Speaking | Viggo Mørtensen
an emily blunt interview
speaking? You could call him a renaissance man. Viggo Mortensen's a multi-facetted
manlyberry studmuffin that says with a wink, " I like life and don't want
to miss any of it." How great is that? He's got that delightful "Singin'
in the Rain" persona so rare these days! And there's not going to
be any of that shoulda woulda coulda for ol' Viggo when he's sixty-four
relaxing with a smoke, reclined in his handcarved New Zealand Aotearoa wood rocking
chair, no siree Bob.
my friends heard I was to meet Viggo - The King - Mortensen the fluttering started.
I was offered a small (house-broken) youngin' by one of the gals if I'd allow
her to play my "photographer "...Others advised - with manical eyebrows
perched in a vortex shape of
Viggo Mortensen's Self Portrait
doom - Vig is a tad "eccentric," and warned me to be aware of an exit...Well,
if being completely interesting, speaking of animals as equal beings, and having
a million diversified interests makes one "eccentric?" I am afraid we
are kindred souls.
or as I now like to refer to him, "Viggy Von Schnitzela," showed up
with a napsack of presents. Purr. He's a phographer among his oodles of
talents, and thought I'd enjoy some of his photo
books relating to his latest western role in Hidalgo. Could this guy
be sweeter? Um, no. He's like a heaping serving of a triple blueberry hazelnut
frangipane smørrebrød sweet! So
without further ado,
"Let 'er Buck!"
You seem very comfortable around animals. Yet you always hear never work with
animals or kids.
I've never agreed with that. In the last 20 years I've worked with babies and
infants and adolescents, dogs, cats, horses. I don't think it's true- I mean like
human actors, the more interesting they are the more interesting your interaction
has a chance to be. If you're open to it. But, if you're resistant or jealous
of their abilities, or talent, or their presence, then you're not gonna be comfortable.
You're also looking very confident atop the horse again. Did you ride before Lord
of the Rings? - maybe back in Argentina as a kid?
Yeah. When I was a boy I rode a lot until I was about eleven and then I didn't
until I was in my twenties, and moved away from there. There were a couple of
times where there was a horse somewhere and I might have jumped on a few times,
but I didn't ride regularly. In Young Guns II -I had a small stint on that
- and got to ride there. Of course then again twelve years later on Lord of
the Rings and again here.
But you did train for Hidalgo, right?
Yeah, I had to. The main part of my preparation apart from what I did on my own
in terms of the historical period and trying to get the cowboy thing right. I
already had an interest in Native American culture and it was important to me
to seem as fluent in Lakota as in English and I made that effort but I really
spent most of my time on horseback.
You're flying around in this - it was a stunt double right?
[laughter] Yeah, this guy Mike Watson. He was a pretty good double for me and
he always tried the difficult stuff before I would do it but with a few exceptions
I pretty much got to do most of it and you can see that on film. Which is nice
for the director, it doesn't always happen but because I had a horse background
it made it relatively safe to do those scenes. I mean it's always dangerous, even
if you're a good rider stuff can always go wrong but to not have to cut away,
to be able to be up close on someone doing something that's obviously dangerous
is a nice extra thing for the director. Just like having a horse like we had in
TJ who played Hidalgo and has so much presence, you get a real personality. You
get a performance from this horse. In other movies like Seabiscuit you
either don't get to know them in that way or it's animatronics or something. Here
it's just a horse being a horse.
So no accidents?
Viggo: I was lucky. Apart from getting really
sore, I didn't have any really bad spills or anything. If you know horses, the
most dangerous thing we did apart from the bareback stuff, was the start of the
race. When you have a hundred horses and they don't cut their horses over there.
In other words, they're not geldings so a 100 odd stallions and the Arabians over
there, unlike the
way they work with them here or in Spain or England or anywhere else, they just
let the stallions fight. They're sort of unruly these horses and they're already
a pretty high-strung breed and we're all packed together knee and once the horses
realize what we're up to, they're all wanting to go and they're all wanting to
kill each other. I'm on this little horse, which is effective visually because
he's strong, but even though he's little he's got all this personality. He's a
stallion who thinks he's pretty tough so he's wanting to pick fights. It was really
the most worrisome moment in a way of the whole movie, was that, not this full-tilt
stuff that was kinda scary at times. Some people did get hurt. We only did a few
takes in those high winds and stuff and this one horse in particular just went
somersaulting and the guy got run over and got hurt really bad but five months
later he was back doing more riding. We were lucky considering. That start of
the race was something Rex Peterson was having nightmares about. Once it was over,
he was greatly relieved.
It's so rare to have a American Indian Reservation open up the way they did .
