Film-Related 2008

Santa Brought Us Viggo Mortensen

Source: Film Klub

Viggo Mortensen, Aragorn in the movie trilogy The Lord of the Rings, was in Budapest on Saturday to attend the gala premiere of his movie Good that was shot in Hungary. The star was three hours late for the afternoon press conference, and then teased his co-star in the movie, Jason Isaacs with abandon, and was himself teased in return. Mr. Mortensen greeted the audience of the evening premiere in Hungarian; and both actors spoke about their work and voiced their greatest appreciation for the Hungarian crew.

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© Good Films/Odd Lot International.
The press conference before the premiere turned out to be a bit chaotic, a two act play, but as it became obvious while shooting Good, small obstacles can bring on great results..

A few minutes before the announced starting time we were told that Viggo Mortensen and the producer had missed their plane, they would land in Vienna an hour late, and would drive from there to the hotel in Budapest. By this time Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies) was already giving enthusiastic interviews in the room next door and it looked like we would have to make do with him. Mr. Mortensen was to join us upon arrival.

Our disappointment only lasted until the conversation started because it soon turned out that Mr. Isaacs isn't considered by many to be the most lovable British actor by accident. Our first impression was that he was informal, kind, open, had a great sense of humor and a pair of very blue eyes. Referring to Viggo Mortensen's tardiness in his first sentences, he asked those present to please make Mr. Mortensen uncomfortable, and to stop him no matter what he said, telling him that they'd already heard that today. He also asked us to ask Mr. Mortensen what his breakfast was like at the airport, because the long breakfast was one of the reasons why he missed his plane. He also spoke with him on the phone twice, and conveyed to us that Viggo was so upset over being late that he could only growl, and he said that he would be happy to have even a hundredth of the talent that Jason Isaacs has. At the end Mr. Isaacs reassured Viggo that he didn't have to hurry because he (Mr. Isaacs) could do this press conference for another three or four hours with no problem.

For that matter, the two actors teased each other during the whole press conference, and whenever they weren't directly asked sent small notes back and forth, laughing a lot. This was stopped by producer Miriam Segal, saying how she would have to separate them if they wouldn't behave. It was obvious that these people loved each other, became good friends, and enjoyed working together very much. Mr. Isaacs told us how cast and crew got very close to each other partly because of the seriousness and painfulness of the movie's subject.

Forming a close friendship was probably greatly helped by the huge difficulties they had to overcome to even start shooting the movie. As we learned from Mr. Isaacs, Miriam Segal had wanted to translate the story into a movie ever since she saw C. P. Taylor's identically titled play in 1980 - and this is obvious because she had sold everything to realize the plan. Unfortunately in the end, when everything was ready, the whole project collapsed because they didn't receive the necessary money from a bank. And that's where we can see the silver lining also because even though collecting the money again wasn't easy, it was due to this delay that they could win Viggo Mortensen for the role of the main character.

But even this didn't make signing Viggo Mortensen up for the movie any easier because in those days he had said in every forum that he didn't intend to make another movie for at least a year. Finally Mr. Isaacs sent him the screenplay through a friend (which, according to the unwritten rules every actor keeps to, is forbidden, Mr. Isaacs said), and when Mr. Mortensen realized which play it was about he said yes right away. According to both the producer and Mr. Isaacs, Mr. Mortensen was the only actor they could picture in the role; what's more, they could only obtain money for the shooting if they provided a name that would draw in the crowds. Miriam Segal considered Viggo Mortensen one the few actors today who's not only a movie star but a very talented actor.

