The rail-thin Viggo Mortensen walked around barefoot and showerless [sic] for the entire shoot of The Road, which, believe it or not, mostly filmed in chilly western Pennsylvania. The always hard-working 51-year-old, a definite Oscar contender for playing a man trying to keep his son alive in post-apocalyptic America, talks about the film's potential impact.
Image Javier Aquirresarobe.
© Dimension Films/2929 Productions.
What about this movie really resonated with you?
VM: I like the idea of getting to a point where you stop making excuses for your behavior, justifying and not doing the right thing. In a way, that's what the movie is about. The man learns from what happens to them, but mainly from the boy, about forgiving oneself and forgiving others; about realizing that no matter how bad things are, something good could happen always. It doesn't matter how many excuses you have for behaving in an unkind manner toward others. It's always better to be kind, even if it seems pointless.
I know that sounds like a very noble, ethereal, simplistic idea, but it's true. Once you've seen this movie and go through this journey, you earn that strangely uplifting feeling that you get at the end.
Was filming physically demanding?
VM: It needed to be. If we hadn't shot outside in the winter, it would not have been as good a movie because, no matter how well you fake it visually, the actors aren't going to feel the same. Kodi (Smit-McPhee, playing Mortensen's son) said, "It's a lot easier to be cold than to pretend to be cold. We have enough things to worry about." It also affected our relationship because I felt naturally extra-protective of this skinny little kid from southern Australia who'd never even seen snow. He goes, "Snow is falling out of the sky?" I'd tease him and say, "What do you think? It grows out of the ground?" He was very cold and would wear out quickly sometimes. Frankly, it helped having it as miserable as it was.
Did you go on a crash diet?
VM: No, I just ate a lot less, but that took me a while. I think the older you get, the harder it is to probably lose weight. Your metabolism slows down or whatever. I'm a pretty active person, so I just became a little more active physically. I'm not sure how much I lost, actually, but from the way that the clothes that didn't fit, I think around 30 pounds, maybe more, maybe less.
Was it taxing emotionally, too?
VM: To be honest, that was the hardest part. I've been in movies that were physical: extreme heat or cold, mountains, horse work, fights, all of that. I've done things where I knew there'd be weeks and months of such things ahead, but you just get through it. Plus, I've been naked physically in movies, but it's a whole other thing to be naked emotionally, in a way that's not just a distraction. It had to be very sincere or it wouldn't work because the landscape we were in was so real, so raw.
I've never been in a movie where the environment was so consistently a character. Even though it was dead or dying, it was very alive in its dying, in its death throes: the trees, the waterfall, the weird cityscapes. Being with this weather, in these real places, it wasn't like a sci-fi thing, with a green screen where we would imagine things and the director saying, "Yes, you'll be talking to this tennis ball, but it's really a cannibal." Everything that you saw, we saw.
Remember that this is not a big-budget movie, so we needed to shoot it that way, to shoot in those places. Still, I think the director (John Hillcoat), even if he'd had twice the budget, would've probably done it the same. He wanted to be faithful to the book, and that was the way to do it.
Did having a son of your own help?
VM: Certainly in the beginning. I did think many times about my son (Henry, now 20), how he did something like that once, something that Kodi did, or how it reminded me of my dad or myself. It was my way in, but, after a while, I just kind of put it away. Someone who reads this book and is touched by it doesn't have to be a dad or a mom to relate to the predicament that this adult and this child are in.
If asked, would you appear in The Hobbit?
VM: I would rather finish playing the part (of Aragorn) than have someone else do it, but the only way it would work is if they made a connective story between The Hobbit and the start of The Lord of the Rings, and that's about 60 years, if I remember correctly. I mean, my character is not in The Hobbit, but he was alive. He was young and he ages very slowly, but I don't know if they intend to do it.
I'm sure fans would like them to do it, just like I'm sure those guys would make money if they knew they could put in characters that people got to know, as well as some actors people got to know. So, I would like to, but I haven't been contacted. I think they're having enough trouble just getting the first one (of the planned two parts) made.