Back in Argentina, where he spent his childhood, the actor travelled around the city, watched soccer, horses races, and talked about his experience shooting the last part of The Lord of the Rings.
The man has the features very similar to Aragorn, son of Arathorn, Isildur’s heir, King of Arnor and Gondor, captain of the North Dunedain, at least such as Peter Jackson’s ambitious film version of the saga The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien, shows him. Nevertheless, some differences are patently obvious. The first is his appearance: the hair quite shorter and a bit grey, the absence of beard and his clothing, a combination of black and grey suit and shirt, whose style is nearer to that of an European designer than to Middle Earth’s look. The second, well, our Aragorn comes with a San Lorenzo’s pennant under his arm, and inside his backpack he brings a mate, a thermos bottle and a bag of yerba. Rosamonte1, of course, the king’s yerba.
It’s Monday morning and Viggo Mortensen has spent Sunday travelling between Buenos Aires and Santa Fe, where he went to see the match between the cuervos2 and Colón, a 1-1 that perhaps has stood out more by his presence than by what happened inside the stadium. For him, at least, it was a complete dream.
“When I was a kid I liked San Lorenzo, but never had attended to a match in the ground — he says in that, his Spanish half whispered and very porteño — It was very interesting. There weren’t so many San Lorenzo’s fans, indeed. I thought that there will be more. But they shouted loud equally.”
It’s strange that you haven’t gone to see the Superclásico4…
I had tickets even, but I wanted to see San Lorenzo. When I knew that I come to Argentina, I wanted to find out where did it play and I was told, “it plays far”, “Where?” I asked. And I was told that it was going to play in Santa Fe. “And can’t we go?” So, many of us went there in a van.”
The pennant has its history. Viggo stayed in a Paraná’s5 hotel and before the match he went to visit San Lorenzo’s players. “It was a dream knowing them, they are very kind. We took photos with el Beto (in this way, referring to Acosta), and they gave as a present the pennant and shirts, and other things”, he tells proudly. Viggo likes to speak extensively, and when he starts with his anecdotes, they tend to be very detailed and precise. “The previous night, before going, I realized that I hadn’t anything to give them as a present —he says—. Then, we went out at Saturday midnight to look for bookstores where The Lord of the Rings’s trilogy was sold. Finally, we got books for all.”
With his low profile—he isn’t recognizable either without Aragorn look—; Viggo is in Argentina since Saturday. The actor —born in the USA of an Danish father and an American mother — lived in Buenos Aires (with a brief passage by Chaco) between three and eleven years old while his father worked as field caretaker, among other headings. He left the country in 1969 (you can do the count: he is 45), and since that moment he has returned hardly a couple of times.
“On Saturday I arrived quite tired from Brazil, but instead of going to sleep a nap, I went out to walk a bit around here, around Recoleta’s zone. It rained a little, I went to the cemetery, the Museo de Bellas Artes, and I went all over those zones. It’s different to what I remembered of my childhood. I don’t know. I remembered like a mountain that hill in the park.”
What is your impression back in Buenos Aires?
I know things are very bad in the last two years. And you do see more poverty, but in that time it could be seen too. What happens is that this zone is well cared. I’m put here, in a fantastic hotel, in an expensive zone, and it seems that everything is OK. But if you walk a little in the streets you realize that it isn’t true. But you can see poverty in Argentina, in Brazil and in the USA. Not long ago I had to stay three days more in Washington because I couldn’t return to California due to the fires. And in the downtown of the capital of the most powerful country in the world you can see people sleeping in the streets.
Haven’t you time to go to Chaco?
No, but when we travelled to Paraná, the trip to North made me remember Chaco a little. It isn’t the same, but the country impressed me. I learn to ride horses in Chaco.
