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Viggo Mortensen

Viggo Mortensen Films

Lord of the Rings


Face of the Month: Viggo Mortensen

Viggo Mortensen

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Synopsis: In this interview for a Japanese magazine, Cut, Viggo discusses the shooting of the Lord of the Rings, the movie's implications for modern life, and the roles of actors and directors in the creation of a film.

Credits: Text by Mirai Konishi, photos by Naoki Ishizaka

Source: Cut #147, March 2003

Note: From the House of Telcontar archives. Translated by Misa.

To check the availability of Cut #147 and to order it, visit the backnumber's page on the publisher's site.

To destroy the Ring is not the most important thing to do in this story. Individuals, who have been on their own paths, get together and co-operate with each other in order to achieve the goal. That is important.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, which was already in theaters at the end of 2002 and became a blockbuster in the US, finally will start in Japan on the 22nd of February, 2003. What kind of destiny awaits the Fellowship separated at the end of the first movie? Where goes Frodo, the ring-bearer?

The irony of fate. If Stuart Townsend had not left the role of Aragorn, Viggo Mortensen wouldn't be in the middle of the spotlight. Viggo Mortensen debuted as an Amish farmer in Witness, and has shown his talent in many movies including The Indian Runner, The Portrait of a Lady, and A Perfect Murder. If he had not been involved in The Lord of the Rings, he would continue and end his career as a great by-player in Hollywood.

This role, the man who would be king, changed all. The image of a hero who has a leadership and is very strict to himself; that is the appeal of Viggo Mortensen himself. The leading character of The Two Towers, which is the second installment of the trilogy and is on a much bigger scale than the first, is Aragorn. The charismatic element of Mortensen binds this huge movie with full of SFX in one piece. Everyone would think, "Why didn't I notice his appeal until now?"

Q: The first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, was a blockbuster all over the world. Have you expected that it would cause such a social phenomenon?

VM: I was not surprised so much. It is a great story and the book has fans all over the world, therefore, I knew many people would come to see the movie. However, I was not sure whether it would be accepted in countries where the book is not well-known, such as Japan. But the story is universal and, moreover, I think, Japanese would have better understanding of the culture of Elves in The Lord of the Rings.

Q: What do you mean?

VM: What Tolkien wanted to write in the book is the culture of Elves, I think. What I found interesting in Aragorn, who I played, is the fact that he is a human but he was brought up by Elves and deeply involved in their culture. I have visited Japan several times and have touched Japanese movies and cultures. And I feel there is something in common between the way Elves see the world and that of Japanese. For example, the way of greeting. Japanese people change the way to say hello depending on the person whom you say hello. It is different when you greet to the person who is above you and when you say hello to the person who is close to you. Its variation is really rich and it is the same for Elves. And this is what I adapted also when I play Aragorn, that is, the idea that you are not alone in this world and you are connected in some ways to others and nature. In contrast, men in the LOTR have a European way of thinking. They are practical, self-centered and they regard results as most important. These elements are sketched in this movie. Therefore, I think, Japanese people feel connections, possibly much deeper than Europeans.

Q: Now it is difficult to think another actor plays Aragorn. But you became Aragorn as a substitute of another actor, didn't you?

VM: That's right. I got a telephone call and they said, "Please come tomorrow. It will take one and a half years." I had never read the book before and did not feel like jumping into the shooting without preparation. I said, "Let me think for a while." But my son told me, "It's a great story." I also thought I should face this challenge. I knew joining the shoot without preparation was a disadvantage and the shooting would keep me for a long time. But I didn't want them to think I was a coward to run away from such a situation.

Q: Courageous, aren't you?

VM: However, I found such a situation helped me to be Aragorn. I started to read J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings on the airplane flying to New Zealand. My situation was the same as that of Aragorn. Aragorn was living by himself light-footedly, but he suddenly had to lead Hobbits who didn't know anything. It is completely the same; we have to step into unknown things. And he has to protect the Ring.

Q: Other characters are seduced by the power of the ring, but Aragorn never tries to touch it.

VM: He knows the mistake his ancestors made well enough. Many people say The Lord of the Rings is a story of good and evil, you know. They say heroes are good and Mordor and Saruman are evil. But I can't think they are evil. I don't think the Ring itself is evil. The Ring is just an object, like guns and knives. The Ring just symbolizes evil actions and desire which humans can commit. In a sense, to go to Mordor and unmake the Ring is not the most important thing to do in this story. Individuals, who have been on their own paths, get together and co-operate each other in order to achieve the goal. That is important. Elves, humans, dwarves, who have been spending their time in different places, again work together after long time of separation. That is important. Therefore, even if we die on the way to Mordor, it doesn't really matter in a way.

Q: Other cast members regard you as the same as Aragorn. Do you think you and Aragorn have something in common?

VM: Well. I like the outdoors and woods, maybe it is similar. I like to be alone, that's the same. But at the same time, I like to work together. For me, how the movie will be finished is not important. I am attracted to the co-operative effort to overcome problems in daily shooting. Especially, this movie which was shot over a long period and, therefore, there were many difficulties. You can be mad at trivial things, but it won't help. I tried to relax and move forward together with everybody step by step.

Q: That is exactly Aragon would think, isn't it?

VM: Might be. But in this movie, other cast members and crew have supported me and that was great. For example, the shooting of the Helm's Deep fighting scenes was very hard. You know, when you see fighting scenes at war movies, you often find people near the camera fight seriously, but others don't, don't you?

Q: Yeah [laugh]

VM: However, in this movie, every actor who was on the scene fought seriously through the night. And it lasted several weeks. You fought, fought, and fought. I could be absorbed in it, since everything from costumes to arms was so real. People around me also did their best as much as me, or more, so I worked harder. That was great team work.

Q: Besides acting, you are involved in art as a painter or photographer and publish poetry books and CDs. You are an accomplished and successful actor. Why you are so active and energetic?

VM: A movie belongs to its director, and an actor is just a color which is used in a vast canvas on which a director draws. When I act, I try to be the best color for a director. If he wants blue, I will be the best possible blue. Such a process is not different from that which I use when I write poems, take photographs, and make paintings. There is a challenge in front of you. The method to overcome it might be different. The difference between movies and other art forms is that the results would be mine in other arts.

Q: Don't you want to gain more control over a movie?

VM: Well, I like writing story and I like handling images. Therefore, it may be interesting to be a director. To tell the truth, I have a story in my head which I'd like to make into a movie. However, directing a movie brings you heavy responsibility, and it takes time. Moreover, you have to accept demands of various people and you have to make compromise after compromise. People such as investors and studio might say, "Don't use such an actor! Use a star!" or "Finish shooting within an hour!" [laugh]

Q: --- [laugh]

VM: Directing movies requires you have incredible patience. I'd like to attempt it someday. But if a work is not good enough to engender such enthusiasm, I won't do it.