Viggo Mortensen: The New Box Office King
By Jenny Ewart
Viggo Mortensen has emerged from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy as one of the cinema's most alluring heartthrobs. In the final part of the trilogy The Return of the King, as Aragorn he fights to fulfill his destiny and take the throne of Gondor and he has to choose between two women, a mortal and an immortal.
Viggo has made Aragorn a man of courage but also compassion and you can sense the spiritual side of the actor when meeting him. Dressed in a blue college shirt, black jeans and walking barefoot, Viggo has reddish coloured, unkempt hair. He is very mellow and looks you deep in the eye. Away from acting, he's a poet, a painter and a photographer who has had his own exhibition and, he reveals, an upcoming book of his work.
Do you get much privacy these days? How has your life changed after the Lord of the Rings?
I don't know. I haven't noticed. I don't get out that much. A few more people may say something about the movie or recognize me but it's pretty much the same. If you seek that, if that's your goal then your life can change a lot, if that's your reason to do the movie in the first place. Then you go to a different place and perhaps aren't yourself anymore and I'd rather not do that. It's nice that people like the movie, of course. Very few people have been in movies that do this well and that have this much of an impact. I'm glad because that's a good sign for the third one.
How does your family cope with your being more and more recognised out there? Is it a good or a bad thing for them?
You have to ask them. I don't know. They seem okay. They treat me with as much respect and disrespect as they did before. (Laughs) I don't have any complaints.
Do you believe the message of these films - that the good in man can change people and the world we live in, for the better?
Yeah. I think that the story we are telling is about that. It doesn't matter how small or insignificant you feel, you can have an effect on other people's lives. Good or bad. I think that there are a lot of stories or examples of people giving themselves for the good of others, making sacrifices. Just on a daily basis, parents do this, ideally. They don't have to but they do. People who know a person who is in need of help have a choice and many a time they make the choice to help. It's not necessarily confined to people in the country or in small towns: it can happen in cities too. Sometimes it seems more remarkable when it happens in a city. But even in a place like New York - people think that a lot of New Yorkers are rude and in a hurry - you see lots of examples of that. I don't think that humans are born evil. Humans end up doing evil things individually, as groups and as governments. It's unfortunate but it's not permanent and it's not unchangeable.
© New Line Productions Inc.
What kind of loving deeds do you do on a daily basis to make life better?
I try to but I don't always succeed but I try to be open-minded. And I think that's a start. I try to be open to people who have advice or criticism for me, I'm not always happy to hear it more than anyone else is but I try to be open to it. And I try to be fair and helpful and considerate to my son. I don't know I'm not conscious of what I do and don't do right.
What events in your life have changed you profoundly?
Having a son. Nothing even comes close, so I can't say anything else.
Do you believe in everlasting love?
We have to define 'love'. Does it mean making sacrifices or going through bad times and still seeing something good in a person? I think in a sense, and I can parallel it to the character I play in the story, that he is a character who does pretty consistently try to find light in darkness and which sounds like a cliché but that's what it is about. When things look really terrible individually or as a society you can give up or you can try to find something positive in a bad situation. And that's what he does. But he also feels compassion which is a key word. I try to do that but I am not always able to, there are times when I get depressed and I don't want to make any effort.
How do you keep balance in life and recharge your batteries?
By spending time by myself and if possible, in a natural setting, I like that - especially the busier things get, like they have in the past couple of years - when I can just sit back and look at something. But it can be in a city too. I prefer to be in a forest or by water but if I can't, I can sit and watch people walk by and not think of anything.
Do you have a philosophy about happiness?
I like it (laughs). I prefer it (keeps laughing). I approve! Any time that I have ever spent outside in a natural environment - doesn't matter if it's desert or water, forest or mountains, mud, snow - where there is no man made surface, I have never felt that I wasted a single second. It didn't matter if I was tired, cold or hungry, worried or upset about other things in life, being in those places even if it didn't make me happy if I was sad, I knew that I was alive. I can also feel that in traveling in general. I can walk around in New York and feel that way. But there are times when I can be walking around in New York and not be happy and I feel like I need to get somewhere. But if I'm in nature I never feel that I am wasting my time.
What about music, what kind of music makes you happy?
It depends. I do like the Swan of Tuonela by Sibelius. Aren't swans supposed to be like geese, in that they mate for life? That's the ideal. So be carefull before you kill a swan because you are probably killing a very important relationship.
You write poetry. Are your poems born from happiness or from pain?
