By Siti Rohani
He acts, paints, writes poetry and dotes on his son. Could there be a more perfect new age guy?
'In the beginning, everyone was very obsessed with getting my name changed. No, my name is Viggo Mortensen, I am Viggo Mortensen and Hollywood will have to live with that.'
And live with it they did. So what if his name doesn't quite roll off your tongue smoothly, but just sort of trips and falls off awkwardly? Mark our words: Viggo Mortensen's name will soon be as recognisable as the Cruises, Pitts and Clooneys of the world. Of course, we don't blame you for going, 'Viggo who?' In fact, just a few months ago, we were going 'Viggo who?' But things have changed since the first instalment of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, The Fellowship Of The Ring, exploded onto cinema screens everywhere late last year.
Suddenly everyone's anxious to find out more about the ruggedly handsome guy who plays Aragorn, the human hero-king. 'Who is he?' 'Where does he come from?' 'Where has he been all our lives?' Contrary to what many people think, Mortensen is no newcomer to acting. In fact he has appeared in some 30 movies throughout the course of his career. So why haven't you heard of him before? Well, perhaps it's because he freely admits he's 'not a big star.'
It doesn't help that he doesn't play the PR game and refuses to immerse himself in the glitz and glamour that is Hollywood, or that he chooses to stay clear of film awards and their ilk because he feels they 'corrupt the industry.' Instead you're more than likely to find him out and about, enjoying nature and art, travelling, or just spending time with Henry. That's his 14-year-old son with ex wife, punk-rocker singer Exene Cervenka, whom he met in 1987 while working on one of his earlier films, Salvation.
Mortensen's Danish father met his American mother during a trip to Oslo. The family moved to New York, where young Viggo was born some 44 years ago. He spent his childhood in numerous countries (US, Denmark, Argentina) due to his father's job as an economist. Even as an adult, he has travelled half the world but still considers himself very much Danish at heart. 'Somewhere in the back of your head, you have to have an anchor point, a place you call home, and Denmark is that place for me,' he explained.
Even though Mortensen is very much removed from Hollywood high society, he's not immune to standard celebrity rumours and gossip. He was blamed for allegedly causing the break-up of one-time golden couple, Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow, whom he met while working on A Perfect Murder. Although he tried to shrug it off in the beginning, he was forced to take it seriously after receiving threatening letters from obsessed fans. 'I realised there are really a lot of people who believe in those kind of stories, and who engage in the actor's life and perceive them as some sort of surrogate family. And then frankly it was not that fun anymore,' he said of his brush with the negative side of fame.
Mortensen's foray into acting was inspired by movies that moved him, such as Death In Venice, The Deerhunter and Höstsonaten. He worked as a carpenter, a truck driver and a waiter before landing bit parts in movies like Woody Allen's Purple Rose Of Cairo and Jonathan Demme's Swing Shift. However, his scenes kept ending up on the cutting room floor. It was only on his fourth attempt, in 1985, that he survived the harsh realities of editing and made his big screen debut in Witness. He has since appeared in Daylight with Sylvester Stallone, GI Jane with Demi Moore, Crimson Tide with Denzel Washington and, the very questionable, Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. Well, everybody makes mistakes.
Apart from acting, Mortensen is also an established painter - those were his own paintings in A Perfect Murder - poet and photographer. He has released CDs of experimental music and held numerous exhibitions of his paintings. His interest in art began early. As a young boy, he would never leave home without a pencil and a sketchpad. Many have sung praises for his artwork. Robert Mann, a gallery owner in New York, found himself drawn to Mortensen's work, completely unaware that he's an actor. 'I didn't know about his acting, but I do know he's incredibly gifted as a visual artist. He is multi-faceted, and a slightly compulsive individual, constantly creating in every medium. His creative energy is boundless. I assume acting is another extension of that,' Mann praised.
Mortensen's days of downplaying his fame are numbered, especially after the hype Lord Of The Rings has garnered. But the man who the Chicago Sun-Times once described as 'completely lacking the Hollywood ego' just considers himself lucky he has a job. He said, 'I feel I've been incredibly lucky. There are thousands of actors in the world who are better or at least as good as I am. I have just been at the right place at the right time.'
Last edited: 22 July 2005 13:50:28