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INT: Viggo Mortensen

12.14.2007

There are very few actors that you can truly call an artiste. Someone with a level of talent in other forms aside from putting their face up on the screen to look pretty or handsome. It takes a very special and unique individual to offer up more than just a nice face for the camera, and one of those people would be Viggo Mortensen. His brilliant work way back to THE INDIAN RUNNER to such films as CARLITO'S WAY, G.I. JANE and of course his star-making performance as Aragorn in THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. He has of late, found a director that has inspired a couple of phenomenal roles with David Cronenberg. The films A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and most recently EASTERN PROMISES, have garnered him strong critical acclaim.

What is interesting about Viggo is his talent lies in much more than just movies. The man is also an accomplished artist, painter, photographer, writer and even singer. He is the real thing when it comes to an actor having many skills aside from looking good and knowing how to hit his cue. And another quality he has is the warm and honest way he speaks to you. When we sat down at the Four Seasons to talk about the soon to be released DVD EASTERN PROMISES, he made me feel very comfortable. We sat and talked about David Cronenberg and it shows why the two make such an impressive team. I can honestly say that Viggo is one of the most uniquely talented and friendly actors I've ever had the pleasure of interviewing, which sadly ended much too soon for me. And being a massive fan [in a majorly geeky sort of way] of LOTR, it was a hugely pleasant realization. So this coming December 26th, please do yourself a favor and pick up EASTERN PROMISES.

Viggo Mortensen

I guess we should talk a little about EASTERN PROMISES…

Yeah. You've seen it I guess?

I've seen it twice. I think it was really fantastic. Congratulations on it…

Did you like it as much the second time?

I liked it a little more.

Well that's what happens with him I think. I think that was really true of A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. I have people now saying, 'I just saw it on TV.' or 'I just rented it and had seen it at the time, I thought it was great. But then with all the movies coming out in the fall I guess I sort of forgot how great… and when I look at it now, this movie [A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE], was maybe the best one that fall. Why did it fade away?' I'm like, I don't know. And EASTERN PROMISES, I just hope it doesn't happen again because Cronenberg, he's one of maybe… on one hand you could count directors that have that much artistry and that much skill. And construct movies so perfectly and respect you, don't tell you what to think, they just go, 'here you go', and you're left going… whoa. What's gonna happen next [to these] people now? You know, and it sort of ends, but it doesn't end. You wanna see more, which is a good thing. Some people say, 'well, it's not complete.', life isn't complete. It's a completely well told and constructed story and just because you're sitting there going what the hell's gonna happen to her? Is he, or isn't he… you know, all that. That's good. And when you view it a second time, just like with History of Violence, you see little things at the beginning and you go, 'oh…'[with realization], you know what I mean, that's fun. But most movies, I don't want to see them again, you know. And most movies, if you see them five years later, even the ones that were highly rated… these two and a lot of his movies, they just get better. Just like he does as a director.

Even his early ones, you go back to SHIVERS, or something like that. You look at it now and it's like… wow…

Yeah. Or EXISTENZ which really didn't get that much play at all. It's just sort of this cult movie. It was made before… well, for me, it's like THE MATRIX for grown-ups.

I agree.

On a fraction of the budget. It's so much more satisfying and well put together, and thought provoking. It just is. THE MATRIX was fun, but this is really… you know what I mean? So he has his place in the history of movies, guaranteed, obviously. But I find it odd that he just gets forgotten around this time of year, you know. Even though like, his movies, History of Violence and this one gets some of the best reviews they could get.

Yeah.

And then, people sort of… it's odd. I don't think he cares that much, but I'd like to see him get…

Yeah, an Oscar. It would be nice to see him at least get nominated this year…

Well even that. I don't expect he'd ever win but to never be nominated. It's odd. I mean, think of the films he has made.

Well his work is always kind of, outside the norm, yet people still respect it. Like NAKED LUNCH, I loved…

Or DEAD RINGERS.

Yeah.

Well look at these last two movies, in some sense, they're more accessible to people.,.

I agree.

But because he subverts genres and he doesn't reference other… I mean even Scorsese, the so-called greats, they reference their own work all the time, and they reference other work, you know. And other directors deliberately just shot-for-shot copy stuff. He never does that, he just sets out… he doesn't have a concept, he doesn't work that way. He's just like, let's do it. Let's research as much as possible, which is why I get along with him really well, because I research really hard, as much as I can. I keep doing it and doing it and I share it with him, and he enjoys that, and I enjoy what he says. But then you get there on the day, and you throw it away and it's kind of like being there, you know. So it's fun and you're really on an adventure with him. He just starts each movie, it's like he just got out of film school and it's his first feature. That's his attitude.

He's not jaded.

No, he's really funny and really warm and people love working with him you know. Every actor that's worked with him I bet would say similar. I just worked with Jeremy Irons on this western called APPALOOSA and I hadn't met him before. So I was talking to him about the movies he did. He really loves David and really admires him.

