Is there life after The Lord of the Rings? Viggo Mortensen thinks so. Having played Aragorn, the reluctant king-to-be in all three movies, Mortensen is switching horses (literally) and genres–from fantasy to history. In his new movie, Hidalgo, Mortensen plays Frank T. Hopkins, a real-life 19th-century cowboy and endurance rider who’s invited by a sheik (Omar Sharif) to compete in a 3,000-mile race across the Arabian desert. Hidalgo is his horse and best buddy. In Atlanta, recently–his hair short, blond and not very Aragorn-ish – Mortensen talked Oscars, horse and what’s next.
Do you ever go to the Oscars?
I don’t even watch them. I’m sure they’re entertaining. But I don’t think that whoever wins is the best actor in the world. Or even the best actor this month. It doesn’t mean anything more than the guy who makes it to the other side of the shark-infested pond in Survivor.
What attracted you to Hidalgo?
It’s a plain-spoken, old-fashioned, entertaining movie. The simplicity of it allows you to see much more. Like, looking for common ground with others. I like it that, without making a big deal of it the movie treats the Lakota nation with respect, as it does the Arab culture. And the cowboy culture, too.
Aragorn and Frank both get caught up in big adventures. How would you compare them?
On a practical level, you have Aragorn as he’s described in the book. He’s the greatest huntsman and traveler in this age of the world. Everywhere we go in that trilogy, he’s been there at least once. He knows all the languages, all the fighting styles. He’s seen it all, and it’s confirmed in his mind that it’s much better to figure out how we–elves, dwarfs, hobbits–fit together. What we have in common. In the end, that’s what the trilogy is all about. Hopkins has not seen the world. He’s got certain feelings. He’s got pride. But he’s curious, and that’s the first step to being open-minded to what’s different. That gives him a chance to value community, in a sense, the way Aragorn does. The come at it from a different place, but they come to a similar conclusion.
You liked Hidalgo so much, you took him home with you. Tell me about him.
Rex Peterson, the horse trainer, really did a good job, but he also was lucky. He couldn’t have known that TJ, the horse that plays Hidalgo, would have such a presence. He’d never been in movies before and had such a knack for reaction. He was just uncanny. Whenever there was a discussion whether the horse should be in the shot, someone would joke, “Well, the last time I looked, the movie isn’t called ‘Frank Hopkins.'”
What are you doing after Hidalgo opens?
I don’t know. There’s a project I may do at the end of the year in Spain. The idea of working in Spanish appeals to me. But I don’t really have any set plans. I’m looking forward to being at home with my son and taking care of him. And there’s the DVD of The Return of the King this fall, which is probably going to be quite long and pretty interesting.