The star of Lord of the Rings, who spent his childhood in Argentina, has come to promote A History of Violence, the David Cronenberg movie he is starring in. And he spoke of his great passions.
Is it possible to get to know a Hollywood star in half an hour?
Viggo Mortensen seems to want to save time from the get-go and waits for the appointed hour with a hot water thermos, a bitter mate, and many colourful trappings depicting his favourite soccer team, San Lorenzo. He's wearing a necklace, bracelet and a pair of blue and red socks, as if to ensure there's no missing which side he's rooting for. But could this all just be a mere attempt to show-off his Argentinean roots?
Those who know him disagree. They say that last night he went to a barbecue and spent the whole meal talking about Argentinean wines, about how the soccer championship is going, about yerba mate...he barely talked about David Cronenberg or the movie that he had travelled to promote, A History of Violence.
It looks like his childhood Argentina - he lived from the ages 3 to 12 in Buenos Aires and the Chaco, where his father was a farmer - marked him, and he doesn't forget the things that made him happy as a child. Not even after starring in one of the most important sagas of the theatre world, Lord of the Rings.
He talks extremely softly and almost never smiles. He rarely makes eye contact, but answers all questions without dodging and without any typical celebrity defensiveness. It looks like he just finished a yoga class. He's calm. He offers mate.
Do you think that, as it might seem to an onlooker, Lord of the Rings helped get you the role in Cronenberg's movie?
Yes, I'm aware of that. The last two roles I just played, that were the ones I most liked, wouldn't have been given to me if it hadn't been for Aragorn.
Did your personal life change, too?
Yes. Now I'm more well-known and I have to be a little more careful when I go out. But I see it as something positive. Because I also have a publishing house and sell more books thanks to the fame. I publish books by authors that aren't well known, but people see them because they know me from the movies.
Are you full of yourself? Do you look for stuff about you online, for example?
No. I'm afraid of that. It's better not to know.
Are things made up about you?
I've heard some. Bad things that are best ignored.
Fame came late for you. Would you like to have achieved it when you were younger?
No. I don't tend to look back very often. I remember things and learn from history, but I don't complain. From my point of view, I had a lot of luck. There are actors who become famous very early on. In Lord of the Rings there were some very young actors. I think that must have been strange for them, to have so much attention without having had the chance to learn more about the job of being an actor.
What was it like working with Cronenberg?
He's a very intelligent director, who knows how to tell a story with subtlety, so that aside from the theme of violence, the movie has to do with a lot of other things. I think it's much more universal. It's a movie which can be seen in many situations. People apply the story to their individual lives and societies. It's a rule of art that it's not written in any specific place: to create a work of art that has universal courage you must create it with specific detail.
Besides, it's interesting because the movie is funny.
There are people who have asked me, 'is it okay that I laughed?' Yes, yes. Cronenberg is a person with a good sense of humour. Sometimes you laugh watching the movie because you're uncomfortable, because what is happening is ridiculous, absurd. But people are absurd. And in Cronenberg's movies he's interested in examining and demonstrating what we are like beneath the correct and civil surfaces.
If every person were to speak their mind constantly...
There are people who do it, and sometimes it's funny, but other times it frightens us. And in general you don't want to be with such people every day. And you even want to lock them up. To me that is what this movie says: at the core, we are animals. Human beings can think nice things, but also ugly things. And if you can think them, you can enact them.
You have another movie in the works: Alatriste, which was filmed in Spain.
Yes, it's the second time I've worked in Spain. I made the movie My Brother's Gun ten years ago. It was funny because I played an Argentinean. A rather strange Argentinean, who works as a bullfighter, but doesn't eat meat.
Do you like working in Spanish?
Yes. I was raised in Argentina, my childhood had to do with that language and the Hispanic culture.
Have you ever been offered work here?
I've had a few offers...though not many. And when those opportunities have presented themselves, I've had other jobs. But I would like to film something over here, playing another celebrated Argentinean character.
Like Benicio del Toro, who will play Che Guevara...
Benicio is really a great actor. He's a nice guy, who doesn't take himself very seriously, even though he takes his work seriously. I like such people. Cronenberg is like that. He jokes around all day. He's very flexible.
Are you like that?
I think so. Nobody ever knows himself like his friends know him.
Oh, yes, psychoanalysis is an Argentinean cliché. I've never psychoanalyzed myself. For me, it's necessary to listen to your inner voice to get to know yourself. That works better.
Why don't you travel with your son, Henry?
He's 17 and still in school.
But he's also an actor...
He"s tried it a few times, but I don't know if that's what he'll dedicate himself to. Because he's travelled so much with me, sometimes a director will notice and ask him to do something. In Spain while I was filming Alatriste they thought he was from Holland, because he's big and blonde. They asked me if he knew how to fight and I told them yes, that he practiced martial arts. So then they offered him a role and he said, 'But I don't speak Dutch.' And I told him, 'I don't think you're going to have to speak Dutch. You're just going to have to die.'
Would you like him to be an actor?
If he decides to become one, he'll already know what the job is like. He's seen me not only filming, but also preparing characters. The good thing is that he doesn't see the work of an actor like something glamorous and easy. He sees that it's a job like any other.
Does he live with you?
Yes, with me and his mother. But he's already grown, within a year he'll leave the nest.
How were the sex scenes in A History of Violence filmed? They're very realistic.
They're strange for a couple who has been married 17 years with children. To film them, the most important thing was the director's attitude. Cronenberg create a relaxed atmosphere and he insisted, without verbalizing, that we throw ourselves into the scenes, that we be honest. I wanted to do a good job so as to not let him down. They were more-or-less comfortable moments.
Did it surprise you that they weren't more censored?
Yes, because in a Hollywood movie you can cut off both of a woman's breasts but can't touch them.
Did you drink whiskey after finishing those scenes?
No. Just a few mates.
What is your daily life when you're not working?
I read a lot, write a little. I have a publishing house that's a lot of work. But I tend to do things with my son. We go to the movies ...
Do you still have the horses that you bought after filming Lord of the Rings?
Yes. I have three horses from that movie and Hidalgo, which I filmed afterwards. But I have them in a field, and I live in the city. I have a friend who looks after them. I learned to ride in Argentina, when I lived with my dad who farmed in the Chaco. He has a farm in the midwest. He still lives in the country. He's returned to his childhood life.
Would you like to return to your childhood?
Who knows? Let's see if I end up in Argentina, like a farmer. I think I would like that.