And Jeremy Irons, still one of the greatest actors to this day…

And it's no accident. I think, when he won… what did he win an Oscar for?

REVERSAL OF FORTUNE, I think…

Yeah. When he got his award, he, you know, David Cronenberg didn't direct that movie but he went up and thanked David Cronenberg because of what he did for him in DEAD RINGERS, and what that meant to him and that probably put him in a place to get that other job. It's unusual, [Laughing] to win a prize and thank another director.

Well did he work a lot with you as you prepared for the role?

Yeah, well we talked. We had already worked once together and got to be friends. This was also interesting because neither of us knew that much. I mean, we both had read some Russian novels in our lives and poetry and heard Russian music and so fourth, and whatever you know about Russian history. Neither of us spoke Russian. Neither of us read as much as we ended up reading. And re-reading. So it was kind of new turf you know. And sharing all the things I found with him, we ended up speaking a little more Russian than we were gonna. I've translated everything and got it to be right… to be right in terms of slang and people and I'd share that, and he'd share things he found. There's a friend of mine who made this great documentary in the early 90's called THE MARK OF CAIN, which is just incredible if you can find it. It's all about Russian prison tattoos. She went inside this maximum security prisons and it's amazing that she got in there what she got. So he saw that and he found these books on … these sort of like anthropological studies on it. Essays about it, drawings, pictures. What they meant, and sort of coded language of them. And so that, we ended up putting a lot more of that. In the original script, it just sort of mentioned that he had a tattoo, or some tattoos. It wasn't really specific. But then the more I found out, the more I became kind of… you know, it had it's own little story. And then you saw Vincent [Cassel] had some, Armin [Mueller-Stahl] had em, and the guy that was killed in the beginning. You know, it just became… it was interesting stuff.

I remember seeing on the DVD that you had met a few of these people.

Yeah, yeah, there were some people that I met and one guy I talked to in particular that helped me with some of the words to make sure that the slang was right. Because the guy who helped me translate everything first, which was everything that I say, everything everybody who's Russian said to me, just to have it and use whatever you want… and I met this guy who had been in prison, a reformed guy, but a guy who knew what the tattoos meant and which ones, and no don't have it here have it there, and not that one because you wouldn't, depending on what your background is as a character. And then he said, well this sounds very academic, and I said, well yeah, it's a professional, a professor, a translator who did it. And he said, well this is what you might say on the street or in prison. So a lot of the things I say, you know, you can't quite translate it literally, it's difficult, but Russians, they find it amusing. It's pretty interesting and sometimes pretty hardcore. Like brutal ways of saying things. But that it's really correct, as far as I know. Or as far as they told me. And its interesting, when the movie came out, because Russians are used to seeing us do a terrible job with their language. They just always… they either laugh or they're annoyed. Understandably because, movies made here and movies made in Europe , outside of Russia, where there's Russians, supposedly Russians speaking Russian. Not only is the accent bad and the language bad, but there isn't care taken with the details. Like it used to be with Native Americans or with Hispanic characters, you know, where they would just whatever… you know, if you spoke Spanish you were appalled if you saw movies from the 40's, 50's, 60's…

Absolutely.

Even now, once in awhile, that's not Spanish.

Especially sitcoms.

Yeah, or Italian, New York actors playing Indians and stuff. But people don't accept that anymore. And I think that we've pushed that forward to where, maybe, at least in the United States, it won't be acceptable anymore to just have Russian's speaking gibberish, like you saw in TERMINAL for example. In that movie, it's like there's Russians but that's not even Russian. I mean it's kind of disrespectful to the biggest country in the world.

Well, it's true because it seems like a lot of filmmakers or actors don't want to take the time to really study…

And they think, who cares… who cares what the Russians think. It's not our audience. Well, the world is getting more… one, you know. And it is our audience. And Russians at some of the press conferences and things that we've done, Russian journalists have said, 'ah, thanks for making an effort' you know.

How much can you carry on a conversation with them?

Hmmm, I can sort of understand more than I can speak. I mean, I can say all the things that I had to say plus some other things. While we were shooting I was listening to Russian all the time. There's a TV channel in London that's all Russian, all the time from Russia. So I'd probably get by a little there and go to a store and do stuff. I mean, I haven't worked on it since so…

How many languages do you know? I've heard eight.

No. I mean, I speak fluently, three or four. But once you know a couple, you can sort of pick up other ones easier. So I did have an advantage, especially speaking Spanish, French, you know, some of the sounds in Spanish, for example, the "j" sounds and the "rolling r's" and things like that were helpful considering that have a similar sound in Russian.

You have a couple of films that you've been working on, including the one with Ed Harris…

Yeah, I just finished that. And there is another one called GOOD, which is a beautiful movie. It's set in the thirties in Germany.

You choose the most amazing roles dude.

Well, I've been lucky to have some choice lately.

Let me know what you think. Send questions and comments to jimmyo@joblo.com.

Source: JoBlo.com

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