The famous Aragorn of Lord of the Rings is a really atypical movie star. Born on the island of Manhattan in 1958, he speaks an unhurried Spanish with an unexpected Argentinean touch, he is a great football fan - the team of his heart is San Lorenzo de Almagro, from Argentina -, he doesn't take the Oscars won by the film of Tolkien's saga too seriously, and now he is getting into the role of Captain Alatriste, shooting in Spanish for the film version of the character from Arturo Pérez-Reverte's novels.
The actor visited Madrid to present the film Alatriste, along with the director Agustín Díaz Yanes, who is also the scriptwriter, and part of the impressive cast of this project, which has a budget of 22 million Euros, the highest ever in Spanish cinema history.
'I am thoroughly preparing for the character,' Viggo confesses, 'because I read an excellent script and I wanted to learn a lot more about the history and the environment in which Captain Alatriste was developed. Now that I've met the director and the cast, I'm happy that I accepted this movie.'
Viggo Mortensen is regarded as a versatile actor, accustomed to playing psychotics, assassins and troubled souls before playing Aragorn, the ultimate hero.
'I like that they say I'm versatile,' he says, 'because other things are part of the Lord of the Rings success. Except for Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett and Ian McKellen, all of us were practically unknown, and for some it was their first role, and now things are going so well for us, at the moment.'
'The Oscars,' he points out, 'are the recognition of a good job, but the number of people who watched the film and the good reviews achieved were enough recognition. It wasn't necessary to win eleven or two Oscars, but I'm happy for the crew and for Peter Jackson (the director of the saga), who spent eight years of his life on this project.'
'The statuettes,' he adds, 'are not only for those who won them, the ones who have them in their hands, but also for all the crew and the people of New Zealand, who supported us before anybody knew us. But the awards are a satellite industry, guided by money and aside from the work of the actors and film makers, aside from the crew.'
Mortensen's new character, Diego Alatriste, is a soldier who ekes out a living by hiring his sword in the Imperial Spain of the XVII century, the time in which Quevedo and Góngora write their poems, Velázquez paints his paintings and Lope de Vega has his plays performed.
Arturo Pérez-Reverte, writer and a member of the Spanish Academy, has published five instalments of the Captain Alatriste series, selling more than 3 million copies.
'It was a crucial time for Spain and Europe,' Mortensen explains, 'and I think it's a very interesting idea to tell it, because it hasn't been done well in the movies before, and it's an honour to do it, furthermore in Spanish.'
Mortensen's cast-mates are mainly Spanish, among others: Elena Anaya as Angélica Alquézar; Javier Cámara as Count Duke Olivares; Eduard Fernández as Copons; Ariadna Gil as María de Castro; Blanca Portillo as Bocanegra; Antonio Resines as Saldaña and Unax Ugalde as Íñigo Balboa. The parallels between that time and the present are clear to the American actor, who talks about 'the similarities between the world empires, we find there were the same lies, disorder and lack of information as there are nowadays.'
But the language has changed considerably and, although Viggo speaks an acceptable Spanish because he grew up in various Latin countries, especially Argentina and Venezuela, he admits that, 'it will be my duty to speak the best I can, and to do as much as possible so that I don't sound strange in this production. I have to begin to believe it myself, in order to think that others will believe in me in the role of Alatriste.'
Nevertheless, his good command of Spanish has allowed him to shoot some films in Spain, like Gimlet by Jose Luis Acosta, or La Pistola de mi Hermano by Ray Loriga.
In fact, he loves practising in this language as much as drinking maté, the typical Argentinean herbal tea. The actor, who became famous after his work as the great hero of Lord of the Rings, admits that, 'it's a challenge to do Alatriste now,' and he adds that it doesn't matter to him if he becomes typecast in adventure roles (his latest film was Hidalgo).
'I don't care what they say about that, because on this occasion it isn't just an adventure film, but a much more important portrayal of that time, and in order to get that it is fundamental to shoot in Spanish, because some films about that era have been done before in English and they were terribly bad.'
For this production he has put himself once again under the instruction of his sword-master teacher but the swords from Lord of the Rings are nothing like the ones from the Spanish Golden Century.
'The fighting style is very different, it's very real, sometimes more violent, sometimes finer, because in the film the characters are behaving like they would at that time, they are fighting for their lives and there is no time to fight in an elaborate way.' Alatriste will take place in Madrid and Seville, and as locations for their first city they have chosen Ãbeda and Baeza (Jaén), as well as the Monastery of El Escorial (Madrid). For the second environment, in addition to Seville itself, they will include Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Tarifa and Cádiz.
The shooting in Spanish is something the director and scriptwriter, Agustín Díaz Yanes, puts emphasis on, even though shooting in English would have made it more commercial worldwide. 'It would be absurd and depressing to tell Spanish history in English,' the director says, and he also reminds us that Alatriste will have a 400 million Spanish-speakers market.
Pérez-Reverte, who confessed to being incapable of writing such a good script as Díaz Yanes has, that summarises the five books about Alatriste's life, said that the film will keep the same spirit as the novels. 'It will be an extremely hard film because Yanes has managed to capture the decline of the empire. The film grows darker and darker and it captures that decline in a cruel and hard way. In this film there are neither goodies nor baddies, but if that was the case, there would be more baddies than goodies.'
Regarding the future, Mortensen's choices in the world of cinema - he is a man that published poetry books, paints and exhibits his photographs - will depend on 'finding interesting and challenging stories. If I cannot find them, I hope they can find me, with a bit of luck. I don't care about how big a film is, or the budget, or how long the shooting takes.'