He is the most rebellious star who ever got on the list of the 50 most beautiful people of the US-glamour-People magazine. He avoids mirrors and hates parties. He recorded three albums between lyric and noise with Guns’n’Roses-guitarist Buckethead. He was married with the punk rocker Exene Cervenka. For his book Hole in the Sun he just took pictures of swimming pools. And this man is now on same level as Britney Spears and Hayden Christensen. “Now it is definitely too late to rename myself in Vic Morton,” growls Viggo Mortensen. He fired the agent who advised him to change his Danish name into a pleasant pseudonym.
Until the remarkable day he was chosen to play a ranger, Mister M. did 32 movies—from his first appearance as Amish farmer in Witness to 28 Days with Sandra Bullock. In between: a constant change between ambitious projects which found almost no audience and plain roles which provided security for paying the rate (Daylight, Psycho).
Apart from his hypnotic performance as Lucifer in God’s Army, his habit “rough skin—soft cell” comes best into play in Ridley Scotts military-flop G.I.Jane. As Demi Moore’s martinet at the Navy-training camp he quotes D. H. Lawrence: “I never saw an animal with self-pity.” Viggo Mortensen is the type of man who extinguishes a flame with his fingers.
Viggo owes the role who made a sex symbol of the lone wolf to an accident: The shots for The Fellowship were already going on for weeks, when director Peter Jackson removed Stuart Townsend, who was cast for Aragorn.
Viggo was old enough. The now 44-years old remembers: “There was this phone call, ‘Hey, Viggo do you want to come to New Zealand for one and a half years tomorrow?'” He refused. Until Henry Mortensen, 11 at that time, explained to his father who never read Tolkien that “Aragorn is the coolest guy in this book!”
Viggo’s recall presaged that the ultimate Aragorn was found: “How old was I when I came to the elves?”
Viggo gets quickly into the spirit of something. The son of a Danish father and an American mother grew up in New York, Buenos Aires and Venezuela. After school the nomad went through Denmark as joiner. And now New Zealand! Adventure! He studied Tolkien’s epos on the plane and found motifs of legends he devoured as a boy: “In Nordic myths there is no promise for a paradise. The certitude of having done the right thing is the only reward you can expect.” The man who got off the plane was Aragorn.
Veni, Viggo, vici: The filmcrew welcomed the new companion as a hero. His total fusion with the role is notorious – like a legend, told at a camp fire: Once Peter Jackson addressed him as Aragorn for hours and nobody noticed. When Viggo got a broken tooth during a fighting scene, he asked for a glue and wanted to continue shooting.
Viggo sleeps in his boots. Viggo hides in the forest for days.
The method-actor Mortensen mitigates: “I went fishing a few times, but I did not live in the forest! How could I have been on set in time without a wake-up call?” Viggo rejects cell phones.
But he cannot deny his sometimes noxious devotion: “Sometimes I was so exhausted that I had hallucinations. At some time I thought Liv Tyler was really an elven princess! Thank goodness there was always someone who took care of me. We were a real fellowship – like a circus family.”
Elijah Wood praises the electrifying energy of Viggo: “I bow to Viggo. He saved us!” The great fuss about his person distresses him: “There is no star in Lord of the Rings. The fellowship is a unit.” Give way, pernicious lure vanity! Viggo turns spotty T-shirts to the left, and only one adornment comes into question: As sign of the affection with his companions, Viggo kept the ring he wore as Aragorn. His hands reveal him: These are never the sturdy, horny hands of a fighter.
These noble fingers belong to an artist.
In the Hitchcock-remake A Perfect Murder with Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow in 1998, Viggo played a betraying painter. A mediocre film which still means a lot to him: “It was wonderful to kiss Gwyneth.” All the paintings in Viggo’s film studio are his creations. Douglas calls his art in one scene as “trashy, but potent” – Viggo is still fond of that statement.
The artist has exhibited in Athens, New York and L.A. and has published four books of plates. His spoken-words-CDs are sold out. Viggos photos reveal him as a keeper of small things who saves the moment and captures the transient. In his pickup truck, there are always dried flowers. On the other hand, his paintings are works in progress to which he always can add another element, another layer: Collages, painted-over photos, scraps of poetry – symbol for a world in the state of flux. Market value: up to $5,000. 1500 fans came to the inauguration of the exhibition “Signlanguage” in New York. “Of course I know they did not come because of my art.” Viggo allows himself a wry smile. “But once they are there, I hope they like it. If not, leave it.”
He didn’t see that always in such a cool way. “Sometimes I stand in front of my paintings and think God!! What shall that be?! And then I call everything in question: Am I a good actor? A good father? I should stop bothering other people with my shit! I can understand people jumping out of the window.”
If doubts threaten to devour him, he calls his Danish relatives in (can it be true?) Ringstedt, leaves headlong L.A. and relaxes in his hut in Idaho: One has to face his demons. “I must tolerate my faults.” His creative obsession cannot be limited to one form. Curiosity drives him in front of the camera. He is bound to art because of his longing for independence: “The working process and the results belong to me only.” This is the reason why he publishes his books by himself. His press is called Perceval Press – after Parcival, the knight in the legend of King Arthur seeking for the Holy Grail.
Viggo keeps on seeking. “If I have an aim? I want to be happy – even if I play a tortured person.”