Viggo Mortensen plays Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, whose last instalment, The Return of the King, has its world premiere in Wellington this month.
Tim Wilson talks to him in New York about fear, New Zealand-ness and his poetry.
© New Line Productions Inc.
Other Lord of the Rings actors have told me that after filming ended for the day, you would carry your sword with you into restaurants to remain in character. You broke a tooth during a sword-fight sequence. Was there a time on the shoot when you felt genuinely afraid?
We were on the Greenstone, the river that flows into Lake Wakatipu, and I was being filmed floating down the river. I went off course. I got caught in a current, and I got stuck at the bottom. I had the sword and the cloak and all the wool and the boots. That was one time I was really scared. I was just about on the verge of passing out. I guess I must've kicked against a rock because I kicked out of the current and popped up.
Did you get the shot?
I wasn't sure. I asked and said, "Be honest." I said I would be willing to do it again. But they didn't want to.
Do you feel there is a New Zealand-ness in Peter Jackson's style of directing and managing people?
For me what added mostly intangible elements to the story was that Peter directed the film in New Zealand, and it was mostly a New Zealand crew. Because the attitude the New Zealand people have...
Right. Roll your sleeves up and just do it. "Make do," is one phrase that springs to mind. "Make do together," is another.
At least one woman I know of has a life-sized cardboard cutout figure of Aragorn in her bedroom. How does that make you feel?
That's a byproduct of the movie being successful, and being seen by a lot of people. The positive thing I take from that is that not only my character but the story has connected, or that people have connected with it.
You don't feel...
Uncomfortable. No. I think it's odd. As long as it doesn't intrude on my life, and mean that I have no privacy, or I can't be alone, which I like to be from time to time.
If you could change anything physically about yourself, what would that be?
I like dreaming and I enjoy sleeping but I would rather it was something that was voluntary. And to understand the language of the birds as my character Aragorn does.
Why are you so driven?
I am, I think, a fairly tolerant and open-minded person. I have no tolerance for anyone saying they are bored. I mean, that's ridiculous. Life is so short relative to what we can learn or experience, whether it's in our hometown, our neighbourhood, whether it's on our bookshelf. How could you be bored?
Who is a poet you admire?
There are many poets. There were so many good poets in New Zealand. I'd go to the bookstores and find anthologies and books and I have a couple of shelves' worth of stuff now. Discovering those writers was a revelation. In fact, I'm going to do a poetry reading in Wellington. It's to benefit the creative writing department at Victoria University. Bill Manhire's there. He's a respected poet, and has written some good poems and collected some good poets. And he's meant to be a great teacher too.
What vices might a poet have?
Not seeing the forest for the trees. Or is it that in concentrating on particular details, or concentrating language, you actually have a better focus? I suppose, as in any profession, a poet's vice might be to take himself too seriously.
Why is writing so important?
There was something that I read earlier today by Karen Blixen. I'm just paraphrasing it, but she said something to the effect that, "The thing that makes sorrow bearable is putting it into a story." That is true about our lives, and true about Lord of the Rings. Tolkien did that with his experiences in World War 1, and what he saw his son go through in World War 2. And all the things he felt, which are essentially sorrowful and sad, of which there were many, he made a story of it. He made a cautionary, epic tale.
Your colleague Dominic Monaghan, who plays the hobbit Merry, has said of you, "Viggo makes out he's this sensitive artist, but he's what we call in England, 'a shithouse'."
(Laughing) What's that?
I think he means a swashbuckling, rampaging, Rabelaisian figure.
I like to have fun. It's not all serious study.
What would you like as your epitaph?
"He was curious," which you can take more than one way.