Actor, painter, dedicated editor. Fifty years old.
More than a god, an icon.
Nevertheless, he too has a weak point and reveals which one.
He arrives in a hurry, some minutes late. On his right shoulder hangs a black college bag. He's wearing a good tailored shirt, without a visible brand. Every time I've met him before his editorial image has vanished in a few seconds, the same happens again now.
Viggo Mortensen is a star, though he does not behave like one. He is the lonely cavalier of the cinema. Not only because he has been single for some years, since the end of his last known relationship with Lola Schnabel, daughter of the painter Julian. Also because he survives successes and failures, series of interviews, press conferences full of stupid questions, promotional tours, a film of a controversial auteur (i.e. David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises where he appeared nude, with all those "ahhs" and "ohhs") as well as the immense popularity created by such blockbusters with many sequels (The Lord of the Rings). He survives everything serenely, whatever might happen in his career, he remains the same person - an idealist, but not a naive one - he has just perfectionized the art of doing his own things.
Appaloosa is released in Italy on January 16th, directed and interpreted by Ed Harris, and first presented at the International Film Festival in Rome last October. An unusual and witty western, a classical small film with a great cast. Besides the actor-director Ed Harris and Viggo, you can also find Renée Zellweger and Jeremy Irons in the cast. It's a story of frontiers and of two men's friendship, between the sheriff Ed Harris and his "second" Viggo, irresistible like Sherlock Holmes and Watson, but with the license to fire colts. The ex-Bridget Jones is the woman who remixes the cards and provokes some priceless scenes like the one where the two "real men" find themselves discussing some curtain samples. And Jeremy Irons gives us the perfect, easy to hate, bad guy.
In a hotel in Rome, Viggo Mortensen takes a seat and as a first move he takes off his shoes, a pair of nice moccasins, they are sans logo too. He's wearing dark socks; as soon as he can he always takes his shoes off.
"I'm relaxing. I have a certain feeling of speaking and thinking better with bare feet."
Congratulations, you recently celebrated your 50th birthday (20th October). Did anything change?
"No, no particular reflection, just the one that fortunately life goes on. Actually I've worked a bit too much lately. I would like to take a break from cinema. I've just finished filming The Road [a novel by Cormac Mc Carthy] and I'm travelling for months for the promotion of Appaloosa and Good."
In Good, a film directed by Vicente Amorim, with no fixed release date in Italy for now, you interpret a professor, an ordinary good man, who unwillingly becomes a Nazi official.
"The moral is that dictatorships can't exist without a, sometimes silent, consensus by the people, also by those who consider themselves as being better than others. My character becomes a Nazi without believing in Nazism, even without being a typical opportunist. He stays in that uniform by pure accident, but with tragic consequences. He wishes he could save his best friend, a Jewish psychiatrist, but he fails."
Do you think that the idea of an "innocent" Nazi in a film is only acceptable because you are interpreting the character? Everybody knows Viggo Mortensen is a democrat, politically committed and certainly against Nazism.
"I've never thought about it. To be frank, I don't know whether he is good or bad. It's probably better that the film works for what it is, independent of the fact that the audience does or does not know what I'm doing when I am off screen."
Well, we know it. You've founded a publishing house, Perceval Press that publishes Argentinean poets, Cuban photographers, artists from all countries, scientists speaking about economy, politics, and the environment. Books that are difficult to read and very beautiful to look through. It can't be easy to show a profit on your accounts.
"In fact, very often they don't. I've just told you that I would like to work less but, in reality, I don't know how to manage it as the publishing house isn't profitable enough."
Is it possible that another editing group could offer you some support, some sort of collaboration?
"Indeed some have wished to purchase us. We would have become a part of the boutique section, the flower in the eye of a big publishing house and we would have lost our independence. That's not me."
How can you do so many things? You are an actor, publisher, poet, musician, photographer, and painter. A restless man?
"Yes, I confess. It's a complicated affair. Now, for instance, I am travelling a lot, though I would prefer to rest for a whole week of writing. Therefore, I am writing in airports, for half an hour per day. On the other hand I could never really stay still for long periods. To me moving means change, even those really small ones. I'll give you an example: Look, if right now I go out into the corridor of this hotel and come back, the flow of our conversation will change. Whatever we are observing, a tree in front of the window, it will transform us."
Always at the peak of the events, do you have some inner, emotional stability?
"Yes, it exists in the equilibrium I successfully create inside me. On one side I do appreciate the moment I live in, on the other side I'm always ready to go somewhere else."
You are single, but you have a constant love: your only son Henry. You practically brought him up yourself after the divorce. How's Henry doing?
He is twenty now; two years ago he moved to New York, he's at the college, studying archaeology and foreign languages. He is very committed. He even speaks very good Japanese now. I did suffer when he left; I was used to spending a lot of time with him. Last summer when we needed some help at Perceval Press, he worked for us for a bit. He proved to be very fit. Giving my son a job in my own publishing house, when you think there's a touch of nepotism in there, and I'll tell you straight away that you are right."
Honestly, isn't it good to know that nobody is perfect, not even Viggo.