“Chaqueñas” abilities were very useful to Viggo during the year and a half that he spent in New Zealand shooting The Lord of the Rings’s trilogy. Although he had to learn the use of swords and other peculiarities of Aragorn, his character, knowing how to ride horses was perfect to him. What he couldn’t achieve was teaching the subtleties of bitter mate to his cast partners. “They don’t like it much” — he says —. “Sweet, may be a bit. They are curious and they wonder if it has secondary effects, but they find it difficult to drink it bitter.”
Although the main part of the film was shot four years ago, Mortensen was shooting new scenes and improving the existing ones during several months in 2003, in order to complete the third part of the saga, The Return of the King that will be released in the world on December 17th, and in Argentine on January 1st. 2004. “The two first movies were so successful that New Line gave a little more money to refine some things and to add others. We shot quite a lot this time”, he says, and tells which were the “improved” scenes (Note: revealing them would imply to tell too much about the last chapter).
“I couldn’t see how the film was finished yet — he adds —. I saw only some parts, and I think it will be as Peter Jackson has told: it has the better of the two first parts. He says that this is the best of the three. I hope so.”
Viggo is not only an actor, but he can be defined as a multifacetic artist who has different means of expression: he has photo books, poetry books, discs of experimental rock (where he collaborates with the outlandish guitarist Buckethead), drawings and paintings. He is, too, an opponent to Bush’s government and to Iraq’s occupation.
Do you feel freer when you work in other artistic mediums, when you’re not under a director’s orders?
The difference is that the final result, like it or not, is mine. In films, the director puts together the final work. But to me, it’s a similar process, it’s the same effort. You use different muscles, different parts of your brain. Writing, painting, taking out a camera, it’s all the same. In doing it, you’re asking yourself questions, trying to connect with the rest of the world, making an effort to understand what you have in common with other people. That’s the hope for humanity: finding the similarities that link us. Creating art helps me do that.
Do you identify with the character of Aragorn in that way, because in Tolkien’s saga he too carries a great deal of the hope for humanity?
What I have in common with him is curiosity, a desire to share and to learn. I hope I’ll always be like Aragorn. Sometimes you’re tired, and frustrated, and don’t want to listen. Aragorn isn’t perfect, and I like that in this story. People in Japan, or in Argentina, can identify with the people in this very strange world. Because the heroes – and there are many of them, not just one – have faults, moments of doubt, fears. And yet despite it all, they show compassion, they’re concerned about the welfare of others, and the consequences of their actions. If only we had more leaders like Aragorn.
Comparing him to the leader you have right now in the United States is pretty frustrating….
But people are starting to realize that. There’s a big difference between what people really think and what the media is saying about Bush. People aren’t stupid, and not in the United States either. The rest of the world thinks that Americans are stupid, because they don’t vote. But in fact they’re smart, and that’s why they don’t vote: they know it doesn’t make any difference. What we need to do is change the electoral system. Electoral campaigns, presidents, governors.. they’re all bought. They’re bought, and then they have to do what they’re told.
And now there’s the case of Schwarzeneigger, without saying more
Terrible. They set up a presidential machine for him. He looked like the winner before it even started. His image as a star, the publicity. It was amazing. He didn’t have to say anything, he didn’t put forward a single idea. Stood up to any other candidate, he made the other candidate look like a ghost. It scares me that he won. I think that for ordinary people, for workers, life is going to get a lot worse. Because the people running the bank (?), like Bush and his friends, are like pigs that gobble down everything they can.
And in this way, between crumb sandwiches and bitter mate, Viggo says goodbye. San Lorenzo’s pennant stays there, hanging from the film poster, as if Aragorn had a little cap on his head in his journey back to the conquest of Gondor’s throne.
1. A trademark of yerba mate.
2. Ravens; it’s a word used in Argentina to designate San Lorenzo’s fans.
3. From Buenos Aires city.
4. The match River-Boca.
5. City of the province of Entre Ríos.
6. Nickname of the player Alberto Acosta
7. A very exclusive zone of Buenos Aires city.
8. Museum of Fine Arts.
9. From Chaco.
10. Viggo used the word laburan, a lunfardo expression (Buenos Aires’ slang).