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10 questions for Viggo Mortensen, Golden Globe and Academy Award-nominated actor and renaissance man

By WcP.Movie.Critic - Posted on 25 January 2009

Viggo Mortensen is a Golden Globe and Academy Award-nominated American actor


You've explored poetry, painting, photography and music in addition to acting. Which is your favorite? Arielle Davis, NEW YORK CITY

I don't really separate them. To be an artist, you don't have to compose music or paint or be in the movies or write books. It's just a way of living. It has to do with paying attention, remembering, filtering what you see and answering back, participating in life.

You're famous for your multilingual talents. Which language are you most comfortable with? A. Patrick Watts MARYVILLE, TENN.

I was raised speaking English and Spanish. And I also speak Danish. And I can get by in French and Italian. I've acted in Spanish and English, but when something has to do with emotions, sometimes I feel I can get to the heart of the matter better in Spanish.

Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn in the movie Lord of the Rings – Return of the King

You're quite a renaissance man. Do you see a little of yourself in Frank Hopkins?

I'm certainly curious about people. As a kid, I moved around a lot. I was raised in a lot of different places and thanks to working in the movies, I've gotten to keep traveling. I've always been interested in other cultures and languages. My experience has been like that of this character in this movie. [It] has taught me that people are people essentially and that no matter where you go or no matter how much you disagree with people or dislike them at first glance, you generally have much more in common with them than not. All it takes is spending a little bit of time with them. You might not ever come to terms and agree with anything, but you can see that some of yourself -- especially when you go through a trying situation like Hopkins' ordeal in the movie which is to finish this race. You're stuck together; it doesn't matter who they are, you're going to overlap some way. Your needs, your fears, we're human beings. It's a simplistic thing to say. That's what I got from this film and working on "The Lord of the Rings" -- in the end people are people.

In 2007, Mortensen again teamed up with Cronenberg (to the left in the photo above) to make Eastern Promises, a story set against the backdrop of the Russian mob in London. His performance earned him both an Academy Award and Golden Globe nomination.

You founded a publishing house for artists who aren't able to publish their works in more traditional venues. Why? Ruth Tam, CHICAGO

It's a way of exploring. In a way, editing is not unlike the movies. The best books, just like the best movies, are a collaboration. They're only as good as the compromise made between the artists involved. I get a real satisfaction from seeing something work as a book.

Many of your films deal with a significant amount of brutality. What's it like to explore violent characters? Frank Pennisi, BAYSIDE, N.Y.

A lot of time the violence expressed onscreen is a metaphor for what's going on inside. I take it seriously, and I respect directors who depict it responsibly. There are a lot of directors who make too much of a joke about it. That lets the audience off the hook.

Would you consider directing? Jeroen Ten Berge WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND

I've thought about it a few times. It's a pretty complete world, making movies. It's painting, it's design, it's fashion, it's history, it's philosophy, it's literature, it's photography. It involves so many different ways of expressing yourself.

Viggo Mortensen in the film Hidalgo

Some people follow you around the world, attending your exhibitions or screenings. Is that kind of attention flattering or unnerving? Wiecha Lach KRAKOW, POLAND

Both. I'm flattered when there are people from Germany or Japan who will show up when I have a photo exhibition in Iceland. Every once in a while, though, there'll be a person who steps over the line, where they assume that I'm only speaking to them. I worry about them. And sometimes I worry about myself.

You kept the horses from Hidalgo and Lord of the Rings. Were you into horses before, or did those films incite a passion? Tom Lanham, SAN FRANCISCO

I grew up with horses when I was a kid in Argentina. I like them. I respect them. I'm careful around them. You never know what they're going to do. They're endlessly interesting. I've had some good acting partners that were horses over the years.

Of his approach to his craft, Mortensen has said, ‘In a movie, you're raw material, just a hue of some color, and the director makes the painting.’

You seem to take serious, dark roles. Have you ever been offered a comedy? Rebecca Richardson BAR HARBOR, MAINE

No. People get used to seeing you do what you've done that's been successful. There's a certain rhythm, a certain timing to comedy, and I envy those who are really good at it. I'd be scared to try an out-and-out comedy. But why not? A little bit of fear is always good.

Are you hopeful about political change?

I think most Americans will look back on this period since 1980 as a morally bleak, intellectually fraudulent period of history. There will be a certain amount of shame, a feeling we were part of something wrong. People standing outside of this country can see this because it’s very obvious. It’s like looking at a spoiled brat, a kid who’s totally out of control, but because the parents are really rich and because they own the school, you have to put up with it. America is an empire in decay. But we don’t have to lash out and do damage on the way down. We can reverse some of the damage we’ve done. It’s possible.


Photos courtesy of Ehenny Garfunkel / Retna, New Line Productions, Touchstone Pictures, Everett, and Jerome de Perlinghi / Corbis Outline

Original Source: Time, The Progressive and ESPN

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