Q: First, lets talk about your role on Lord of the Rings (LOTR), what moved you to participate in the film?
Let’s see, they called me one day and I had to answer almost immediately. It was not easy. I didn’t take the role because it was a great production that was going to have important success, because no one knew in that moment what was going to happen, we just knew it when the first part was released.
I don’t accept a role because of those reasons, I accept them because of the challenge they implies, because I’m going to learn something. If I have money and I can be more selective, I take some time to decide about a role, but when I don’t have money enough, well, I live like many other actors that have to take what is offered to them, take any job and, as I do, do the best you can with the role you have.
Q: Was your economic situation difficult when you accepted to play Aragorn?
Mmm, no, and I could decide to not do the film, stay with my son, and do other things. But I thought it was interesting based on what Peter Jackson and my son told me. At the end, I thought that if I didn’t take it I was going to be… I couldn’t have known what I would have done, how would that be, do you understand me?
Q: Perfectly. Can you tell me what was more interesting to you about your character or his evolution through the film?
There’s something I liked about Aragorn and I still do. It has relation with the lack of information we face today: for instance, if you were Chilean in 1972 and 1973 and later years, what really happened wasn’t what you could see in the media in your country. Today you could think that you have a greater chance to know what is happening, with the internet and that, but the truth is the governments have managed really well to hide what is happening. That’s the reason because I like Aragorn: he makes an effort to understand other people, other countries, other races, and uses his knowledge about the history and cultures of Middle Earth (like the people of Rohan) to understand them and doesn’t act without thinking, but he makes an effort to understand. He has doubts, sometimes he feels fear, but he accepts he feels it.
I compare him with the character of Boromir, played by Sean Bean. Boromir thinks he knows how the things must be done, he acts impetuously, something like the US government: it’s white or black, you’re with us or against us, there’s no space for thinking or to discuss how the things are in Afghanistan, Iraq, or other places.
At the end, Boromir realizes that the situation is more complicated and, well, that is good that Aragorn has doubts. He understands that they have to do some efforts to understand the enemies, the friends and—beyond all—ourselves. And that’s something I’m deeply interested in.
Q: I want to use what you said, about the position of USA against countries as Iraq or Afghanistan. Recently you went to an interview with a T-Shirt that said NO BLOOD FOR OIL… have you had problems because of that?
No, I don’t have doubts about what I think and although I know that wearing such a T-Shirt can be provocative, for me the problem that moved me to paint on that shirt those words and wear it in that TV interview was that I was getting tired of listening how the media compared—because it’s easy to do—LOTR, my character and the others of the Fellowship with USA and its position against the “bad guys” in the world. There’s no reason to compare, but if it’s going to be a comparison, then let’s do it right: those that stands in Helm’s Deep, in the fortress, defending their people, with Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and the King Théoden, they seem to me to be more like the civilian in Afghanistan and Iraq that don’t know why they are being attacked day after day.
Also I was criticized because my position, after September 11, was more critical. I have nothing against reaction: to investigate, to look for and capture only the responsible, to look to yourself and ask yourself why they are doing this to you. But for an entire year we continue releasing bombs over people, destroying cities and villages, killing more innocents than the number that was killed on WTC. And I was born on NYC! It hurt me and I did want the government do something, but not that, that’s not good. We are not doing things that are going to make Americans more loved by the rest of the world.
Besides, it bothers me being criticized for saying what I think, it bothers me not being permitted to talk about what we think, not to criticize the situation, I think it’s dangerous. Here there’re doubts, people ask to themselves, but government goes ahead as if it were obvious that they must attack and keep on attacking. I think it’s healthier to think a little… Hey, but don’t think I want to follow a career as politics commentator or something like that…
Q: Viggo for Senator?
No!, no, (laughs), see, when someone says something against them and wants to discuss the situation, they say to you “you’re an actor, a school teacher, a student, you don’t have to talk about politics; let’s us to talk about this”. I think everybody has the right to make questions about the moral life of their countries, you know? And its dangerous to deny or to persecute because of that. People were saying that in LOTR good guys were the Americans and the 10.000 that come to attack us were all the bad and ugly guys of the world, but it perfectly can be all the contraire. I don’t want to talk more about this, please.
