He dials the number himself. Without intermediaries, agents or assistants. Just him, sprawled on the floor of his home, with a tree that he is contemplating on a beautiful winter morning. His rough voice let's slip a Spanish accent marked by Argentinean overtones. His formal language, "vos", "sabés" and more, recall his childhood years in Argentina. It's Viggo Mortensen who is on the phone, not to talk about Aragorn but about Alatriste. Another caped hero with a sword who ambles through the pages of literature and is now a character brought to life on the silver screen. Agustín Díaz Yánes took a risk with Arturo Pérez Reverte's novel and character, and managed to land the actor in Madrid in order to tell a fragment of the fabled history of the Spanish empire.
You're back to making movies on horseback. Weren't the two years making Lord of the Rings enough for you?
It's true that it bears some similarities to Lord of the Rings. I play a man, the man carries a sword and fights; he loves a woman and has comrades. But apart from that there isn't anything more ... Well, okay, both projects are marvellous. In reality, the only similarity they have is their success. Lord of the Rings made me sufficiently popular that Agustín Díaz Yánes would allow me to make this movie. Lord of the Rings... is a fantasy story, Alatriste is an adventure movie, but it's a harder story, more truthful, cruder. Alatriste has ties with people who really existed, in spite of being an invention by Pérez Reverte. That's one of the challenges I decided to accept when taking on the role. I realised that it was a story that hadn't been told very well by movies: the history of the Spanish empire. Outside of the academic world almost nothing is known about it. The impact that the first global empire had on the world; its impact on Europe and the Americas. Up until now it's a story that only Hollywood had told, but I was interested in looking at Velázquez, Lope de Vega, Quevedo, Calderón de la Barca. The charming, the good and the bad. It's a good adventure movie. Tragic, moving and historically important. It was made very well and is a movie that will endure.
In the very first lines of the book, Arturo Pérez Reverte describes Captain Alatriste in a magical manner. Would you say he's a more luminous hero than Aragorn?
Maybe he's more modern. Alatriste isn't only a linguistic study, which was Tolkien's point of origin. His reality has to do with the history and culture of today. It's easier to find parallels with your own time period. As a citizen of the present and of a decadent empire like the United States it's easy for me to imagine what happens in the war. I've spoken to people who were in Iraq and also in Vietnam, so I can see the parallels between one history and the other. When a struggle is futile, when you're going to lose, you no longer fight for your flag or country. In a war like Flanders or Vietnam, soldiers think like Alatriste, and they're fighting for their comrades.
Pérez Reverte was enthralled by your transformation in Alatriste. Tell us about the first time you met him on the set.
I don't remember exactly, not what he said. I imagine that as a writer he will have found a marvellous manner of describing it. Luckily, I think he was happy about the meeting. He's a person who isn't afraid to say what he thinks, whatever the cost may be. But as an actor I'm interested in doing my job well and that the father of the character feels good about things, that he likes it and finds the essence of his creation in the performance.
Agustin Díaz Yánes is the quintessential actor's director. Did he seem comfortable with this enormous undertaking?
His work is comparable to Peter Jackson's. He did in Spain what Jackson did in New Zealand. People doubted his abilities, whether he could do a good job. Spain doesn't have the tradition of making the type of movies that exist in France, Italy and, of course, Hollywood; but Agustin showed them that it's possible. If the North Americans have a shorter history as a nation and can manage it, Spain, which has a much richer cultural history, should be able to make more movies like this one.
They nominated you for a Goya.
For me, awards are a lottery; if it's your turn, it's your turn. I don't remember who told me, but it's like Churchill's medals: "You shouldn't go in search of them, but must accept them and never wear them." In truth, I don't even look at them. Ever since I became an actor I've read about many injustices and undeserved victories. An award gives you opportunities, and I only understand the point of awards in that sense.