Can you talk about going to the reservation and learning the Lakota language?
Sure. I've been up there several times. One of the many things that interested
me about this project was Native American tribes particularly Lakotas, I'd read
about them and played around with the idea of being a cowboy or an Indian as a
kid. Here I got to do both. The first time I went to the Pine Ridge reservation
and crossed the border to Fort Robinson, NE where Crazy Horse was killed. I've
been to Dakota and Wyoming many times because I have an interest and they have
great museums there. I'm related to Bill Cody on my mom's side. I was interested
in that part of the country and that period in history, particularly the 19th
century and those tribes. I'd been to Pine Ridge for the first time in '85, but
as an outsider. They were cool about it.
That's very rare though. To be allowed such access - a studio.
Yeah, you're right. They had unprecedented access. I went up to meet Sonny
Richards who taught me to speak what I had to speak and to sing. Gradually they
let me and , when they saw I they let me in when they saw I was not intending
any harm and that I was being respectful. I got to ride with them before the shoot
and go into the hills with a horsemen and horsewomen. After the shoot I went back
as part of the Big Foot Ride. Now, I have friendships. And I think they were taken
with the fact that a big studio made that effort. A sequence they could have shot
on in any studio, they could have gone somewhere in CA with whoever. But they
went up there and shot up there with not only Lakota people but some of the descendants
of people who were killed or survived the massacre at Wounded Knee. Everything
was done with care and the book and CD [he gave me this cd with him chatting at
a stable on the subject = insta-treasure], and Miyelo
speaks to that.
Can you go back a sec? Tell me how your mother is related to Buffalo Bill Cody?
Viggo: It goes back to her mom and a connection with a family called Chapman
and Cody, my mom's family side of the family is really interesting that way, she's
related to Bill Cody and John Chapman who's Johnny Appleseed. He's a real mythical
character! It would be interesting I'd like to make a good version of Johnny Appleseed.
[maybe Viggo could use Joe Strummer's 'Johnny
Appleseed' song I thought...]
Did you write the song you sang ? Sorry if I'm naïve
No. No, That's a song that belonged to - if that's the way to put it - that belonged
to a medicine man Fool's Crow. He's very famous. Miyelo means "It is I"
and it was perfect for that sequence-it's a moment where you know your DONE
and saying, "Here I am. I present myself, tell me what you want. I am listening."
The guys did it in their special way too! They asked permission to use that song.
Not that they couldn't have done it anyway, you know what I'm saying? It was done
in the right way. The scene is real. Just like when those guys [Lakota] would
do it, by the end of the day, after they did it all day long their voices would
be raspy. What I liked is joe used that raw footage. He didn't "fix"
it later. He was like, "Let it be."
But that was you playing harmonica?
Yeah, I mean, that was me playing, which I don't know if viewing that, you would
say I can play the harmonica, [laughter] but good enough to seem like someone
who does it for his own enjoyment I suppose.
What things drew you into this character?
Many. The ones I've mentioned in terms of the cultures and all that and the west
but North America
Especially as the United States, as a people. The 19th
century that's ten years or less before the Spanish Am war. And the U.S. has reached
both oceans, taken what they could from Mex. And now they're starting to look
outside their borders at the rest of the world to see the rest of the world for
what their place is. For better or worse. For the next 100 hundred years, that
was the beginning of this super power. It's an interesting period. Especially
in a big Hollywood movie. To have an American an architect, a cowboy, go over
seas at that time. He goes over seas to a place he doesn't really know about.
Fortunately in this story, he doesn't go to spread Americanism, or something,
he goes on invitation, not that everyone welcomes him. And he goes with an open
mind. I mean, where he's ignorant - and that's a lot - how could he know anything
about that. Lady Anne and her husband are as foreign to him asthe Muslim people.
It's different worlds. But, whatever he lacks in information he makes up for by
being more curios, more interested. It's not a typical exchange. The Arab cultural
is treated with respect in this movie. Cowboys are too. The exchange that you
see at the starting line when the Arab man comes up and says, "It's sacrilege
you're in this race with that imitation of a horse! And Frank says, "Well,
Good luck to you too!" you know it's individualism. A lot of places here
and over seas think of cowboys in a negative way. They are into individualism
is stubborn puts done other's points of view. I haven't seen that in cowboys.
That's certainly not the cowboys I thought of when I was a little kid. The might
be confused or perplexed- I mean working on this movie [with cowboys] I learned
too that they're not going to tell you can't do it that way. That goes a long
way about being open minded - I like that about this story.
I hear you and T'J., one of the Hidalgo horses, are now co-habitating.
You bought him?
Yeah. Now I have two. I brought home my horse from Lord of the Rings too.
