The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, which was already on theater at the end of 2002 and became a blockbuster in US, finally will start in Japan on the 22nd of February, 2003. What kind of destiny waits the Fellowship separated at the end of the first movie? Where Frodo, the ring-bearer, goes?
This issue, published just before the opening of The Two Towers in Japan, presents you an exclusive interview of Viggo Mortensen who plays the main character of The Two Towers and his Self-Portraits which were photographed and named by himself. (Except the photo taken by Jose Perez.)
Interview by Yuko Kato in December 2002 in LA
I arrived at a Viggo Mortensen’s favorite restaurant at the coast of Santa Monica. When I looked through its half-opening door, Viggo, who was sitting at a table in the back corner, put his hand up. At the time of interview he was very busy everyday from early morning to mid-night for the shooting of Disney’s Hidalgo and didn’t have enough time to spend even with his son. He was there 10 minutes before 10 a.m. which was the time we had promised. In front of him there were a cup of coffee and omelet with plenty of tomato ketchup.
Viggo completely fitted into the restaurant where only local people gather. The owner, who knows him for a long time, asked whether he could get a poster with autographs of full casts. Viggo said OK to that easily. We spent about three hours in that place sharing potatoes. Nobody requested autographs nor disturbed us. It was the place where we could relax. He plays Aragon of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it has tremendously increased the number of his female fans. How fans expect Viggo as he really is? At least he doesn’t have a false image as a Hollywood star. He is an actor and an artist before a Hollywood star. And more than anything else, he is a father to bring up his son Henry. Also a man who continues to be faithful to his friends. He was exhausted enough to have dark circles beneath his eyes at the time of interview. Though he checked many times whether he could have talked enough to make me satisfied. When I smiled and said “It’s OK”, he looked as if he felt relieved. Then he went home barefoot carrying his sandals with his hand as he came to this restaurant.
MOVIESTAR: Have you seen The Two Towers?
VIGGO MORTENSEN: Yeah.
MS: What did you think?
VIGGO: I know it is, of course, impossible to visualize everything in the book, though I felt it was more different from the book than The Fellowship of the Ring. However, I think you will be surprised by the scale of the movie such as the impact of views and special effects. I think it might be better if it is a bit longer, or there can be more simple scenes. But there are many things Peter Jackson had to balance, as you see from the ending of The Fellowship of the Ring. At The Fellowship of the Ring there was only one group in which were hobbits, Aragorn, Gandalf… Everybody was together. Then there were big fights and we were separated into three groups; Sam and Frodo, Merry and Pippn, and Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli. Gandalf and Boromir had already fallen. Therefore, it became three stories, not one story. Tolkien did it on the book, but Peter is making movie, so he had to balance it somehow and the problem is how. That is a quite difficult and, at the same time, wonderful challenge. What I think good is… Do you remember they told the story of the Ring at the introduction of The Fellowship of the Ring?
VIGGO: However, The Two Towers starts immediately. There is no explanation how the previous movie was. It just starts.
MS: Everybody has DVD, I suppose?
VIGGO: Have you watched the extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring?
MS: No, not yet.
VIGGO: That is much better. I think it is 25 minutes longer. However, I feel much shorter. There is more information and you will know much more about many characters. I like this version more. The story develops smoother. Of course, the theatrical version was also fantastic and beautiful, but the extended version includes everything.
MS: I cried when I saw The Fellowship of the Ring.
MS: Yes. It was really moving.
VIGGO: It was quite popular in Japan, too, wasn’t it?
MS: Yes, that’s right. By the way, Elijah Wood said, “Viggo is Viggo. He is the leader of the group.” Do you agree with him?
VIGGO: John Rhys-Davies who plays Gimli, Sean Bean who plays Boromir, and Gandalf…
MS: Ian McKellen?
VIGGO: Yes, Ian McKellen. Except these three, I am the oldest in the group, and I had more experience than younger casts. Elijah has experiences and he is very smart. His professionalism at his age is wonderful and he is really sharp. I am just older. That’s it.
MS: John Rhys-Davies said, “This movie succeeded because Viggo was there.”
VIGGO: No kidding. But he is really gentle to have said that. (laugh) I am glad to hear that, but a story or a movie won’t be changed by one actor. But at the same time, a story can be changed by each character. A group is as strong as its members. If one of the members is down, others have to encourage him. I experienced it in New Zealand. Most of the time we were exhausted, or in bad condition or in a condition which we couldn’t do good job. In such situations, we encouraged one another. Sometimes I encouraged somebody, and sometimes I was encouraged by somebody else. We didn’t have to express it clearly, but we felt we were connected. Even if we didn’t mention it. I think it represents the story of the movie. Therefore, this shooting was the most interesting one through my career and the team was connected most closely. You may say that it is natural if we were together for such a long shooting. Maybe it is true in a sense. But it could be ended completely opposite. If you worked together one and a half year, you could be ended up in a situation like, “I don’t want to work together with you anymore.” However, in the case of this movie, we became closer and closer while we stayed together longer. Maybe there were days when we felt “Don’t talk to me today.”, but usually we were connected quite strong. I met them last weekend (Dec. 5th, 2002). I didn’t attend NY premiere because I had another job, but I stayed in New York for three days…
MS: For promotion, wasn’t it?