Q. Ok, let’s return to LOTR. When you arrived to New Zealand, what was the first thing you had to do?
The first was to start practice with the swords, the tongues and the Elvish, a wonderful language. The first thing they did was to handle me a sword, they said to me “move it” because I had to so a scene with swords so I had to learn quickly. It helped me a lot had to do something physical to integrate faster. That was good, because, finally, Aragorn doesn’t say much with words, his gestures, acts and reactions speak more for him than his words, not like Gandalf or Frodo, with them, their words speak for them.
Q: What do you remember most?
Now, in this moment, and almost all the time, what I see in my mind is the landscape, New Zealand’s nature. We filmed in rivers, forests, inside the rivers! I think for Tolkien nature was another character and, as for him, in the movie Nature is another role, just like the rest of us. That caused an echo on me, Aragorn having a connection so important with Nature. He is a man that has lived in the wild, he has some abilities because of his race which allows him to understands not only the languages of the people of Middle-earth, but also the languages of animals, birds and environment.
Q: If I ask you what you think about the rest of the cast, what is the first thing that comes to your mind if I name you, for instance, Sean Bean?
He’s a terrific actor, and a good friend, very good companion, the best possible. We had really good connection, and I think that helped us to develop our roles. We shared a lot and the truth is I miss him a lot. I think that you can feel the connection on the film, we will see it more in, well, I cannot tell you how, but there will be some flask back, some really good stuff in the third part. But his work has ended with us and I miss him. A good friend. I don’t know if he’s going to travel to NZ this year, when we go to do some more shooting in may or June, when we are going to film some more and finish the things well.
The rest of the team was incredible, I couldn’t talk more about one or the other, because we were really good team mates, they are actors with great talent and take a full commitment. We were together for so long, we lived such difficult times, that bonds were created we will never forget. I feel it’s going to be forever, when we will see each other, in the future, always will be special, more profound than what you get with other team. We love each other…
Among the arts
Q: What does your work offer you as an artist?
It’s another way to express myself. Yes, it offers me resources to do other things too, it allows me to have time, but these last two years I’ve been working so much with the films, with the promotion, and I have settled and publishing company called Perceval Press and we have planned to release six or seven more books this year.
Q: What is the goal of Perceval Press?
To offer the public through the internet information about books, ideas, art, poetry, things that can be really interesting but you cannot see normally. We are going to release a book about art in Cuba in the last 20 years. Not in the US nor in the rest of the world is it known what they do there. Despite the lack of resources there’s a rich artistic life in Cuba and I’ve seen images I have liked a lot and I would like to share with other people. You know? Are like gifts, it seems good to me to give you a present you are going to like, that I know you would like to receive. I like being able with Perceval to offer things I imagine I and others would like to receive as presents.
Q: You do different things: you paint, write poetry, take pictures, and act. Do all your works seduce you with the same intensity or there’s one that captivates you more than the other?
Someone said sometime that history shows us what is and what was, and Art shows us what could or should be. I don’t know. I don’t separate; I don’t make distinctions among the art of cinema, writing or painting. I realize that in the cinema I provide a small part of the work and the director takes my contribution with all the work of the other people to build his/her own art work. In painting, photography and poetry, the process and the results belong only to me.
Q: Is there any subject, topic, motif, which moves you more deeply in your art?
Mmm, no, no particularlly. I don’t start to paint with a previous idea, nor I get my chamera to make a particular image… it’s like a conversation, you don’t know what is going to emerge.
Q: About your work in cine, in some moment you rejected a role in Borgia, was it formally offered to you or were only rumors?
They offered to me formally, but the problem is… see, it’s still not done. Maybe is not going to be done, or at least not for now. After finishing LOTR I didn’t work almost by two years. In 2002 they offered me Borgia, but it wasn’t ready to be shot. The script was very good, very interesting, and I read a lot about Italy, it’s story, because it was very attractive for me to know more about that Spanish family living in Italy in such a particular situation and that time period. Besides, Neil Jordan as director… I liked the idea a lot, I really wanted to do it, but I knew it wasn’t economically financed and I couldn’t wait more. I had to leave it. I didn’t want to, but I tried to leave it with respect, because I like Neil Jordan and I like the script. If it’s going to be done, I would love to do it. Around July of 2002 Hidalgo was offered to me, and I started working.
Q: How is Hidalgo?
