Viggo Mortensen, whose filmography has seen him work in almost every movie genre there is, from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 to The Portrait of a Lady, is seen as the potential saviour of Middle-earth in The Two Towers. As the action hero of the movie, however, he has a lot more on his plate than most of his co-stars, especially as the sequel sees Aragorn torn between no less than two love interests, Miranda Otto’s Eowyn and Liv Tyler’s beautiful elf Arwen.
How did you prepare to play Aragorn?
I just tried to fit into what Peter Jackson wanted to do and be true to the character that Tolkien created. It’s not set in a specific time. I think Tolkien’s point of view was that it happened a long time ago—don’t ask me when! But for the characters that we play, it seems like an Arthurian feel. It’s timeless, but the clothing and weapons come from that era.
How was filming in New Zealand?
I loved it over there. So much of the movie is not special effects, but a real, natural environment, so I thrived on that. The character I was playing was someone who had not only an affinity for living in the wilderness, but by necessity had to be good at it. That was my way of getting comfortable, especially not having a lot of time to prepare. I enjoyed being in the woods. I’d go fishing at four in the morning!
You’ve worked in other action movies. Did that worry you before you took the role?
I don’t think, when I’m working, about other movies I’ve done from the same genre. I always think about it in terms of what can I grab hold of to make it feel real. People, generally, as they become adults find one path, but actors stay—as children do—with the ability to play anything. So I don’t look at them as genres. What helped me as an actor was that Pete wanted it to be real, even though it’s a fantasy film. If it’s cold, it’s cold. If it’s muddy, it’s muddy. Our clothes were worn, and our hands and faces were dirty. It looked like what it should look like.
Do you think the new film emphasizes this?
Yes. You see that these people have a hard time. Every character—whether he’s an elf, hobbit or whatever—has identifiably human emotions and reactions. The book is an elfcentric tale; Tolkien has said he would’ve put even more elements in if he could, because he has this fascination with language. But, really, no matter how odd the creatures look, like the orcs or the cave trolls, they have feelings. It’s all really about the story, as opposed to some other epic movies in recent memory; the characters are much more complicated. The relationships are on a lot of levels. It’s a journey for each individual in the fellowship, and a struggle with himself, as much as it is as a group struggle. In the end it’s a compromise, and a coming together, that defines how we succeed.