The King Returns; Viggo Mortensen's Role as Aragorn Has Turned Him into a Sex Symbol, but He Didn't Become an Actor for Adulation and Awards, He Tells Tom Roston

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), December 7, 2003 | Go to article overview

The King Returns; Viggo Mortensen's Role as Aragorn Has Turned Him into a Sex Symbol, but He Didn't Become an Actor for Adulation and Awards, He Tells Tom Roston


Byline: TOM ROSTON

His fans swooned during his love scenes in A Walk on the Moon and clung to his every word in films such as A Perfect Murder and 28 Days, but it's been Viggo Mortensen's role as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy that's made the actor a star.

Today, however, Mortensen isn't concerned about conquering Hollywood, he just wants to find his wallet. Grumbling expletives as he empties his bags for the third time, he thrusts his arms into the side pockets of his jacket, hoping the missing item will mercifully appear. He is clearly exhausted.

'Man, I'm fried. Refried. And fried again,' he says, with a tired smile.

Mortensen's sudden Hollywood heat is one of the Rings' many success stories.

His dedication to embodying Aragorn is legendary among the film's cast and crew.

He would camp in the forest while his costars slept in more refined quarters. He carried his sword everywhere - even into restaurants. 'He was the most committed and the most devoted on the set,' says Sean Astin, who plays hobbit Sam Gamgee. 'He transferred his entire life into the character.'

Mortensen's commitment to his role extended beyond matters of the flesh. 'He brought to Aragorn this huge internal life that you don't see as much in the book,' says Miranda Otto (...owyn). 'As filming progressed he became more and more Aragorn, and less and less Viggo.' Mortensen's dedication also found its way regularly to director Peter Jackson's fax machine. 'After a long day's shooting, when all the other cast would be either in bed or in the bar, a nine-page handwritten memo would come rattling through the fax from Viggo, outlining his thoughts about that day's work and the next few days to come,' says Jackson. 'This wasn't an exception - over 15 months, it became the rule.

In the small hours, it was actually comforting to know that there was somebody else out there grappling with the same nightmare that we were.'

Acting was never about fame or awards for Mortensen, 'They've got nothing to do with the job, and that is not why I do it,' he says. 'And as far as I know, that's not why these films were made.' Mortensen's Danish-born father, Viggo Sr, and his American mother were living in New York when Viggo was born in 1958. The Mortensens moved often, living in Argentina, Venezuela, and Denmark when Mortensen was young.

His parents divorced when he was 11, and Mortensen and his two younger brothers moved with their mother to upstate New York, where he went to high school. Mortensen studied government and languages at St Lawrence University before moving to Denmark, where he sold flowers while focusing on writing poetry and short stories.

In the early Eighties, Mortensen followed a girlfriend to New York and became increasingly interested in films and theatre. He went for what he thought was an audition for a play at the Warren Robertson repertory theatre, and found himself signed up for an acting class. Soon after, he was auditioning for roles in films.

In the ensuing years, as Mortensen took parts in box-office duds such as Boiling Point and American Yakuza, and in more successful films such as GI Jane and A Perfect Murder, he maintained an ambivalence towards the industry, especially the compromising nature of being a small cog in the filmmaking machine. …

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