It is an interesting story about a man that existed and based mostly in real facts that happened around 1880. What I like is most part of the story is about a man born and raised in US that travels to Arabia to be in a horse race. Its not like in the big movies, that when an American goes to a foreign country is to explain them how to do the things correctly, the “good American way” politically and culturally, or to kill them and destroy them. I was interested in this story because it was about a man that goes to a place he doesn’t know well, with his horse, and returns to his country maybe changed a little bit. We are finishing it by now. Other part of the story takes place in the west, with natives, and some parts of their culture is shown in a way never seen before. Also you will see the massacre of Wounded Knee from a different perspective. And natives and Arabians speak their own languages, not English, which I think is very healthy for the audience.
Talking about Viggo
Q: I know you like maté a lot, do you have any by your side? [Note: this is an herbal beverage, similar to tea]
No, I didn’t bring my maté.
Q: Can you tell me where you are now?
… no … (hidden smile)
Q: Can you describe to me where you are?
I’m in the car, because I had to charge the cell phone in the car to call you. I’m visiting a friend and I forgot the maté, but tomorrow I’m going to be at home and there I will have it…
Q: And the place you’re in?
(Laughs softly) It’s in the mountains, there’s a beautiful blue sky, the sun is shining, it’s cold, some great trees around and snow, it’s cold… there’s a coffee by my side, cold, it’s cold, you know?
Q: You’re not going to make me feel guilty…
I know. (laughs)
Q: How do you take your maté?
Bitter, but sometimes, when I want to spoil myself, I add some honey to it.
Q: How do you remember your life in Argentina?
The memories I have are those of a kid, see?, I left when I was 11, but I have tried to follow what happens there, I listen some Argentinean music, but certainly the images I have are different from those that a person living there has. I feel very sad about what is happening there… I want to go soon.
Q: Did you visit Chile?
Yes, I did, Chile is very pretty, I have really beautiful memories of the southern zone. When I arrived to New Zealand, the landscape surprised me a lot, it reminded me a lot the south of Chile and Argentina. Weather is also very similar. Maybe that’s the reason because I felt so comfortable in NZ. I visited Chile a couple of times, I went to Santiago, to the coast and to the mountains, I went to sky once. I remember once we traveled by train and we had to stop a lot because there was much snow on the rails. Other times we went in car from Mendoza. I remember the first time it surprised me a lot the way you speak Spanish, I had learned Spanish in Argentina and I thought everybody spoke the same way, but no… so the first time I listened Spanish in Chile it was so strange, I’d never heard talking Spanish like that.
Q: Do you want to visit again?
Yes, maybe… (laughs)
Q: After LOTR you became very well known for the public, although you had worked on several films before. How has the phenomena of the fame and the fans affected you?
I haven’t been affected that much. I don’t usually go to public places unless it’s for the film promotion. Well (smiles), there’re more reporters asking more questions than before, and also I have received a lot of letters from different parts of the world I didn’t got in the past. But what I do notice is that I am being asked to participate in important films, as Borgia or Hidalgo, and that didn’t happen often before. Apart from that, I have less free time, I have to work before, during and after of the filming process, with promotions and all the stuff related. I’m afraid those are the things that come with the work. But, you know?, I don’t feel pressure over my private life. I do have less time for the things I like to do apart from cinema, but it’s only a matter of finding a way to doing it. They are interesting obstacles and I realized that I was lucky for being involved in LOTR, it was a good experience.
Q: You received a lot of fan mail, have you received some more peculiar or had strange experiences related to fans?
Mmmm. To write to a person you don’t know at all, or you think you know because you have seen him/her working on a screen, it’s a bit strange. But what people write is positive in general, almost all the letters I receive say positive things… or at least the people that haven’t liked what I have done haven’t written to me to tell me so!. If, in some way, I or the rest of the team of LOTR have done something that… in some way… has provided inspiration or we have provided something to think about, I think is interesting.
What bothers me a little is I don’t have time to answer to everyone, that’s the reason why I said, some months ago, I wasn’t going to answer mail anymore. Before that, I used to read and answer all, but there’s was a moment when I found myself spending two or three hours everyday doing that, and without time to do my things, to be a good father, to sleep, even less time to paint, make good pictures, Perceval, and all the things I’m interested in. That meant that I had no time to do things to offer then to the people, and be satisfied as a person and artist and be able to offer to the people that wrote to me something… new. I had to stop, I didn’t want to do like other actors do, let other people answer the letters by me, read the letters for me or send a signature that wasn’t mine at all, from a machine. I understand that some people do that, but I don’t: you do it, or not. Or you read all and answer all, or not. And I say this is because I have immense respect for the people that write to me. If I go to a store to sign books, or to an opening of an exhibition, yes, I can sign books and pictures. Or if they see me at the street and they want to say something to me, well, it’s fine. But with the letters, I can’t do it, there’s no time, not in day nor in night.
