The Promise of Viggo Mortensen

Source: Globe and Mail

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Viggo Mortensen reaches out and hands me a CD: "Maybe you like piano music," he says, shoving it in my hand.

The music is his own, of course. He also writes poetry, shows photographic exhibits and runs a publishing company with a multilevel website. He spends a lot of time with his 19-year-old son, Henry, his child with artist and musician Exene Cervenka, of the seminal seventies L.A. punk band X.

At the Eastern Promises press conference, when moderator Henri Behar ran through the long list of Mortensen's varied creative achievements, David Cronenberg cracked, "but not much of an actor."

The acting, of course, has made all the rest possible. Like a lot of people who end up as performers, Mortensen, 48, moved around a lot as a kid. He was born in northern New York state of a Danish father and American mother (his paternal grandfather is Canadian), and raised in Argentina and Denmark. He then moved back to New York, where he finished high school and university, and discovered the theatre.

His first film appearance was in Peter Weir's Witness back in 1985, and after roles in everything from Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, to Crimson Tide and Carlito's Way, his fame reached its peak in the role of the heroic Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a role he took because his son was a J.R.R. Tolkien fan.

"Those kinds of films, the sprawling epic with the huge cast and the computer imagery, is almost an entirely different medium from films like A History of Violence or Eastern Promises, which are intimate and subtle," he said.

In A History of Violence, Mortensen showed a new dimension to his acting and the director enjoyed some of the biggest successes of his career. When Cronenberg was approached to direct the London-set Eastern Promises (which opens on Friday) he immediately suggested Mortensen as a cold-blooded Russian gangster in his new film.

"We connected on an artistic and story-telling level and just as people we get along. It's fun watching him play. He's still creatively fearless and, after 30 years, he just keeps getting better. You look at A History of Violence and it just holds up a lot better than some movies by other directors who won more awards," said the actor.

After his success with Lord of the Rings, Mortensen, with his sharp cheekbones, blue eyes and cleft chin, may be one of the more instantly recognizable faces on the planet. But he says he usually manages to travel on his own without being bothered by fans.

To research his role in Eastern Promises, Mortensen went alone on a two-week trip through Moscow, St. Petersburg and country villages, riding public transit and hanging out in coffee shops to photograph, record and study ordinary Russians.

It wasn't until the last day of his research trip, he says, that his cover was blown:

"A little boy started staring at me, then he pointed and whispered, 'Aragorn?' "
Last edited: 12 September 2007 04:16:52
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