Interviews 2002

'Rings' Leading To Other Things

Source: Watertown Daily Times

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As millions of The Lord of the Rings fans worldwide marvel at the Battle of Helm's Deep and other highlights of The Two Towers, former Watertown resident and rising star Viggo Mortensen, 44, is riding horses of different colors in his next film.

When not fielding countless media questions regarding his role as Aragorn in the ongoing Tolkien trilogy, "I'm working on a movie called Hidalgo. We've been in South Dakota doing a part of that - which is re-enact the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890."

During that low point in American history, he said on the phone recently, "The Seventh Cavalry killed close to 200 mostly women and children Lakota Sioux in a very unfortunate misunderstanding, to put it mildly. That's just one of the backdrops of this story, which is based on a real character named Frank Hopkins and his horse Hidalgo."

Frank Hopkins eventually joined Buffalo Bill Cody's legendary Wild West Show, and is portrayed by Mr Mortensen in the forthcoming film. By coincidence, the son of V Peter Mortensen of Cape Vincent and Grace A "Gay" Wright of Clayton added, "My family - my brothers and I and my mother - are descendants of Bill Cody. That's kind of interesting. And the actor who plays him did a really great job.

"So anyway, Frank Hopkins ends up in the Wild West show. Without giving away too much, there's an emissary or sheik or very important chieftain from Arabia who comes from the Middle East and presents a challenge to this guy to enter a race that's been held for centuries there. And the centerpiece of the movie is the big race over there.

"We've just been in Morocco for two and a half months shooting that. It was pretty interesting - about a hundred horses and this little mustang pony and then all these Arabian stallions. That was pretty intense. It's an interesting culture.

"And I like the story. With so many misunderstandings between the Christian world and the Islamic world, it's refereshing to have an American studio movie that involves an American who goes over to the Middle East without any real agenda other than doing his best to compete in this race. He's not going over there to instruct people about the American way or anything. He's just taking part.

"He suffers a little bit and so does his horse in being underestimated, and there's some prejudice against him and so forth. But he learned a lot, and they learned a lot."

Those who saw Viggo Mortensen as artist David Shaw in the Hitchcock remake A Perfect Murder may know that the works seen in the character's loft were created by the actor himself. Given recent scheduling including Hidalgo and more than a year in New Zealand shooting the Lord of the Rings saga, little time has been left for other artistic expressions.

"That's been a bit of a problem," he said. "But I have done a lot of photography in the past few months as I've been shooting Hidalgo. I haven't had time really to finish painting. I'm looking forward to getting to that in February when we're done with this."

Hidalgo tells of a horse and rider described by the star as "probably the world's best endurance team as far as horse racing." As their story begins, "They had been in about 300 races anywhere from a few hundred miles to say 1,800 miles - all of which they'd won. I think there was a race from Galveston, Texas to somewhere in Vermont.

"And his horses would always end the races in pretty good shape, and in most cases weighing a little more. He just knew how to treat them and do it - whereas the other closest finishers which were often days behind and often much bigger and seemingly stronger horses would be just wrecks, you know? I believe he raced exclusively on mustangs that he would catch in the West. He really believed in that breed.

"And this story also treats the Native American and particularly the Lakota Sioux culture with respect. It's an unusual thing for a studio movie to do, and it's also a very entertaining story. So hopefully, it will turn out to be a unique movie, and we're in the middle of that now."

Once Hidalgo is completed, he said, "I'm looking forward in about a month or a month and a half to being able to unwind a little bit and not do anything in particular other than just stuff around the house I've left undone, and spending time with my son, Henry."

Thanks to the success of the first instalment of The Lord of the Rings, he said, "Being that the part of Frank Hopkins in Hidalgo is the focus of the story in terms of the cast, I know that I wouldn't have been given this role had it not been for the popularity of The Fellowship of the Ring.

"If it hadn't made all of the money that it did and been so popular, I don't think the studio that's making Hidalgo would have taken a gamble on me being in this. So that's a direct result. And I think that this movie has a chance to be both entertaining and therefore popular, but also a learning experience for people - just as Lord of the Rings maybe is."

Back to other artistic pursuits, he said, "I do have some deadlines to meet for some photo shows and art shows that look like they're going to happen next year. And I guess another byproduct of the movie being popular is that there's a pretty small book press I started - the idea being to get people's work published that wouldn't normally get published, and particularly artists and poets that have come to my attention.

"I'm trying to help them, and occasionally putting out a book of my own and doing that initially with a couple of new books in the past year of photography and paintings and stuff as a sort of flagship." In the new year, "I plan to put out five or six books by other people, and probably one new book of photography of my own.

"So the attention that [Perceval Press] has gotten has been helped by Lord of the Rings as well, indirectly. And I've gotten a lot of mail from people who said that looking at those books inspired them to take up painting again or writing or whatever. And that's a good thing, I think."

Publisher Viggo Mortensen added, "Even if it's a case of people looking at art books or something that I've put out of my own or of other people's and looking at it and going 'Well, I could do that,' there's that kind of feeling, you know?

"Or if you go to musuems and see some kinds of modern art and think the same, that's a good thing. If it inspires people to do something for themselves that they might have thought of before or left behind in their childhood or haven't had time for, then that's great - whether it's taking pictures, or writing their thoughts down. I think that's all positive."
Last edited: 4 March 2005 06:14:39