Viggo Mortensen hates to disappoint his Danish relatives, who hoped Gwyneth would improve his dress sense, but he insists his screen love affair with the actress never became the real thing.
When Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck broke up, a lot of people thought they knew where to lay the blame: at the feet of Viggo Mortensen. “I was bombarded with hate mail by people who said I’d stolen Gwyneth from Ben,” he reveals.
Viggo, 40, was Gwyneth’s chisel-jawed lover in the thriller A Perfect Murder. In the movie, the couple had two torrid love scenes in the nude. So when Gwyneth and Ben split up, people put two and two together and came up with five.
“What was true,” says Viggo now, “is that before we took our clothes off and climbed between the sheets, I would serenade Gwyneth with Spanish love songs to get her in the mood and to soothe her.”
“It’s always a little weird when you have to take off your clothes and do a love scene with someone you don’t know. In this case it was weird, but fun. And any actor who says they feel uncomfortable doing those scenes, well, that’s bullshit.”
When he first heard the stories linking him to Gwyneth, Viggo’s reaction was to laugh about it. “I thought it was funny,” he says. “But then it wasn’t funny any more. I got some pretty mean letters.”
He suddenly found himself much in demand for interviews. “My phone never stopped ringing with press people asking me why I’d seduced Gwyneth. They were confused with the movie.”
Even Viggo’s relatives in Denmark were convinced that he was Gwyneth’s new lover. “They called to say that they were happy for me and said Gwyneth was such a snappy dresser and had such style that they hoped it would rub off and make me pay more attention to my clothes.”
Born in New York—his father is a Danish business man, his mother American—Viggo has had a slow climb up the Hollywood ladder. He was one of the Amish community in Witness, but his small roles in Swing Shift, which starred Goldie Hawn, and Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo ended up on the cutting room floor.
“It was a disappointing start,”he recalls, “so I spent a lot of time out of work, taking jobs as a truck driver, a furniture mover, waiter and bartender to pay the rent.”
He finally found his niche playing villains, such as the trigger-happy ex-convict who pushed Al Pacino around in Carlito’s Way. In G.I. Jane he was Demi Moore’s sadistic but charismatic army trainer.
But Viggo isn’t just an actor, he’s also a very talented painter. “When I first met Gwyneth I shot a couple of photos of her then painted portraits of her that were used in our scenes together.”
When the director of A Perfect Murder wondered what kind of art Viggo’s killer-for-hire character might have in his loft apartment, the actor rolled up his sleeves and painted 40 more canvases for the movie.
Now Viggo—who has a 10-year-old son Henry by his ex-wife, a punk rocker and poet called Exene Cervenka—has been inundated with offers and makes a point of rarely turning anything down.
“I used to avoid commercial movies because the characters just didn’t appeal to me. But I need to support my son,” he says.
In his latest movie, A Walk on the Moon, he stars as another crooked character.
“I play a stranger who rolls into town and breaks up a marriage.” Then, remembering Gwyneth and Ben, he adds hastily: “But, of course, that’s not the kind of thing I’d ever do in real life.”