'Ordinary Guy' Role A Treat For Mortensen

Source: New Zealand Herald

Viggo Mortensen chuckles about the horses he rode in The Lord of the Rings, which he subsequently bought and kept stabled in New Zealand. No, he hasn't had much of a chance to see them since. "And they're terrible at writing, but I look forward to seeing them soon."

Mortensen is in Sydney and is busy talking up his first saddle-free movie in six years - his first film after LOTR was last year's cowboy-goes-Middle-East flick Hidalgo. If it was his attempt to find himself an Indiana Jones after his very own Star Wars - "I liked the story and I was always taking a chance" - it didn't quite work.

His next though is A History of Violence, a disarming thriller by David Cronenberg, who has shifted gear from his usual high-brow horror and artful squishiness to something which, at first glance, looks to be the director's most mainstream movie yet.

"He's now doing it in a more metaphorical and psychological way - in the past he was literally opening up the brain or the body. I don't think there is a director who is better at observing human behaviour in all its messiness."

Mortensen plays Tom Stall, small-town family guy unwittingly mixed up with some big-time crooks. It's a reminder that the guy can act. As well as being one of Middle Earth's few male sex symbols, he is quite capable of carrying a movie without a horse or sword.

Then there's Mortensen the boho artist - he paints, he has published his own poetry and photography collections through his small company Perceval Press, which has also released and recorded his spoken word albums with his teenage son Henry and Los Angeles avant garde guitarist Buckethead.

His publishing outlet has also released works by first-time authors as well as photography collections by Dennis Hopper and a collection by New Zealand poet Hinemoana Baker whom he met when he did a reading at a Victoria University benefit before The Return of the King's world premiere in Wellington.

"To me it's all the same thing, whether it's publishing books of my own or by other people, or painting, or photography, or whatever I find time for. It feels like different approaches to the same activity, which is observing, filtering, expressing what you think, you felt and saw."

Of course, the interest in Mortensen's other talents increased with his screen profile. Does being Viggo Mortensen, thinking woman's screen idol, get in the way of being Viggo Mortensen, Renaissance man?

"I don't know. It depends on your attitude. The fact that Lord of the Rings did really well meant I got to do A History of Violence. The fact that Lord of the Rings and A History of Violence have done well has kept people interested in other things I do and other people I have promoted or published. So it kind of goes around.

"There's a good way to make use of things. You can't do much about it unless you decide to just vanish, so maybe there is something useful in it."

Movie-wise, he has hardly been pushing it since LOTR wrapped. Only Hidalgo and A History of Violence have made it to the screen. His third, post-LOTR film due later this year is swashbuckling Spanish 17th-century period epic Alatriste, in which the multilingual Mortensen (he speaks Danish and French as well) takes the moustached, sword-swinging title role in what is one of that country's biggest productions. But why so few films at this time in his career?

"To be honest, with the other things that I do, including being a family person, it's hard to fit everything in. Since Lord of the Rings I've done more press than I've done movies. I've spent years doing what I'm doing right now, talking to you, and only months actually making films. I suppose I should say, 'Look I've got three or four movies and I'll have four or five days for you to do press and that's all you'll get'. I could do that but I haven't. I like to see if can get lucky and find something good and work hard and try to concentrate on it.

"I see a lot of people doing lots of work which could be good but isn't because they don't prepare enough. They don't give themselves enough time to digest the material and enough focus because they are thinking about the next job while you are doing another."

As for his job on A History of Violence, with its political undertones and examination of contemporary American values, might it be the closest thing he's done to his own artistic sensibilities? After all, he was initially reluctant to take the Aragorn role until his son Henry insisted

"Not necessarily. Lord of the Rings was this big, sprawling, epic movie-making experience. I learned heaps about mythology and I revisited stories and ideas that I had when I was younger, which was fun.

"And in a lot of ways I think for everybody involved in Lord of the Rings it was like going to school and being paid for it - a school of mythology and history and film making and that was really great.

"Hats off to Peter Jackson again for accomplishing what he did, but I think it's a once in a lifetime thing for me and probably for most people."

And for those horses too.
Last edited: 18 March 2006 13:20:17
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