"Viggo sent me books on Russian criminal tattoos which were filled with not just photos and diagrams but also texts about the meanings of tattoos. He also sent me The Mark of Cain. There's this whole hidden world of symbolism that is immediately fascinating......Tattoos suddenly became an intense metaphor and symbol in the movie."
"You would think, 'Of course Cronenberg was drawn in by the tattooing,' but it was almost not there," says the director. "In the original script, tattooing was just alluded to. Viggo discovered a set of books called Russian Criminal Tattoo and a doc called Mark of Cain, which was about the tattooing subculture in Russian prisons, and when I saw them my mind was blown completely."
Ties that bind
by Melora Koepke, Hour CA
13 Sept 2007
Keeping it all in the film family - as opposed to the crime family - Russian dialect coach Olegar Fedoro did double duty by appearing on-screen as the tattooist who works on Nikolai. "Viggo's body was a canvas for me," he reports. "Instead of a brush, I was using a little electric machine."
"Some of the tattoos were humorous - and some were quite poetic. On the instep of my right foot, one said 'Where are you going?' On the instep of the other foot, another said 'What the hell do you care?"
Mortensen was particularly fond of one tattoo which read, "The important thing is to remain human." For him, that means much more than being a movie star.
Viggo the Sponge
By Jake Coyle, MSNBC
21 Sept 2007
Thanks to 43 tattoo transfers and a few more added in time for the aforementioned action sequence, Mortensen's look is as fearsome as his gaze.
Cronenberg's Russian Cocktail
6 Sept 2007
Mortensen's in-character tattoos for Nikolai were so authentic-looking that when the actor visited a Russian restaurant diners fell silent, thinking that a top Vory had entered. However, once he spoke English, many visibly relaxed...
...although, reveals Armin Mueller-Stahl, "I was told that some of them actually left."