VIGGO: Yeah, then I came back to Los Angeles because of another job. I was very happy to see them, since I had not seen some of them for about half a year.
MS: There are people who live far away such as Mexico.
VIGGO: You mean Billy (Boyd)?
VIGGO: He was living in Mexico for his job, shooting Master and Commander together with Peter Weir, the director, and Russell Crowe. Everybody is doing various works. Orland (Bloom) was working in Australia, and Elijah was working in New York. I am happy because I feel like my brothers and sisters are doing well.
MS: Your friend Jose, who you met in New Zealand while shooting, gave you a stone. Is it right?
MS: I read an article in which you said you felt spiritual power from that stone. Do you have any ability to feel something spiritual?
VIGGO: I don’t mean that I have more ability than you and other people.
MS: But I don’t feel anything.
VIGGO: (laugh) I became a good friend with Jose. He himself found that stone and felt it special. I wanted to say that I felt connections with not only Jose but also with New Zealand when he gave it to me. I think such things are not something you buy yourself, but it should be from somebody. I don’t remember what I talked with him at that time, but if somebody asked me whether I have a special power, I would answer, “No, I don’t have any.” Everybody has instinct, and various things happen where you can’t see them. We all understand it in our body. But you need to concentrate well to notice it. Especially, in this modern world where is full of things which keep you away from concentration, such as noises of cars passing by, trains, TVs and DVD, and metals and plastics and so on. Therefore, you need quite a lot of energy to concentrate. I had come here 10 minutes before you came, and I felt comfortable about sounds of people talking. Because I didn’t need to concentrate anything. Therefore, even if it was noisy around me, I felt quiet. But now I am talking with you, and I feel noisy. Do you understand? I don’t care the music floating around me when I don’t need to concentrate. However, when I have to concentrate, music becomes noise. Therefore, I think everybody has such ability, but…
MS: I do understand.
VIGGO: OK. Problems are there. Therefore, if we can take such time.. I think it was simpler in Japan or US 1000 years ago, not only there but also in Denmark or other countries as well. Everyday life was consisted of simple tasks, such as finding things to eat on that day, protecting your family from dangerous animals. But I have thought a bit more and found that they were always busy with hunting and other things, so they didn’t even have time to just sit down and spend. Nowadays, there are doctors, psychoanalysts, spiritual advisers. Sometimes they say, “Just sit down,” or “Please talk”. But in ancient Japan or anywhere else, there should be people like medicine men and their job was to hear other people consult them. And they helped them to let listen their own voice. That is similar to now. People like Native Americans, in Samurai culture or Vikings, life was very busy, I think. There were no DVDs, but there were a lot of things they had to do. Since governments were tyrannical and didn’t care whether people were starving or not, I don’t think people at those times did have time to just sit down and relax. But I think they could see a lot of things if they could be relaxed. Therefore, it is not special power, but something which people own naturally. There are a lot of things which disturb your concentration, but even in such situation, you have to try to concentrate. You have to switch your mind to some aspects such as “Now I think of New York.”, or “About Afghanistan” or “I am interested in Japan, so let’s research it for one hour.” or “Let’s think what I should ask tomorrow”. I can’t do it always, but there are moments when I can concentrate. This is a good compromise for making movie. Bad aspect is that one thing can be changed too much. However, to make a movie is like an ancient ritual. Many people gather one place and bring a lot of things like chairs, desks, walls, castles, gardens. And some of them wear costumes. Everybody is at their position and ready and remember lines. And the leader of the ritual, he is like a priest, says “Action!” It doesn’t matter how technology has improved. Blue screen, special effects, special cameras, films, lighting… Even if directors have decided every single movement like Kabuki, every time there are somehow a little bit differences after “Action!” Even if it is a program which has been played for 500 years. Therefore, preparations such as make-up themselves are like a ritual, too. Maybe we don’t think intentionally what is the goal or reason, but we are looking for something which we don’t know sure. Although we think ourselves know it. However, we are looking for a goal or reason by preparing all. Therefore, group members on that meaning come together, something different happen every time no mater how technology has improved. No matter how it is controlled, because it is what humans do. I don’t know much about Kabuki, but I went to see Kabuki with my son, Henry once. There, I read that actors have to play exactly the same every time and if actors do something different, audience will make a fuss. It is like Spanish bullfights. They have to be all the same and spectators will check it.
MS: I have never seen Kabuki. Did you understand meaning when you saw it?
VIGGO: I understood the story. But I didn’t like it for the first 30 minutes. If I were those actors, I would like to play differently each time. However, I thought “Although this discipline was making this perfectness, actors might have different feeling for each time.”
MS: Did you enjoy it?
VIGGO: Yeah, it was interesting. Henry really loves it.
MS: Kabuki actors have to start their training at the age of two.
MS: I heard that if you were not born at the family of Kabuki actors, you can’t get a main role even if you were a wonderful actor.