Proust Questionnaire (complete)
The questions must be answered in short and direct sentences.
Q: What smell or perfume brings to you memories of your childhood?
Many, many, there’s no just only one. Many.
Q: With what of your defects you have been more persistent?
Try to do too many things at the same time.
Q: What is the defect you regret more in other people?
Cruelty and greed.
Q: What book would never be out of your personal library?
The one you’re writing about your own life.
Q: In what you don’t believe?
I… mmm… I don’t believe that any person is entirely bad.
Q: In what way does your ego express itself more clearly?
(Long silence) In the fact that I feel obligated to answer this question…
(laughs)… without answering at all!! (laughs loudly)
Q: You’re revenging
Q: Yes, you’re revenging for having to be interviewed…
(Smiles)… no, no… (laughs)
Q: Ok, what escape do you have for yourself to not explode?
Q: What defeats your defenses?
Sleep. I don’t know. I think when I’m sleeping I’m unarmed.
Q: Who bores you more?
No one, I never get bored.
Q: What has been said about you that has caused you more fun?
Q: What things do you do faster in life?
I don’t know…
Q: Cook, take a shower…?
No, no… Well, definitely not making a decision!
Q: What has been the most ridiculous situation in your life?
There have been a lot, but I think I haven’t gotten yet to the levels of ridiculous I still have to do.
Q: Is there any object inside your house you would never get rid of?
The memory inside of it.
Q: What was the last film that made you cry?
The one I’m working in now. There have been really beautiful things and other very sad things that happened in the past that we revived in this film.
Q: What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
I put the water on the kitchen.
Q: What headline would you like to read in a newspaper cover?
(Thinks for a long time) We realize as humans of all the countries that we all are going to die someday and there’s no need to make it faster by killing other people. No, no, it would be better if… We accept as humans that we are going to die and there’s no need to hurry to do that. Or for the rest of the people, to die earlier… (Sigh)… I… don’t know.
Q: What toy you would never give to a child?
Q: What are you reading now?
I just finished Gore Vidal’s Dreaming War.
Q: What have been the biggest mistake you have ever made?
See, it’s because… We, the human beings, are different to the animals, we know we are going to die and despite of that we do really bad things. We know when we kill someone or something, we are really killing it, that’s the reason because we behave in such strange ways and create excuses to do it, to kill people.
Q: … is the headline, yes…?
Q: … Let’s continue in the meantime: what do you value most of your friends?
Compassion, for those we love and for those we don’t also.
Q: What is your idea of a perfect moment?
To be awake, with my eyes open and remember everything.
Q: What is your biggest fear?
The opposite to what I said above. To those who rule would like we would go around without memory, sleeping. Like somnambulists.
Q: What is your mental state usually?
Fluctuating between curiosity and impatience.
Q: What is the major luxury you provide to yourself?
Q: Poor man!!
(Laughs) No, no!!, I mean, I know it’s good to sleep, to have some rest and all that stuff, but… I don’t know, life is too short.
Q: On what occasions do you lie?
You know?, a good headline would be: People realize there’s no need to stay angry forever. No, no, no: All the people of the world realize there’s no reason to stay angry… forever…
Q: … headline… ?
Q: Ok, NOW, in what occasions do you lie?
When it’s convenient for me and sometimes when is not convenient too.
Q: What do you dislike most of your appearance?
I don’t have a particular thing, all the people say something… finally, we all get old and die and that’s it.
Q: What talent would you like to have?
Patience, total and permanently.
Q: What is the possesion do you appreciate more?
Q: Where you would like to live?
I don’t know, here, maybe…
Q: There, that place that you’re not going to tell me where it is?
(Smiles) Yes. Or not. In this moment, in this place. But in any place in any moment.
From the former “Musings of Viggo.”
Noemi Miranda interviewed Viggo by phone for the Chilean newspaper La Tercera. Only a small portion of that interview appeared in the January 12, 2003, edition of the newspaper. You can read the original Spanish article and an English translation on Viggo’s Celluloid Haven. A former Viggo Mortensen fan site, Musings of Viggo, contacted the journalist and asked if there was more to the interview. Ms. Miranda very generously supplied the remainder of the interview. This interview was later published on the House of Telcontar and Viggo-Online.net sites.