Interviews 2001

The American Dane

Source: BT (Berlingske Tidende) a Danish newspaper

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Viggo Mortensen's ties to Denmark have always been strong. But with the role as Aragorn in LOTR he really got in touch with his inner Viking.

NEW YORK: Gondor's rightful king is found. His name is Viggo Mortensen. And will - according to Gandalf's crystal ball - be a megastar in the slipstream of the film trilogy LOTR. But as VM barefoot and in jeans and black, long-sleeved T-shirt with flames licking on the sleeves and on the chest, almost tiptoes through the door to room 1831 in New York's exclusive Regency Hotel, he doesn't exactly signal megastar. Or when he places cigarette paper and tobacco on the table in front of him, shyly looks up and with a homebrewed Jutlandish and Mid-Sealandish accent says: "Dav!" (i.e. "G'day").

VM has a Danish father and an American mother. Who met each other in Norway! And moved to New York, where Viggo was born. His father was originally a farmer, like his brother Henry down at Jystrup in Mid-Sealand. But the father changed his clogs for a suit to walk the business way.

"My father was very restless, travelled a lot. And then so did we," Viggo says about his years of growth that spans from New York to South America. And Mid-Sealand which he still tries to pop by each year.

Altogether he has spent maybe 4-5 years out of his 43 in Denmark. Which in percentages isn't much. But nevertheless it takes much more space up within him.

"I very strongly feel that I share a common past with my family in Denmark. And feel connected to the Scandinavian mythology, when I walk in the forest at Jystrup, where there are many tales told of what has happened. The Danish woods look like Tolkien's, they are the kind that doesn't look dangerous, but if you walk alone by night in the forests of Denmark, you can feel the energies of the past. I felt that already as a child, back then when I played with swords there outside my uncle's farm, played and felt like a Viking. I imagined that I was the only one who had ever experienced that feeling of being connected to the past. Then you become teenager and think it was naive of you to think like that. But as grown up - and especially with the physical distance to Denmark - there comes a stronger, more direct link to the past, of which I was strongly reminded when doing this movie. Maybe because I chose the starting point of this role as a game, which I like to think makes the mind open and strengthens the connection to an unknown past. In any case during that time I was reminded of my roots and of really to appreciate my ties to them. "

As might show from the quote above, VM is not one of that kind of actors where you insert a dime and then they jabber on for half an hour. Everything he says is well-considered, well-founded. No smart pop-quotes fly from his mouth. The closest you get is his comment about his co-working with the movie star Liv Tyler, who after all is his great love in the trilogy. "She's in the movie," is his ultra-short answer that speaks for itself!

A couple of hours. That much time VM had to make the decision about the role of Aragorn. The shootings had started. There was nervous tripping on the other side of the globe in New Zealand.

"I'm a very indecisive person. Given the opportunity I could easily use 18 months of time to think things over. And this time I not only had to consider the part. But also that everybody else had started long before. I knew none of them in advance. Had never been to New Zealand. No knowledge of swordfighting, apart from when I was a kid, as I told you before. But my son thought it sounded too good. Even so when I explained to him that I had to be away for a long time. And the irony is that I now play a man who is even more indecisive than myself," he says with his little shy smile, and admits that his decision didn't gave much peace to the mind.

"As well personally as professionally I was afraid. But at the same time I felt it would be something that I one day might regret, if I said no. Not because it's a big Hollywood movie, "cause things like that are extremely uninteresting to me. But I knew that I would always feel like a coward, if I didn't at least give it a try. Because usually there is a reward. That first shows much later."

It already showed on the airplane on the way to NZ, where VM got in touch with his inner Viking, when he - for the first time - began reading Tolkien's books and got familiar images on the retina.

"Images from when I was a little boy, stories I had heard as goodnight reading, or sagas, fairytales, and poems I'd read. Because Tolkien's universe is really very much inspired by the whole Nordic mythology, by the old Icelandic sagas, like Volsungesaga. That wasn't the only reward. The more I read, the more I realized that Aragorn too is afraid, although he's one of the bravest, most honest and loyal of the characters in the trilogy. But you really know very little of him until well into the second book. Aragorn is a man who - because he knows as much as Gandalf and Galadriel about the past of Middle Earth, about the time when the races understood and respected each other - knows that it is dark times they're living in, and not least why and where the greatest peril lies. He also knows that his own race is doomed to die out, and that that is the reason for his hidden upbringing by the elves, who have brought him up as one of their own, in spite of the fact that he doesn't look like them. And although they have taught him about themselves and other races, he also knows that they once were the bravest and most noble, but were too weak when it came to it. And he fears that the same will go for him in a hard pressed situation. That he's not made of the necessary stuff. That was the fear I recognized, the fear of not being made of the right stuff. But now I'm here, so..."

