Sometimes a cigar actually is more than a cigar.
The usually reserved Viggo Mortensen lets slip a rare glimpse into his private life. Sort of a Freudian slip.
Mortensen, who plays Sigmund Freud in the David Cronenberg film A Dangerous Method, says that he brought the spirit of his grandfather to the set with him.
"I have my grandfather's cigar box, a round, mahogany container," Mortensen says. "There's a scene in the movie where I hand Jung [played by Michael Fassbender] a cigar from a box and he declines. It was the one cigar left in my grandfather's box and one of my good-luck pieces."
The handsome Mortensen is not exactly obvious casting when you think of Freud, the father of modern psychoanalysis.
The 53-year-old, who is being touted as a possible supporting actor Oscar nominee, raised a hunky brow himself when his longtime collaborator Cronenberg wanted to cast him as one of the leads in A Dangerous Method.
The film (opening Friday) was adapted by Oscar winner Christopher Hampton from his 2002 play, The Talking Cure. Set on the eve of World War I, the plot revolves around the rocky relationship between Carl Jung and Freud, his mentor, plus the woman (Keira Knightley) who intrigues both of them.
Calling from Spain, where he's doing a play, Mortensen says that playing Freud scared him on several levels. "First of all, the entire film is made up of a lot of dialogue, which is funny for a guy like myself who is accused of playing characters who don't talk that much," he says.
"So I was surprised when I was offered the role, to say the least. I also knew if David decided to make a movie about Freud, it wouldn't be a decision he'd make lightly. He's also one of the best directors at casting. He never casts badly.
"So I didn't do this film because we're friends. There was really something to it," Mortensen says of his third collaboration with Cronenberg. They also worked together on A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.
The script surprised him. "Freud was a lot more social and much funnier than the preconceived notion of him. I thought he would be a much dryer, more academic person," says the actor. "I thought he'd be inflexible.
"He's actually very funny and personable."
To become Freud, he worked with Cronenberg's expert makeup team, who gave Viggo a prosthetic nose, a beard and dark contacts. (Cronenberg used the same team that transformed Jeff Goldblum into an insect in his film The Fly.)
Mortensen also immersed himself in Freud's letters and music of the period. He even started smoking cigars.
"I was able to make the physical transformation because David has a great makeup team," Mortensen says. "The problem was I don't look like Freud although I play him at age 50 when he was much healthier. The last 15 years of his life was when he was frail. Most of the pictures we see of Freud were taken much later before he died and when he was very feeble.
"I loved looking at his vintage suits in the photographs, and we captured those perfectly. After they worked on my facial features and the color of my hair and eyes and then I put on the suit, I felt ready to find Freud's tone," Mortensen says.
It's no "dry documentary," he promises.
"You see these characters' frailties and learn about the doubts they had -- and how they changed their minds about things," the actor says. "You also see how these two men tried to outwit each other and outmanipulate the other.
"They reveal more than they wanted about themselves. The movie is accurate in that way because it's based on the letters between these two men. There was a slight limitation on Jung's side because his estate hasn't released everything. But there is enough to put it together."
Mortensen will star in 2012 in On the Road, based on the work of Jack Kerouac. The film also stars Amy Adams, Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst.
"The character I play is a crazy mentor for Kerouac. It was a fun shoot," he says. "Visually, it's a stunning movie. People who have seen 20 or 30 minutes of it said it plays really well."
He will not be reprising his role of Aragorn in The Hobbit, which is currently in production. "A few years ago, I was asked by New Line if I'd be interested in playing the character again. I said, 'But he's not in the Hobbit book.' I was told, 'Yeah, they might make a bridge movie.'
"I said, 'Of course, I'll do it.' I had a great time making those movies and really enjoyed the process. But nothing has happened with my character and The Hobbit I would have heard by now.
"I do look forward to seeing the new film," he offers.
Getting back on stage in the play Purgatorio in Madrid fulfilled a dream for Mortensen.
"I haven't done a play in over 20 years, and this is a difficult one," he says.
"I was scared, but that's fun. You have to put yourself in that position in life where you scare yourself. That's why I say yes. Then, of course, I curse myself for having done so.
"But I think it's always a positive experience to come up with something new that's frightening and then face it down. You have to confront things in life. Fear. Racism. Prejudice. Once you confront it, you deal with it. You might fail, but you will learn something from the obstacles."
Mortensen will spend a few more weeks in Spain and then he plans to enjoy the holidays. He's just not sure where.
"I love to cook," he admits. "When we did Lord of the Rings, I'd help cook these big Thanksgiving feasts on the set."
The Renaissance Man adds, "I do all the trimmings plus even make pies."