T.J. had a strong personality. He was smaller than the other horses and like a
dog he thought he was BIG. Like the dachshunds that run around chasing big dogs.
He's very smart. He's good at pretending he didn't hear you. He's very lazy. He
definately had a personality! I thought, "This is going to be a chore!"
But we got to know each other and he's a smart animal. You're not going to be
able to lie to that horse. You need to ask nicely. T.J.'s just outside of LA.
At a friend's place who has a horse also. The one in New Zealand I haven't brought
over yet because they were doing reshoots last fall even and I had to figure it
out. I've been on tour for now the second movie in a row without stopping so I
need to let the dust settle and go back there.
That is very sweet you know! Some keep props, you keep horses?
& T.J. Lookin' Purdy @ The Premiere
[laughter] I just had a good streak of luck I think. I've just worked with very
good horses or got to be really good friends with them, I guess. Or maybe it's
just because horses are interesting people.
You love art. Is it fair to ask which of all your passions is closest to your
heart; the art, photography, music?
I like them all equally I think. They're all kind of the same impulse. It's a
way to disengage sometimes when I'm on a movie set, I'll go do that or write something.
It gets harder to keep track. Art lets me take part in my own life. Which sounds
weird - your in your own life - but I mean most of us, certainly myself, if I
don't take some effort to be involved my life goes by and I don't remember
to hear, or see or be involved.
That's actually very touching and true. Life's short- enjoy! Do you see your career
as preLord of the Rings and post-Lord of the Rings? It's your head
on the poster.
That's marketing! That poster certainly wasn't in the lunch tent everyday saying,
"Don't forget we're making the big fat head poster movie!" No, it was
the way movies are sold. I understand. A lot of people know Omar Sharif and me.
But myself, I was in a movie that's done so well. I think this was a lot like
an ensemble, like Lord of the Rings. And like Lord of the Rings
a largely unknown cast was a part of it, very fine actors and actors.
So are you uncomfortable calling yourself a superstar?
I don't know if I've ever called myself that. I just don't. I've been around for
20 years and I was in a project that made billions of dollars. So everyone involved
in that has more opportunities for work. I mean it makes sense when something
makes that much money- you'll get more opportunities but it's up to you what you
do with them.
What's this buzz about yet more Lord of the Rings footage?
There is going to be almost an hour more on the DVD because a lot of those characters
had their stories sacrificed for length. It was just a hard thing for peter to
Can you talk about the man behind your character; the real Frank Hopkins?
I had still photos of him. And it was really John Fusco [screenwriter] that did
the homework. Whether you talk to white horsemen of Indian decent they all talk
about Frank's horsemanship. He was years ahead in his horse training techniques.
That's really impressive. They still talk about his ways. The talk through the
generations. People who to their history really have no reason to comment on this
"white" guy and his abilities with horses. I find very interesting.
And what I really benefited from, cowboys and Native Americans all talk
about this guy Hopkins and his work with horses, it's impressive and interesting.
I'd never heard of him!
Hey, neither did I and I dig the old west! You're very international - even a
bit of a manly mystery - And your name is a handsome "foreign" name.
You speak English, Danish, Spanish and Elf - what, if any of them - do you feel
[laughter] I was raised in different places. I have family in Denmark. I feel
like a human being. In the end no matter how different we are, people are people.
And that's one of the things you get [in Hidalgo] without it being a message
Bravo. How was the locust lunch?
So I have to ask you know...was Lord of the Rings your destiny?
You mean that I was picked last? [laughter] I don't know. You've got to
be lucky in this business. I have a lot of friends who are really good, who I've
worked with who are really good and they don't make a steady living at it. I don't
know why that is and I can't really explain it. So you can work real hard and
still not have a career. You've got to be lucky. I got Lord of the Rings
and as a consequence got this.
What's next? [now thoroughly smitten - and planning on actually buying the LOR
dvds - with this charmer, I think but don't speak, "Perhaps a long vacation,
just you, me, T.J and a tent? Where, through the stillness of the morning breeze,
over the soft bellow of the morning birds, you hear..." Hey, leggo my
Well, I'm doing this for the next few months so I don't know. And I didn't plan
to do Hidalgo. I don't plan very much. It was one of those things that
came my way by luck, and work and so forth. People are going to say stuff
but I'm not signed up to do anything at this point. I'm interested in stories
where I can learn something. If I'm a little bit wary or nervous about it? That's
a good sign.
is one helluva guy folks. Gentle - very soft spoken - and yet completely intense.
He speaks with you, not at you. His obvious respect for life was refreshing. Viva
le Viggo. Oops I guess that should be Danish...