Interviews 2004

Back in the saddle 'Rings' hero Mortensen is riding high with 'Hidalgo'

Source: Daily News

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The King will be a no-show Sunday night when "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" bids for 11 Oscars. But Viggo Mortensen insists it's not because he is upset that he didn't receive an acting nomination for his role as the hero and king, Aragorn.

He has simply moved on to his next movie, "Hidalgo," opening next week.

He's okay with missing the hoopla, he says. He won't miss the red-carpet walk past Joan Rivers.

"In the last couple years, I've gotten more attention than I'd need in 10 lifetimes," he says.

After more than two decades in the acting trenches, Mortensen finally joined Hollywood's A-list when he replaced Irish actor Stuart Townsend as Aragorn after four days of filming - at 28, Townsend was considered too young for the role.

Instead of being angry about having to struggle just below the big stars, Mortensen calls the long wait "lucky."

"I've screen-tested for lots of things I didn't get," he says. His first real break was playing an Amish farmer in Harrison Ford's "Witness" in 1985. I don't regret not getting 'Greystoke' or 'Dracula.' I had a chance to watch others in the spotlight and see how they dealt with it."

While waiting, Mortensen became a photographer, a published poet, a painter (he did the large murals in his artist's studio in the 1998 film "A Perfect Murder"), a musician (with three CDs to his credit) and a book publisher (he owns Perceval Press).

He is also the father of a 16-year-old, Henry. He shares custody with his ex-wife, punk singer Exene Cervenka.

"If I'm up late because I have to finish reading something or doing the cleaning, I still have to get up and make him breakfast and get him to school."

Mortensen was born in Manhattan, but spent much of his childhood in Argentina before moving to upstate New York with his mother and two brothers when he was 11. After college at St. Lawrence University, he lived in Denmark - his father's birthplace - for several years.

"I'm curious about the world. I like to find out as much as I can for myself," he says.

That includes learning from his roles.

"'Lord of the Rings'was like a four-year class in mythology. It reaffirmed on a daily basis the value of multiculturalism and compassion. I get asked, 'Do you resent that people relate you to Aragorn when you walk down the street?' If I did object, which I don't, I certainly can't do anything about it."

Like "Rings" director Peter Jackson, who chose another mythic adventure, "King Kong," for his next movie, Mortensen, too, wanted to play another action hero.

In "Hidalgo," he plays Frank T. Hopkins, a legendary Pony Express rider in the late 19th century. The movie, opening March 5, is the story of Hopkins' quest to win the Ocean of Fire, a grueling 3,000-mile race across the Arabian Desert.

"Not many actors get even one chance to be in really entertaining adventures that have popular appeal and are also thought provoking," Mortensen, 45, says. "I've been in two."

For his new movie, he did research at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, learning about Hopkins and his pony, Hidalgo.

"Hopkins' self-doubt and insecurity is not unlike Aragorn's," Mortensen says. "He's running from his background because of society's bias against Native Americans. He's not advertising [that he's half-Indian]. For Aragorn, it was a practical thing.

Once he learned at 20 what kind of human he was - the remaining heir - he thought it best to go under an assumed name. In the end, you get in the habit of running away from yourself. Then you climb back and find a way to be yourself - which is Aragorn's journey and Hopkins' journey."

Mortensen's movie-star journey doesn't yet include a role exploiting his female fans' adoration.

But, he says, that's not because he isn't looking.

"I haven't seen any good naked roles."

Last edited: 14 March 2005 19:51:38
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