© Estudios Picasso / Origen Producciones.
The actor, famous in this country for his role as Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, is actually promoting Alatriste, a Spanish production. The film will arrive in the country mid-year but La Prensa Grafica got to speak with the star several days ago via telephone. He didn't discount the possibility of being involved in other Latin American projects.
It was 10 to 6 in the evening when the phone rang in our office. It was Viggo Mortensen, calling from California. It was his voice, without intermediaries or managers, as would often be the case.
It was the last day of February and at that time one of the paper's graphic designers was expecting a call and this resulted in the actor's call being put on hold. When the designer finished his conversation he picked up the other line, without knowing that it was Aragorn famous for Lord of the Rings, and now Diego, a Spanish soldier in Alatriste, the most expensive Spanish movie in history.
"Chabelita, it's for you!" the graphic designer called to me. I took the phone receiver and greeted him. The actor asked, "You had an interview with Viggo Mortensen, right? Well, that's me."
There was a long pause while I rifled through the papers I had with the movie's information, as well as a list of previously prepared questions, started my tape recorder, grabbed a pencil and notebook, and then the conversation with the American actor, raised in Argentina, began.
We know that you speak Spanish very well, but wasn't it difficult to assume the Spanish accent when you're accustomed to the Argentinean accent?
Not just the accent but the exact type of Spanish accent, because the character came from the north of Spain, from Leon, which has a somewhat slower, more cautious, way of speaking. I worked hard on it, but it wasn't just the accent. It was everything that had to do with that time period and what I wanted to learn to play my role. Diego Alatriste is, for me, one of the most challenging, if not the most challenging, role I've had in my career as an actor.
Was it difficult to get rid of the Argentinean accent?
It was. It took me time to get the hang of it, but that's my job as an actor, just as with Lord of the Rings I had to speak English with an English accent. I've just returned from England, where I was playing a Russian, so I had to learn to speak with that accent, too. But, yes, there are always challenges, as I was raised in Argentina and, as you can hear, I speak like a person from there. There are many people in Madrid who are from Argentina, and there was always the temptation to speak in an Argentinean tone, or in a Latin American rhythm ... I imagine that in El Salvador, too, which is different, you 'sing' a little bit more. In Spain they speak more dryly.
What was it like participating in the most expensive movie ever produced in Spain ($28 million dollars)?
I don't know if there has been a more expensive movie done in Spanish. It's nice because they're not accustomed to making big epic movies like they do in England, France, Italy or Hollywood. It's similar to what Peter Jackson achieved in New Zealand, which is a small country and wasn't accustomed to making big movies, and he managed to do it very well with a team of New Zealanders. So that was one way of showing that such things could also be done in Spain.
There are some fight scenes. Did you have to prepare a great deal for them?
There's more drama. There's not really so much fighting, believe me, even though it's about swordsmen and soldiers. There are battles, fights, the occasional duel. But it's more about the relationships between the characters. And I have to say that the cast is made up of the best actors in Spain, both from film and theatre. Typically I would have had to make six or seven movies in order to work with all of them, but I was lucky in that they all liked the script too. And the director, Agustin Diaz, is well-known and respected in the country. He has won awards and is a cultured, intelligent man. It seemed like it would be an interesting challenge and that's what the others thought too. I was able to work with many good actors. It's a story, it's complicated. The relationships are complicated and sometimes tragic. It's a lot about pride and the good things that can be done because of pride, as well as the tragic things. Relationships suffer because people can be very arrogant sometimes.
After this experience, have you received offers to make movies in Latin America?
I've had a couple of offers, but I wasn't able to do them because I already had other work and wasn't free to accept. On other occasions they weren't roles that I thought I could do, or I simply didn't like the script because, like in English, the majority of the scripts that I receive aren't good. It's not very often that you get a script that's well written and you have to be lucky to get a script that is well done and then, if you're lucky, that is filmed well.
Did the Spanish culture remind you somewhat of living in Argentina?
