Profile: Viggo Mortensen

Source: Globe and Mail

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Viggo Mortensen has a trick. He performs it to amuse himself during back-to-back interviews, when he needs something, other than cigarettes, to keep himself alert.

The trick is this: He is wearing a Canadian Hockey League pendant - one of those pewter souvenirs you buy at any arena gift shop. He starts the interview with the pendant facing forward on his chest. Then, at some point, he flips the pendant over. On the other side is a Montreal Canadiens sticker.

"First I try to guess if the interviewer is a hockey fan and secondly if they're a [Toronto Maple] Leafs fan. Then I wait to see how long it takes them to notice," he says. "This one guy stopped the interview and just starts going, 'No, no, no!' "

The trick dovetails nicely with the 46-year-old actor's explanation of what makes David Cronenberg's imagination, and his latest work, A History of Violence, in particular, so deliciously dark. The director, he says, is always flipping the pendant over to reveal a darker lurking truth when you least expect it.

"He's always looking at the way people change when you lift away the veneer," Mortensen says in a rambling, monotone mumble. "It's about how we present ourselves, but underneath that very thin layer everybody is kind of crazy and strange and . . . violent."

Mortensen knows all about duality. In A History of Violence, he plays Tom Stall, a man who has traded in one identity for another. But all it takes is one random act of violence for the past to come crashing back.

"It's not so cut and dry that he's lying and then it all falls away," he says of the character. "He loves his family and they love him. After 18 years of playing a character, in a way he has become him."

Mortensen, who came to fame rather late, has found himself thrust into the role of Hollywood movie star since landing a lead role in the blockbuster Lord of the Rings franchise. He recently finished filming Agustín Díaz Yanes's epic Alatriste in Spain. And yet somehow, Mortensen has time to write (he is a published poet), take photographs (he recently had shows of his work in Los Angeles and Washington) and run a small art-book publishing house, Perceval Press.

Are his agents and managers bothered by the fact that he devotes so much time to outside projects? Mortensen shrugs and says he doesn't care. "If they had their druthers, they might have said after Lord of the Rings, 'You should do a bunch of huge movies.' "

He smiles and fiddles with his pendant, considering his next trick. "The truth is I've had enough attention to last me 10 lifetimes already."
Last edited: 24 September 2005 13:16:36
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