“I would like to take the opportunity of establishing that I’m actually half Danish”, Viggo Mortensen starts. The 38-year-old actor is facing an extensive breakthrough in Hollywood after his part in Demi Moore’s “G.I. Jane”, but for the present he seems more absorbed in his nationality than his newly received star status.
In “Politiken” you could read under the headline “Viggo Unveiled” that Viggo had no connection to Denmark at all, but just used his fake exotic family tree to break though in Hollywood.
“I wrote them back that I wished it was that easy,” Viggo says. He was told about the article via his aunt home in Denmark. “The fact is that my father is Danish,” he explains. “I have family and friends in Denmark and I have lived there for some periods and I have paid taxes to the Danish state. I think it said that ‘his son is named something as un-Danish as Henry’,” Viggo continues. He has a 9-year-old son with his ex-wife, Exene Cervenka, the former singer in the half-legendary punk band X from Los Angeles. “Henry is named after my father’s brother and it is a name we’ve had in the family for many generations,” Mortensen makes clear – in perfect Danish.
It’s not until Viggo Mortensen speaks English that the hint of a Danish accent breaks through – when it’s not a hint of Spanish instead. Viggo’s Danish father was a restless soul. Partly because of that Viggo grew up in Argentina, USA and Denmark. “My father has a farm in the northern part of New York which is not so different from Denmark. He cultivates his land today,” Viggo says.
His colourful childhood resulted in a manifold and complex person. Our interview takes place in a luxurious hotel suite in the quarter Westwood and Mortensen’s dressing – worn black jeans and even more worn shoes and a light blue shirt – is in sharp contrast to the British antiquities. Because he has taken a day’s break in the filming of his next film that takes place in 1969, he is decorated with some rather untidy whiskers like Peter Fonda’s in “Easy Rider”. But for safety’s sake Viggo has brought a plastic bag that contains some copies of his new CD which he hurries to hand out before the “G.I. Jane” publicity boss comes back.
You see, Viggo has written lyric poetry since he was a teenager and has released a poem collection (“Ten Last Night”, Illuminata Press) and also a CD, “Don’t Tell Me What to Do”, in America – something that again seems to be directly contrary to his life as a new movie star in Hollywood.
“Mortensen reminds us why they invented movies in the first place”, L.A. Weekly’s female reviewer wrote in her review of “G.I. Jane”. Viggo plays Demi Moore’s nemesis. The ambitious actress has finally found her was back to the unscrupulous female archetype she was born to play. She is chosen as guinea pig in a discussion about the female part in the American army and she is sent to a training camp for SEALs where there is at least 60 percent defection. Viggo plays the Master Chief of the camp, the leader of the dangerous training.
“A Master Chief’s work is to sort out the candidates that consist of 100 percent alcohol – unsoiled warriors. And of course there are a lot of actors here in Los Angles who could have played a part like this,” Ridley Scott tells while he is smoking a Commander-in-Chief sized cigar. “But I wasn’t interested in doing something you had seen before. I wanted to make something new. I had seen Viggo in Sean Penn’s “Indian Runner” and I noticed his strong present on the screen. We met and I thought he was an interesting and philosophic man. I told him that I wanted his first line in the movie to be special; maybe some philosophy, maybe a Zen-quote – but we have seen that so many times now that the audience just think of that as nonsense. Instead I wanted to make something that surprised”, Scott says.
In his own copy of D.H. Lawrence’s poems Viggo found two short sentences about the lack of self-pity in animal life. Scott became extremely enthusiastic and exactly the same book has also found its way to the principal scenes of the movie.
“It seems more suitable for the situation”, Viggo says quietly. “It tells the candidates what is expected of them”. The lack of self-pity also was a big part of the filming where all the actors had to go through hard training to make the SEAL program seems more realistic – inclusive Demi Moore.
“I cannot think of any actress except her that could have played that part just as well,” Viggo says impressed. “Both physical and mental she was 100 percent prepared to tackle it all. My job was, what ever the audience likes it or not, to pretend that what happens actually happens, and when someone is as devoted to the work in all levels as Demi is, it’s not that difficult. The SEAL-chiefs are fascinating men,” Viggo continues. Before the filming he visited the real training camp in Coronado outside San Diego.
“They’re more complex than I thought. The intelligence and metal strength it takes to do their work is already impressive. Those people have been in SEALs for 20 year; maybe they have killed people with their hands, but at the same time you can discuss almost everything with them. So the connexion is brutal, but the best of them are very good and focused teachers in the best meaning of the word. And the biggest challenge for me was to find the natural authority they had that was making me capable of leading my crew without I ever had to justify my right to do it,” Mortensen says. He is privately a low-voiced and sensitive man who doesn’t seems to be capable of hurting a fly.
Mortensen’s Master Chief is an unusual complex person in today’s Hollywood and it is something he of course is more than aware of himself. “In the beginning he was written as a typical male chauvinist and later he was going to have a sexual relation to Demi,” Viggo remembers. “I was far busier with exploring the grey zones between these stages where it actually had room for reflection and substance. It is nothing these kinds of movies like to do. The big studios are by nature so conservative that they would rather see everything written with uppercase letters. If we hadn’t had Ridley Scott we had never been permitted to do what we do in this movie. And then it would also have been less interesting.”
If you had a clue that Viggo Mortensen’s artistic feelings are pointing in that direction instead of in the direction of Tom Cruise-land you where right then.
“If my contribution in “G.I. Jane” makes that I’ll get more chances to try out new things there’s nothing better than that,” he says and seems completely uninterested in a new life as a famous person.
“My goal is to try things I’ve never done before – especially those things I’m not sure of that I’ll be permitted to,” Viggo says. And he assures us – and maybe also himself – that the poetry won’t be forgotten. “I wrote lyric a long time before I ever thought of becoming an actor and I think I’ll be writing lyric after I’ll retire as an actor as well,” he says quietly. “To write and read poems is as far as it goes a frightening naked action. But on the other site you stand or fall with your own qualities and premises while you as an actor always have to depend on a vast number of other factors – the director – the cutter, and so on.”
“What the two modes of expression have in common is the discipline they demand, if you have to do it really good. Good acting is not necessary what the audience notice; rather on the contrary. At last it’s about to find the essence and nothing more. Precisely as a good poem only tells what it has to and nothing more.”
Finally Viggo Mortensen wishes us “good luck” in perfect Danish, a blessing it seems he doesn’t need himself any longer.