Well, sure, the language, their way of being, their pride, their behaviour. People like Alatriste and his companions, the so-called "bravos," have a lot in common with gauchos and people of that nature. You know, even with the cowboys in Mexico or in El Salvador, I imagine there's a way of being, a work ethic, let's say, a behaviour, a pride that has a lot to do with, and has many roots in, the "bravos" from the Golden Age.
Speaking of Latin American countries, what do you know about El Salvador?
I've never been. I've only read about it and heard about it, but I don't know any people there.
There's not a film industry here but there are people with scripts who are interested in having them produced and financed. If you were approached with one of these would you be interested?
Well, yes but I would feel responsible because, as with Alatriste, I'd have to change my accent a great deal.
© New Line Productions Inc.
Before Aragorn, after Aragorn.
Viggo Mortensen recognised that his starring role in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings saga gave him the opportunity to be more selective about the characters he was offered.
One thing is definite: His voice, heard over a phone connection from California to El Salvador, takes on an emphatic tone when he makes it clear that he refuses to tie himself solely to big epic movies. On the contrary, he says, he's still the same studious Viggo waiting for well-put-together characters and stories that are told well.
That's why he liked Diego Alatriste. The character, central to the movie Alatriste, based on the best selling novels by Arturo Perez Reverte and directed by Agustin Diaz Yanes, is just that: interesting.
Did playing the role of Aragorn change the way you select your roles today?
No. I always do the same thing. I read what arrives and try to select the best characters and stories where there are challenges, where I can learn something and do things that interest me.
I don't think about the salary. If my only thoughts were to be famous and rich, I would have done twenty big roles since Lord of the Rings. But that's not what interests me. I think that life is short and the life of an actor is even shorter. So I prefer to do something of which I can be proud of.
It's not only all the work preparing for the role but also promoting the film afterward. I feel proud of Alatriste and doing publicity is much easier if you like the work you've done.
You say that you wouldn't like to play twenty roles like Aragorn but you must feel some tenderness for the character. Or don't you?
I don't have anything against doing another role like Aragorn, or playing that role. What I didn't want to do is play a big role with a big salary solely to stay famous. There are people who like doing that more than anything else but that's not me. The opportunity that The Lord of the Rings' success gave me was more options to choose from, to find work and, luckily, I haven't wanted for opportunities. I'm well aware that there are many good actors in this world who can't earn a living with their profession.
There's talk of The Hobbit being filmed in 2009...
I don't know if it's going to be made. I haven't seen that it's going to be made but it would be logical, given the success of Lord of the Rings, that Peter Jackson would film it. But I'm not really up to speed on what's going on with that. I know that some things have been written and that it's sort of the story of the moment.
But if the movie is made and they decide to incorporate characters like Aragorn, would you accept?
It depends who's making it, of course, and I'd have to read the script, but on principle, yes.
At the moment, it's known that Peter Jackson has been removed from the project. But are there any plans for you to work with him again?
Not that I'm aware of but it would always be a pleasure.
What new plans do you have after Alatriste?
I've just finished filming a movie with David Cronenberg, Eastern Promises, in which I play a Russian. I just finished filming last week. I have another project Good, which will hopefully be screened in 2008, and there will be a little more publicity work for Alatriste, which has been a complete success. It's a shame that it hasn't been shown outside of Spain prior to this because I think that we would have had success in more places. It's a very nice story, with universal values. It will be a pleasure to present it. I think that we're going to Mexico and then I don't know, maybe some South American countries. Whenever you like working with your co-workers, it's always a pleasure.
You've played a variety of roles, including Lucifer (The Prophecy, 1995).
Lucifer? Ah...that was fun, but difficult, because the truth is that I couldn't prepare the role the way that I usually do...going to Lucifer's house or meeting him or meeting his family. But I think that we all have a dark side and so I had to think a little bit about that. The best part of that movie was working with Christopher Walken, who is a great actor.
One last question, the kind that actors don't like to answer. What is your favourite role from your entire career?
Well, I love them all. There isn't a character I don't like. It's like asking what son you like best. I don't have a way to decide that.