And well on his way to become a megastar as the hero of the trilogy?
"As I said it takes quite a long time before you really get to know Aragorn. So I think it will be Elijah Wood or Ian McKellen who gets the attention at first. Aragorn, he's one of those who slowly work their way up, only to step into character in the end"

So you will not be a star until 2003?

"We'll have to wait and see," VM says - VM who, how flat and hollow it may sound on paper, shows an incredible modesty and humility about his profession - and looks down into the table, while he fumbles with one of his homemade cigarettes.

"No matter what happens with the movie, how it will be, how it will fare, to me the most important is in the story itself. That all of the members of the fellowship are complex. They all have heroic moments, like they have moments of doubt that has to be overcome in order to serve Good. And especially in these times after the tragedy in USA, where isolation, paranoia, prejudices and mistrust sets the stage, it's important to be reminded that once there was a sense of solidarity. In spite of how our means of communication have been improved throughout the years, today there is a medieval mistrust towards other nations and other people, from USA and vice versa. Therefore I hope that the movie will show that the road to unity exists. Because, as Tolkien says himself, nothing is born evil. The Ring in itself isn't any more dangerous than a knife lying on a table. It's when someone gets in contact with it that danger ensues."

They say it with one mouth. All of the colleagues. The director. The producer. Viggo, he became Aragorn. They were one. They went their own way. Viggo, they say, didn't hang out in New Zealand bars after work. He kept on his costume and went for the woods. And when he came out, he acted with what they call "trademark intensity". Once again he has a hard time not looking away.

"There are many who's just as serious and intense as I am," he says quietly and slowly.

The first day Viggo showed up on the set in NZ, he got on his costume and was handed a sword.

"I was literally thrown into practice by the legendary swordmaster Bob Anderson. I simply was handed the sword: "This is how you do it" he said, and let a small army of stuntmen at me, and I just had to defend myself as best as I could," Viggo says, without answering if he BECAME Aragorn. "Well, I take my work seriously. And I like concentrating. It is true that I wore my outfit once in a while, when I went fishing after work, but..."

It wasn't obvious that VM would become an actor. He thinks himself that it's some of his father's restlessness that made it and kindled his curiosity. As he expresses it:

"It has probably something to do with plainly being interested in life, interested in the experience of being someone else. But for me it has always been the journey that's the interesting part. Not the destination. I feel like that with LOTR as well. I'll be happy if people like my work and the movie, but to me it's all the experiences that counts."

Do you think you have achieved what you dreamt of, as an actor?

"Yes, in that way that the journey has been interesting. But I don't think you're ever truly finished. Because I've been in good movies, and in movies where I haven't been satisfied with myself or how the movie turned out. There's always something that can get better. But I've been lucky. "Cause I've had the opportunity of making money and expressing myself as an actor. So I'm not going to sit here and cry, although sometimes it has been frustrating. Because I have no influence, I don't own the end result. But I own my experiences from NZ."

Last chapter in the story of VM is what, when it comes it, after all is the core of his nature. His need to express himself. That acting cannot fully fulfil. Even before he really became an actor, he wrote poems. Just like exhibitions with as well his paintings as his photos frequently can be seen in distinguished galleries. Without it having anything to do with the degree of his fame as an actor.

"I had no idea he was an actor. Just that he is an incredibly gifted visual artist. His creative energies are boundless," one of New York's highly esteemed gallery owners, Robert Mann, said. And added: "He doesn't need to paint for a living. But in order to live, he needs to paint."

Is that how it is?

"I guess so. I really am incredibly frustrated in those periods, where I don't get the time to do it. As for example in NZ. But there I took time some evenings, even though I had been working since 5 a.m. and soon had to get to work again. Before I went to bed I read a little, painted, wrote or just sat and thought for a while. That's something everybody needs. What I do off-work is just my way of expressing my thoughts. And I'm in control and directly influencing how they're are used."

You are not an altogether typical Hollywood actor, are you?

"There are other people who are like me. I know that. Other people who also want a little bit of control of what they're doing. And not always think that acting is art."

Viggo politely shakes hands with me. Takes his cigarette paper and tobacco and says in his homebrewed Danish dialect: "Vi ses!" (i.e. "See you!"), and tiptoes just as bashful as he came on his bare feet out of suite 1831.
Last edited: 17 February 2005 10:19:52
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