You’re so hot now, can you make any film you want these days?
Not anything. Hidalgo is just a story I like and thought it would be worthwhile to see. But no, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity if it weren’t for The Lord Of The Rings being successful. In the sense of having more choices as an actor, yes, it’s the most I’ve had, but I’m also so busy at times, it’s not always pleasant.
Are you complaining about your success?
Well, you don’t always have time to see your family and friends. Sometimes I see a friend and it’s like: ‘Hello, goodbye.’ I don’t have the time or energy any more because I’m always working.
Did you always want to be an actor?
No. When I was a little boy in Argentina, I wanted, like most little boys, to be a cowboy, an Indian, a gaucho or a Viking. The great thing is that in Hidalgo I do get to be a cowboy. But it’s not specifically a Western in the traditional sense, and my character, Frank Hopkins, isn’t a typical hero.
Any worries about being upstaged by your horse, the Hidalgo of the title?
Not at all. In most animal stories you don’t get to know the animal. Generally, they are now done by animatronics or digitally. In this, the horse is interesting as a horse. Half of that is due to what the horse, TJ, does. He makes things happen at times beyond what you can do with a camera. He seems to have reactions and opinions about everything.
Is it true you bought him after you finished filming?
Yes and I went to see him yesterday. I hadn’t seen him because it’s been raining in LA. He was pretty dirty so I was cleaning him up and he was kind of looking at me as if to say: ‘What are you doing?’ He’s kind of curious about what’s going on.
Could you not bear to part with him?
I wanted to stay in touch with him. I did that on The Lord Of The Rings too. I bought that horse as well.
Frank Hopkins finds himself at the end of this film. Have you found yourself?
No, that’s a process. Sometimes you’re told who you are by circumstances. You have a car accident and suddenly there’s nothing else so important in your life as that. Or someone dies. So you’re reminded at times who you are and where you are. Other people usually have a better take on your true character than you do. But it’s all in the journey. Stories such as Hidalgo interest me because they’re about an ordeal, and any ordeal you can survive is an improvement in your life.
Any ordeals you can share?
Well, here’s one right here, this interview. Ordeals can be good. You ask questions, and I think about it. People have said this in much more clever ways than I’m going to say it, but one thing in terms of life and death is what Joseph Campbell said: ‘All life is sorrowful. We can’t change that, but we can change our attitude towards it.’ He didn’t mean every day is like that, but that we all get old and eventually we die. And in accepting that and realising you can’t change it, you can also change your attitude towards it and celebrate it in a sense by making the most of life, valuing people who have gone rather than forgetting and never paying attention. If George W Bush had read anything about Churchill’s involvement in Iraq in the 1920s, maybe he wouldn’t have done things quite the same way.
60 SECONDS EXTRA!: What do you enjoy from life?
If I go to watch a movie, I can get something out of it. But the conscious effort to pay attention to life as it passes and to pay attention to my surroundings and to make a connection to the world, they all do the same thing, so I wouldn’t separate them. It’s just a question of participating.
60 SECONDS EXTRA!: But you seem to need these myriad forms of expression – acting, painting, poetry, sculpting, music. How was it to have to focus on one film for so many years?
But I made lots of paintings while I was in New Zealand and wrote some poems and took a lot of pictures while I was there. And I watched quite a few movies and I learned a few jokes, which I forgot. I don’t know why. I just can’t remember jokes.
60 SECONDS EXTRA!: Did you learn to surf?
I didn’t learn that very well, but it’s nice to be in the ocean.
What will you miss about The Lord Of The Rings?
Well, there won’t be an annual Christmas gift, which is almost what the films had become. But I’m looking forward to the extended version of the third one because inevitably so much was missing. So that continues, and the friendships and memories do too.