Image Larry Horricks.
© Good Films.
When Viggo Mortensen and Jason Isaacs (of Brotherhood) were in town Wednesday to close the Chicago International Film Festival with their Holocaust drama Good, a young woman spotted them in their hotel lobby and just happened to have large photo print-outs on hand for signing.
The almost-poster-size one of Mortensen depicted him as the heroic, long-haired Aragorn of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Isaacs' smaller photo was of the evil, long-haired Lucius Malfoy from the Harry Potter films. Both actors signed while the nervous woman fanned herself with her hands.
Afterward we sat down and spoke with the two actors and had to address the two iconic film series with which the actors will forever be associated.
Tribune: When you were making Good, did people talk to you a lot about The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter?
Isaacs: It's all, "Aragorn versus Lucius: Who would win?" I got that a lot. I go, "Well, I've got magic. He's got a sword. Get serious."
Isaacs: The Aragorn picture was a lot bigger than the Lucius picture. Did you see that? If you've got a big printer, how come you didn't print a big one of me?
Tribune: Looking back, what do you think of the significance of these two stories?
Mortensen: Because it did so well, I got a lot of other jobs. On History of Violence, I wouldn't have gotten that role. Period.
Tribune: David Cronenberg cast you because of Lord of the Rings?
Mortensen: No, no, no, he hadn't even seen it. But he had seen me doing some other things. He could say to his producers, "I want this guy to play the role," and they would say, "Yeah, he sells so many DVDs, and he's in [The Lord of the Rings], and he's known."
Isaacs [to Mortensen]: People can now make movies if you agree to be in them. This is true.
Mortensen: Yeah, for the time being.
Tribune: The first Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies also both came out toward the end of 2001, when people were thinking a lot more about good versus evil.
Mortensen: It was Richard Corliss in Time magazine--I wrote him a letter, which they didn't publish, but then I just put it on the Internet anyway. His review of The Two Towers said, among other things, that bearded Christopher Lee bears an eerie resemblance to Osama bin Laden, and our heroes barricaded in this stone fortress are very much like the coalition of the willing against the millions of Islamic hordes.
Issacs: [laughing] That's very funny.
Mortensen: And I said, "You are a respectable journalist. ... You should be ashamed of yourself."
Isaacs: With Harry Potter, there were some ultra-right fundamentalist Christian reactions, but basically it's been nothing but untrammeled joy for me being part of something that's given that much pleasure and improves literacy so much.
Tribune: Kids don't run away from you?
Isaacs: No, they love it. Are you kidding? Kids love the bad guy. Who do you think they'd play? Peter Pan as well--they want to be Captain Hook.
Mortensen: I went to Russia for a couple of weeks before [filming] Eastern Promises just to see what I could see. Not a single person anywhere ever recognized me, which was great. On the last day when I was leaving, I'm at the hotel checking out, and there's this little boy. I don't know, he's 7, 8, 9, and he's with his parents, and he's by the reception area, and he's got that look.
Isaacs: That "what can I sell on eBay" look.
Mortensen: [laughing] Yeah. He just knows. And I don't look anything [like Aragorn]--I don't have long hair or beard, I've got the short hair--and he starts drifting toward me away from his parents. And he looks at me, and he's looking in my eyes, and he says with a Russian accent, "Aragorn." He whispers it. And I go ... [nods and makes a shushing gesture].
Mortensen: And he sort of wanders back. But he was so ... happy.
Isaacs: It's magic.