Mr. Isaacs plays a Jewish character, Maurice, in the movie, best friend of the main character Halder (played by Viggo Mortensen). He said that one of the most serious challenges of the role was to show this very deep and old friendship authentically because he had never met Mr. Mortensen personally before. He told us how during the pre-production, when he was working in America, Mr. Mortensen visited him so that they could get to know each other, and gave him small gifts that he had collected during his trip in Europe to help him get in tune with the story. For Mr. Isaacs, one of the main story lines of the movie was the friendship between the two men and its dynamics, the changes brought on by history. He said that he found his character, Maurice, very exciting because he's not the typical victimized Jew but an outspoken, smart, strong man who enjoyed life to the fullest. "Maurice is a wonderful character to play because he's not an archetype; he's a rascal. He's not an apologetic guy but one who drinks and swears and follows his instincts. He considers himself to be a German first and a Jew only second, thus making the audience who's ready to put him in a box uncertain." Referring to his previous roles as villains he said that he doesn't care whether the character he's playing is good or bad; the important thing is that it should be real and life-like.

He thought it was also important that even though the movie is set during WWII, the story is timeless. He defined the genre of the movie as 'ethical thriller', a search for one's way - because it is about how we have to make decisions continuously; and there are certain boundaries that we either cross or not. Most of the time the right way is not obvious, we cannot know exactly where these boundaries are, and what consequences we bring on. The events we see could happen to anyone and everyone today: "What I've learned from the movie is that I shouldn't judge; and that I should protect and take care of those that I love." Mr. Isaacs said that we have to face very difficult decisions today, even more difficult than our parents back in their time.

He also emphasized at the end how happy he was that he could be back in Budapest, in this beautiful city, and meet crew and co-workers again. As he said, he never experienced the kind of interest in a movie that he saw in the Hungarian team, because from the lightning technicians to the caterers everyone felt this was their own movie. They all read the script and talked about the scenes in their free time. They all lived with the movie, and that's why he wouldn't have missed the Hungarian premiere.

After a "brief" two hours waiting period Viggo Mortensen and Miriam Segal also arrived, and so Act Two of the press conference started. Of course Viggo Mortensen's first sentence was, "I'm sorry for the delay, it's all Jason's fault." And even though he really tried to conceal it, it was obvious that he felt bad about being late. Soon it became clear that he's not the showman type, unlike Mr. Isaacs, even though their personalitites aren't as different as their characters in the movie. According to Miriam Segal, "Viggo is a wonderful team player and one of the sweetest persons I ever met." Mr. Mortensen was really modest all along, and very handsome too, his hair a dark blond at the moment. The only question about his looks came from a man, asking how he managed to look at least ten years younger than his age. Viggo Mortensen said that the most important thing was that he could remain a child because of his acting career, he could play and look at the world from many different point of views. Of course he is thankful to his genes too because even though he has quite an active lifestyle, he doesn't really live a healthy life. "Of course those shots aren't hurting either," he joked.

Mr. Mortensen is a sensitive and multi-faceted artist. Besides his acting career he is a talented poet, photographer, and painter, and he has had numerous exhibitions. He endured the photo op like the star he is but it was clear that press conferences aren't his favorite pastime. He showed up in a jacket with blue and red stripes - colors of his favorite Argentinean soccer team, San Lorenzo - which was made for him by the costume designer of the movie, Györgyi Szakács. The team won the Argentinean championship last year, and Mr. Mortensen watched the final in a Hungarian pub with his friends.

The most challenging aspect of playing Halder was authenticity because he doesn't go through major changes of character throughout the story, he doesn't do great things, he just lives his life. That's why it was really important that the character should be mapped out even to the smallest details. This thoroughness is very typical of Mr. Mortensen's work.

Mahler's music has a great part in Halder's life. His anxiety is sometimes revealed by visions of the people around him starting to sing. These dislocated moments also symbolize Halder's occasionally surfacing conscience, and they ease his stress. Mr. Mortensen tried to understand and imagine Halder's personality and so asked for a piano in his hotel room and played it every day. He felt that this helped him play the character more authentically.

For the premiere, Mr. Mortensen changed into a grey suit, put on his red-white-green wristband (translator's note: these are the Hungarian national colors), and greeted the audience with a few kind Hungarian words. He stayed around for an hour after the movie to answer questions and listen to opinions, then he said goodbye and traveled to the next premiere the following day.
Last edited: 6 January 2009 15:19:45