Ringside with Viggo; Mortensen Takes Swing at Politics and Critics

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 5, 2004 | Go to article overview

Ringside with Viggo; Mortensen Takes Swing at Politics and Critics


Byline: Scott Galupo, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Viggo Mortensen is a picture of serenity: Seated cross-legged, shoeless. Snorkeling South American green tea from a terra-cotta water pipe. The tea is called "mate," and it contains caffeine. But the bed-headed Mr. Mortensen had yet to feel its jolt on this morning last month.

In the lounge of a suite at the downtown Ritz-Carlton, we're discussing - he rambling, me nodding - "Hidalgo," a panoramic Disney adventure in which Mr. Mortensen plays the endurance horse rider Frank T. Hopkins, who legend says competed in a long-distance race across the Arabian Desert in 1890.

Mr. Hopkins, who died in 1951, also was said to have had Sioux blood.

Triangulating between three cultures - cowboys and Indians and Arabs - "Hidalgo" gives Mr. Mortensen ample pretext to share discursive nostrums that read like run-on fortune cookies.

To reclaim the cowboy ideal as embodied in the legend of Frank T. Hopkins from a certain part-time resident of Crawford, Texas, he says: "When your individualism has to do with finding yourself and behaving with dignity in the world, then you are finding a place in the world and you are respecting the individualism of others.

"But when individualism such as we see sometimes by personalities in our country and people that govern ..."

The hint is dropped subtly. What he really wants to say is: Bush. Iraq. War. Unilateralism.

Mr. Mortensen continues: "When your individualism necessarily involves crushing or preventing others from having their own individual experience - whether they be individuals or nations - then you're doing something quite different."

This kind of thing - muddled generalities, name-calling minus the names, eggshell-walking, conflating of individuals and nations - continues for a good 15 minutes.

Mr. Mortensen is behaving well, but clearly itching to talk politics. Then the subject of Michael Medved comes up. At that, the legs come uncrossed. The soft voice perks up a few decibels. The mate tea sits untouched.

He leans in. "Michael Medved dredged this up to essentially get himself a little attention in his right-wing circles," he says. "I think it was pretty pathetic."

For about a month, Viggo Mortensen became a bogeyman for rightward-leaning culture watchers who hold J.R.R. Tolkien and the "Rings" series near and dear to their hearts. As Mr. Mortensen puts it, Mr. Medved, a film critic and syndicated radio talk show host, accused him of "ruining 'Lord of the Rings.'"

Of course, no mortal could "ruin" the juggernaut that is the "Lord of the Rings" franchise - witness last Sunday's Oscar sweep - but Mr. Medved, in a column for USA Today and JewishWorldReview.com, did say Mr. Mortensen polluted the movie with politics.

"Viggo Mortensen ... has used the publicity platform provided by his role to trumpet his anti-war and anti-Bush views," Mr. Medved wrote.

The scuffle started when Mr. Mortensen appeared, elegantly disheveled, on the January cover of Vanity Fair magazine. …

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