War Games: Meet the actor who proves that beating the daylights out of Demi Moore (onscreen in G.I. Jane) can be a good career move.
We got thrown out of a bar. I know that sentence implies all kinds of juicy things: Maybe we drank too much, got a little belligerent, did something we shouldn’t have. And when you figure that one of us is a movie star—or at least an actor who just might become a movie star one of these days—then the story sounds even more scandalous. So I’ll say it one more time: Viggo Mortensen and I got thrown out of a bar.
Now comes the boring part. You see, Mortensen—first name pronounced Vee-go, co-star of GI Jane with Demi Moore, supporting player in Crimson Tide and The Portrait of a Lady and a lot of movies you’ve never heard of, and an accomplished poet and photographer to boot—somehow got on the wrong side of a grizzled bartender at a (former) favorite hangout, a dark little bar on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Mortensen simply came in, ordered a beer and asked the guy if he was watching the soap opera blaring from an overhead TV. “It’s my show,” the guy said and turned up the volume.
I came in, and Mortensen asked the bartender for another beer, “when you get a chance.” Whereupon the guy erupted, yelling, “That’s it! I’ve had enough of your f—ing attitude. Get out!” He threw the beer money at Mortensen, who threw it back at the guy, who called the cops. So we left.
Coincidentally, this happened half a block from my front door, so I got a couple of beers from my refrigerator and we did the interview on my front porch. First, though, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out what had just happened. “I kinda feel cheated,” Mortensen said. “You get thrown out of a bar, usually you’ve gotta do something a little more…interesting.”
Mortensen turns down my offer to brush off the dirty cushion he’d be sitting on. “Looks like my car,” he says. He pets my cat, says hi to a guy who came by to drop off a package, speaks Spanish to my cleaning lady, and gives me fliers for a show of his photography and a party to celebrate the release of One Less Thing to Worry About, an album he has made of poetry and music. He is, I decide, a swell drinking companion and—our recent experience not withstanding—not the kind of guy to get thrown out of bars. He is intense (those cheek bones and those blue eyes help: “chiseled and “piercing” being the operative clichés) but surprisingly soft-spoken, and arty but not pretentious.
“The quality that really stood out to me was his quietness,” says Ridley Scott, who cast Mortensen in GI Jane as the Navy instructor who makes life miserable for aspiring SEALs, including Moore. “He has a still, modest quality to him that was perfect for these guys. I noticed that in some of the movies I’d seen him in, and he also had it in real life.”
Scott, who talked to his brother Tony before casting Mortensen (“Viggo’s a sweetheart,” said Tony, the director of Crimson Tide), thinks GI Jane could do wonders for Mortensen’s career. “But it’s up to him,” he adds. “He has it in him to be a star of mainstream movies, but I think his ambitions are very much tied to the material he’s offered.”
For his part, Mortensen isn’t buying any predictions of impending stardom. “I’ve been around long enough that I don’t really count on it one way or the other,” says the 38-year-old actor. “Personally, I think GI Jane is a good movie—I think I met the job requirements. I think it has a good chance to do well commercially and also be respected critically. But who the hell knows? Sometimes the movies you think will make the most difference don’t make any difference at all.”
Fortunately, Mortensen has something to fall back on. “I get more consistent satisfaction out of writing than I do out of acting, because I don’t have to compromise,” he says, having just finished his second book of poetry. (Relax: His work is far more serious and substantial than most movie-star poetry.) “I don’t have to wait on other people as to whether I’m allowed to work, and it’s up to me if I want to ruin it in the editing.”
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