peter Jackson, and my conscience is clean. It was business as usual for me in the sense of doing the best I could with the part I was given to play; I just had longer time to do it. And it was much better material than I usually get to work on, obviously."
A: People have been anticipating a battle between Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter. Have you seen Harry Potter and do you think the films are comparable?
VM: "[Harry Potter] is not unlike the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew; it's kind of a fun thing for kids. But it's unfair to Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings to compare them on any level other than box office results. Harry Potter is a grain of sand from an ocean of material that you have from Tolkien... after all, Harry Potter, the pointy hats and the wizards, none of that would exist without Gandalf."
A: You replaced Stuart Townsend two weeks into filming. How far in advance of your arrival in New Zealand did you get the call, and were you physically prepared for the demands of the role?
VM: "I got the call asking if I would be on the plane the next day, which I eventually did do. I wouldn't say I was ready physically. I was willing, I guess, although hesitant to some degree. I had a couple of days to learn as much as I could, especially sword-work because the first scene I had to do involved sword fighting. I was basically trying to read the book and the scripts, learn how to handle a sword, and learn the [Elvish] dialect and whatever the hell else I had to do all at once."
A: How far into the shoot were you when you had one of your front teeth broken filming a fight scene?
VM: "That was quite a way in. That was probably in the last third, I suppose."
A: You should have been good enough to duck by then, shouldn't you?
VM: "Yeah, I should have. Actually I'm surprised that more things didn't happen to all of us, or the stunt players playing our adversaries. Part of the reason they didn't, I suppose, was that we got to know each other so well it was like we were dance partners. We developed this physical shorthand with each other and that was helpful in pushing it more and more. In parts two and three, some of the fighting moves faster and is more risky. Everyone got hurt at some point."
A: Were the three films shot back-to-back or simultaneously?
VM: "We jumped all over the place. We began, kind of but not really, in sequence, working on the latter part of one. By the end, we would be jumping between all three movies on the same day."
A: How did you keep a through-line on your character?
VM: "It's the same as any movie; there was just more material to keep track on and more details to try and be consistent about. As I always do, I worked in concert not only with all the other actors and the director, but also the wardrobe department and hair and make-up. Part of what's interesting to me is putting the puzzle together so that you can then just throw yourself into what has to happen. It's much like learning the words, forgetting them, and then trying to play it like it's the first time you've said them."
A: At the end of the shoot, you and the other members of the Fellowship got a tattoo... You look embarrassed. Do you regret doing it now?
VM: "No! The idea was to have it be a secret but I guess that was hopeless."
A: What does the tattoo symbolise?
VM: "I suppose we didn't need to add another scar to commemorate the real scars we already had. But it was a way of saying thank you to each other, I suppose, and reaffirming the bond that we had developed, and probably always will have to one degree or another, as actors who played these roles."
A: Finally, do you think people's hunger for fantasies like Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter has increased since September 11?
"Harry Potter is an escapist fantasy, with, frankly, very little relevance to our daily lives, whereas I think Lord Of The Rings is a whole other thing. It's much more profound. What Tolkien wrote about, and what I think we captured the spirit and tone of, does have to do with September 11. It's about the need for individuals to think as individuals and be active, attentive participants in their own lives. Each member of the Fellowship joins of his own accord, and remains loyal to the Fellowship and its quest by his own accord, and it's not always easy. There are moments of trepidation, of doubt, and choices have to be made, big and small, on a daily basis - just like in our lives."