I guess I've probably written more poems or finished them about moments that have some kind of complication. They come out of a sadness or looking back at something that has to do with nostalgia or some details of difficult situations, more than simply happy moments. But I think there are elements of both of them. Lord of the Rings is in many ways a sad story with some heavy themes but I think that in all that darkness there is joy, happiness and celebration. I think that life is difficult and you have to work at it, just like relationships. It's understandable that a person can get depressed and have a hard time of it and needs help sometimes to get out of it. We can't solve everything ourselves. I don't have a lot of tolerance; perhaps I should have more, for people who say they are bored in life. I do have compassion for people who are depressed or who feel like they are lost and don't know what to do with their lives and are struggling. I think that any of us can identify with that but people who say they are bored, I'm not too tolerant of that or deliberate cruelty which can include making fun of people unfairly or stinginess. Those and people who say they are bored are all living in insanity (laughs).
You act, write poetry and paint. Do you still struggle to choose and concentrate on what to do?
Yeah. I wish life was longer. I wish I didn't have to sleep. I like sleeping and dreaming, especially, and I do like that state of mind you get in when you are really tired. It's something creatively interesting when you stare at a wall (laughs) or at a tree and it's very calming. But I wish that sleep was a luxury, that I could just lie under the covers, listen to the rain but that I didn't have to, if I didn't want to. I don't sleep that much, but I still have to sleep.
© New Line Productions Inc.
Do you use your dreams as material for your art?
Yeah, in lots of things and I think we do that whether we realize it or not. In a way, what we are dreaming is possibly more real than what we perceive, what we think we are experiencing, when we are awake. They are much clearer sometimes and they have much clearer answers or solutions to problems even sometimes. Sometimes you dream something, you wake up and you know what to do. On a practical level, for The Lord of the Rings, there were periods when we were doing the battles over and over for days and you tried to sleep during the daytime, if you could, and after a few weeks I started having dreams about horrible, bloody things, much worse than you see in the movie. I don't know how much it's that or it inspired something we have inside as humans from the past, things that are connected to people that we were connected to but don't know, but these scenes were horrible, some of them practical. Sometimes when I went to work I told the stunt guys about my dream, about a situation and how you can get out of it, and they'd say that, 'Oh, it's interesting, we'll try that.' I don't know how many, if any, are in the movie because shot for months.
Do you always survive when you have a violent dream?
I come close a lot but I wake up before I'm completely dead. Being blind, that happens to me.
What do you do to stay in shape?
I like to walk, to go hiking and I like manual labour. I like things that are connected with something else, being tired if you do something outdoors, planting trees, horseback riding, making a trail in the woods. Those are things that are hard work, gardening, cross country skiing, and riding a bicycle, I like those things. I like to play soccer.
You are Danish - Scandinavians have a reputation for drinking ...
Yes. We went every year to Denmark and when I was 18, I lived a few years there. Denmark, I am generalizing because there are a lot of people committing suicide also, but compared to Norway, Sweden and Finland, they are a little less ... suicidal (laughs) in Denmark. I think that generally when people go drinking there they do it in a more social way, but I think in Norway, Sweden and Finland a lot of people drink just to get fucking drunk. In Denmark it's with some food and you're laughing and telling some jokes.
You were very much some kind of a spiritual leader to the fellowship. Is that something you were conscious of?
I don't know. I've heard them say many unkind things actually. I don't know. I certainly enjoyed working with them and I did feel like we were a big family and possibly many of them were younger and some had no experience working with movies. Maybe I did, hopefully, serve as an older brother or in some sense. If that's the case, then I'm glad. I'm sure that I had days when I didn't set the greatest example but I did care about them and I did feel that they cared about me. I also felt that about the crew, you don't always feel - in movies - that the crew even cares about the script. There is no obligation to it. Their job as a professional, if you are lighting, or focus pull, or driving, transportation, catering. It doesn't matter; you are just supposed to do your job and show up on time and earn your money. But beyond that they have their own interest and not because someone tells them to, they care about the script and the book. And at the last day after a year and a half they might look at the book on the set, and they'd have it with them and it's well worn and that gives you a different kind of energy and a sense of purpose. There was an unspoken sense that amongst all of us, you know, thousands of people, all together had a sense that this was not business as usual and that it was important. On more levels than usual to get each detail right. That each step and every job was a success. One job at a time and every job a success.
Last edited: 8 August 2005 03:14:44