Far from the world of Lord of the Rings
, which made him a star, Viggo Mortensen explores the boundaries of good and evil in A History of Violence
, which opened yesterday. Allociné met with him.
The character of Tom Stall is a particularly rich and complex role: to act with identities, that's the peculiarity of an actor.
It's a terrific role, one of many I have been offered. But for me each role is complex because all human beings are complex. Unfortunately not all filmmakers are David Cronenberg... They don't have the skills he does, and the courage to allow actors to project that complexity.
You particularly involved yourself in this film. In what way?
I am always very involved in the movies I make, but only to the extent that the director allows me. And David accepted my ideas as he always does with all actors. I never perceived him as someone who could be threatening, so much as an artist with the ideas of others. He could certainly reject your ideas, but equally he could take hold of them. This way made you feel at ease and made you want to give it your all. And then, because it is someone you admire, you want to do good work, not just for yourself or for the film, you want to give David what he wants from you because his vision of the film is very clear. And what's great is that you feel like his ally, that you are going into battle together.
The film is sometimes provocative, and has several strong scenes. Which ones seemed to you to be the most difficult to film?
I don't know if I can mention just one scene in particular. You know, sometimes there is nothing more complicated than a scene which is solely dialogue. What made this film particularly successful for me, and David encouraged me to go for it in a certain sense, was to act on the tiny variations, because the reactions of the character are always very subtle, which is often the case when you are looking to protect yourself. For the scene between Tom and his brother we worked a lot with David and William Hurt, we constructed the back-story of these men. When my brother speaks to me, I listen to what he says, but in fact I observe, above all, his body language. So when he starts to tell lies to gain pity I know that it's becoming dangerous and things are going to turn bad. But for me, all that work is not a difficulty, it was a pleasure: There was a challenge in researching the detail, which was inviting me to make real.
The film is also a critique of the representation of violence in Hollywood cinema. In this regard do you feel a responsibility as an actor?
I feel responsible in the sense that I don't want to participate in a film which has nothing to say. When I read the script for A History of Violence
, before knowing that David was directing, I was scared that it would be done like one of those uninteresting films we see all the time. David had the same thought and so he changed certain things in the script that were closer to the graphic novel, which the film is based on. For example when he found himself confronted by his past, he decided to gather all the arms possible and imaginable to protect him. That created a problem for me, because it seemed to make no sense. If you say 'I reject violence and I have the hope that things will change' you then have to make sacrifices. It's a bit like a country, which says: 'we don't want you to have nuclear arms, but us, we have the right...' That doesn't make sense. From that point of view, I have a sense of responsibility, but not for the worlds, or for others, only for myself. I want to choose films which seem morally just to me, trying to be honest about it with myself.
After the worldwide success of The Lord of the Rings, we could have not been kept waiting for films that you were involved with. That's not the case...
Lots of opportunities have been offered to me, like all of us who were involved in that adventure. Therefore, I could have made ten or twelve films since the Lord of the Rings
, but if I did that I wouldn't have a life, and I would have accepted films with hardly any preparation. But I must say I have worked as much as I could and wanted and I have been especially lucky.
Outside of your work as an actor you are a painter, musician and you write poetry. It wouldn't be surprising to see you go behind the camera?
One day, maybe...it's true that I am interested in images and words. And I like actors, I like to tell stories. For me, all the different forms of expression, photography, painting, writing, and music equate to the same thing. They are about observing, interpreting, and experimenting with what you see and feel. But directing a film, that demands time, patience - after having worked with someone as brilliant as David Cronenberg, that's even more evident.. It requires a great capacity for concentration. So, I would refuse to direct a film solely because I've been given the means. Lots of people, notably actors, do it simply to say they have directed a film. When it's released you find they have made a bad film because they don't have the vision and they have not really invested themselves in it. So, I would like to direct a film but to be honest with you I think I would prefer to wait because I want to take the time to do things well.