VIGGO: It is interesting as a tradition, but… I would not criticize it because I don’t know about Kabuki enough to make my own comments. But I don’t think I can agree it. Even a French boy can be the best Kabuki actor of the century, if he could get permission and be trained in Kyoto. Maybe an ordinary boy living in Yokohama can be.
MS: The problem is; Kabuki is really conservative world.
VIGGO: I understand it. I think it is awfully beautiful. It is like a little bit strange flower.
MS: I think what is great in you is that you have not been influenced by any fame and changes of your surroundings.
VIGGO: I think there are points which I got influenced at some degree.
MS: But you are trying not to?
MS: How is it possible?
VIGGO: I had come here before I did The Lord of the Rings. I had a son named Henry (laugh), I had father and mother, and I still have them. (laugh) There are many things which people learn from experiences. Both from bad experiences and good experiences. Now I am experiencing more attention than before. It is sure that there are moments which I feel uncomfortable, but because of that I could have established Perceval Press and it is possible to provide opportunities to other people. This is because many people give me attention as an actor. If not, nobody knows Perceval Press. You and other people wrote about the movie, and then many people were interested in “What else he is doing?” “What else Orland Bloom does?” So there are also good things. Maybe it is the same with Japanese crown prince or other people who is in the position bearing responsibility. OK. You don’t need to be a crown prince or a son of Kabuki actor, though. I think it is true to everybody that children should be given a freedom to search themselves to a certain extent. But when they become older, parents and whole society demand them to be grown up. Then what is difficult is: they have to take responsibility not only for themselves and their happiness for life but also for others. There are children who bear responsibility for their brothers and sisters, because they don’t have parents, or they have only one parent, or parents have problem of drinking… The responsibility those children bear is quite heavy. But, if I talk ideally, children should not bear responsibility so much, even if they have, it is something which increases every year little by little. Depend on the society, but when they become 18 or 20 years old, they have to take care of other people, not only themselves. When they become older, they have to take care of elderly person and children. It is the system of a society, if it works properly. There are fairy tales in which princes and princesses become kings and queens when they grow up, and they symbolize the way of each of us. Heroes in movies learn something through up-and-down, fights, happy time, sad time, difficulties, injuries, near-death experiences. It symbolizes our way in ordinary daily life. We have to learn something from own mistakes.
MS: But there are people who don’t learn anything from mistakes.
VIGGO: It is difficult and it becomes more and more difficult as you become older. At the beginning of the movie, Aragorn had a different name, Strider, and he also had a lot of names before that. He had been living secretly. He had to do so. I think you could understand more if you see the extended version. When he is a baby, Sauron thinks this special race of men, Númenórenan, nearly die away. He thinks there are no king and this line has ceased. What he doesn’t know is there is a baby of that line and his mother hides the baby in Rivendell where Elves lives. There he learns history and languages of world. This is also seen in detail in the extended version. Anyway, when he becomes 20 years old, Erlond (Hugo Weaving) tells him, “You are not an ordinary man. Until now we have trained you, but your father was a king. Someday you have to be public and be on a position with responsibility.” He doesn’t say with words, but he is no longer in a situation where he has been allowed to travel freely. “Someday you will tell your real name everybody. It is hard for you.” (laugh) But he has been living as Strider for a long time and he has been doing his best to help others. When he helps somebody and is asked his name, he answers something like Michael and goes off into woods. Next time he says he is Peter and then Strider. And finally in the movie at the council of Erlond, Legolas says, “It is odd. He is Aragorn.” Then Boromir is surprised. “This is the son of that king!” That is because Aragorn looks like a weak man to the eyes of Boromir. Aragorn says, “We should not fight in this situation.” but Boromir is always on fight. He is really brave. Then suddenly Aragorn’s real situation is revealed. In The Followship of the Ring, Aragorn can do as he has been doing. But The Two Towers, others start recognizing him and ask him to take more responsibilities.
MS: So The Lord of the Ring is a growing-up story of Aragorn.
VIGGO: Yeah, in a sense.
MS: And finally he becomes a king?
VIGGO: In the third one.
MS: Gets married with Arwen (Liv Tyler).
VIGGO: Yeah, but you have to see the movie to know that (laugh).
MS: I have already read the book.
VIGGO: Well. That is the goal. Anyway, we were talking about that now I get attention. If I would talk with you in any kinds of topics, for example, about Iraq, or Afghanistan, photographers in Cuba, painters in New York, wood, potato, this restaurant. It is just a conversation. But now what I say get more attention. Maybe in two years, this situation might be changed. It can be changed to a situation that nobody listens whatever I say. Maybe you have to always pay attention, but at the present what I say are taken too seriously. Presently everything I say gets attention. Like Aragorn. Aragorn makes his name in public; therefore, he can’t disappear into forests after having helped others. He someday has to dwell one place. He gets used to so much to move. However, he has to serve as a king taking responsibility to young and old people. That is very hard and, in one sense, it means to give up own freedom. I think it is interesting.
MS: But, don’t you think Aragorn is the most perfect character in the movie? He is sympathetic, courageous, no-ego. He thinks people around him first and is very modest.
VIGGO: He is also frightened. But it is normal. I like this book because of that. Nobody can be perfect always. Even Aragorn and Boromir can’t.
[ remainder of article is missing ]