With The Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment of the epic The Lord of the Rings trilogy, having become a massive box office and critical hit over this past holiday season, director Peter Jackson, its producers and the studio behind the fantasy franchise, New Line Cinema, are breathing easier these days. With an initial investment of over $250 million to film the three motion pictures all at once, a lot was riding on its success—particularly the fate of The Fellowship’s two remaining sequels—The Two Towers and The Return of the King.
But, with millions of movie-goers now bonafide fans of author J.R.R. Tolkien’s make-believe world filled with Hobbits, Elves, Orcs and various residents of Middle-Earth, Hollywood insiders are predicting the next two Rings films (the second to be released this December and the third on Christmas 2003) will probably become even bigger hits, thanks in large part to the cast of the Rings triad: Elijah Wood, Liv Tyler, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett and Sean Astin. But, the one actor who has been getting the most impressive notices and much of the credit for making The Fellowship of the Ring a non-stop, action-packed adventure is Viggo Mortensen, who portrays the human hero Aragorn. There’s even talk his performance may garner the tall, ruggedly handsome veteran of such films as G.I. Jane, A Perfect Murder and Crimson Tide an Oscar nomination. However, it would be an ironic twist of fate, considering Mortensen initially turned down the role, a gig which required him to spend 18 arduous months filming the cinematic triumvirate in New Zealand.
“Being away from home that long wasn’t the real deal-breaker,” a barefoot Mortensen explains. “It was more that I was replacing someone else who had rehearsed the role for a while. Getting the part at the eleventh hour made me think, ‘I’m not going to be able to prepare for the role the way that I would like to—the way I normally would.’ But, on the plus side, I didn’t have time to get nervous about it and didn’t have any preconceived notions of who Aragorn was or was supposed to be. It was a tough decision to make, because I’m a fan of rehearsing and preparing. But, actually, my 13-year-old son made the decision for me. He thought The Lord of the Rings was an interesting idea and told me I should do it. I said to him, ‘I’m going to be away from you like I’ve never been before.’ He said that was fine, because it seemed like it would be worth it to me. And, he was right. I think I should make him my agent.”
Known throughout the acting community as somewhat of an intense method actor, once Mortensen’s plane touched down in Wellington, New Zealand, he immediately dove into the role, feet first. He reportedly never took off his costume and kept his sword by his side at all times—a dedication to character development that almost landed him in jail.
“One time, a cop stopped me in Wellington, because I was walking out of my apartment building with the sword, and I got in the car with it,” he laughingly remembers. “I guess it would be an alarming sight to anyone at 5:00 am seeing me walking around with a sword. But, once I told the cop what it was for, he let me go. But, I did keep the sword with me all the time. I just felt that it was part of the job description. It was no different for me than any other movie I’ve done. I believe in not leaving any stone unturned, because I’m not going to be able to revisit whatever we did. My small part is only going to be as good as I can make it at the time. So, you do as much as you can as you go along. In that sense, you can never stop exploring and learning. So, keeping the sword with me was not an unusual thing for me. It may seem weird to other people, but I’m a pretty strange guy—if you haven’t noticed that by now.”