Lord of the screen

Actor Viggo Mortensen shares some fascinating stories from a career spanning more than 20 years.

by Maria Realf

Viggo Mortensen arrives at the event

Viggo Mortensen arrives at the event

Famously private film star Viggo Mortensen has spoken candidly about his screen career at a special BAFTA event in London.

The talented 51-year-old has clocked up an impressive CV over more than two decades, winning roles in a diverse range of movies such as Carlito’s Way, Crimson Tide, G.I Jane, 28 Days, The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. His remarkable performance in the latter also earned him a best actor nod at both the 2008 Oscars and BAFTAs (although he eventually lost out on both counts to Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood).

The star spoke openly about his work at the recent Alfred Dunhill BAFTA A Life In Pictures event in London, during which the audience were also treated to clips of some of his cinematic highlights.

After watching a memorable extract from Carlito’s Way – where Viggo’s wheelchair-user character bemoans the fact he has to wear nappies – the actor recalls one particularly funny take with co-star Al Pacino. “I threw the diaper and it landed on his nose and just hung there,” he smiles, adding that Pacino simply carried on with the scene.

Viggo is well known for his method acting and reveals he rode around in a wheelchair to help him get into that role. On another occasion, while filming an emotional scene as Aragorn in The Lord Of The Rings – the trilogy that catapulted him to A-list status – he declined to leave the set for lunch in order to stay in character, only to end up falling asleep while waiting for the others to come back.

After the global success of LOTR, a number of fascinating leading roles followed, including two successful collaborations with director David Cronenberg on A History Of Violence and Eastern Promises. Viggo confesses he “wasn’t that into” A History Of Violence at first, but says that Cronenberg persuaded him to take the part, and “it turned out to be a great experience”. He continues: “I have never seen a director understand every little thing that we were doing as well as he does.”

In addition to talking about some of the roles that have made his name, Viggo also touches briefly on the one that got away. He says he was due to play the Willem Dafoe part in Platoon in its “original incarnation”, and spent about a year and a half researching the role: “I knew this character better than I’ve gotten to know any character in my life.” He admits he was “shocked” when he learned Dafoe had been cast instead, but adds that he doesn’t regret the experience.

So having enjoyed a rare insight into Viggo’s past, what does the future hold? The star’s quite clear that he’s not ready for his swan song yet – “I intend to tell a few more stories” – and can soon be seen starring in John Hillcoat’s adaptation of The Road, due for release in early 2010. The film, based on Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, tells the story of a man (Viggo) and his son as they make their way through a post-apocalyptic landscape.

And when it comes to his own road ahead in the long term, the thoughtful actor seems to be keeping an open mind. As Viggo himself puts it: “If I knew where I was going, what would be the point of taking that journey?”

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