Get Close with Viggo Mortensen
Viggo Mortensen has played a shaggy-haired king, a paraplegic gangster, a father living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and a tattooed Russian who stars in one of the most badass nude fight scenes in the history of cinema. His willingness to take risks has earned him critical kudos and, in March, the 2012 Coolidge Award from Brookline's Coolidge Corner Theatre. Past recipients include esteemed actors like Meryl Streep and Jonathan Demme — but Mortensen can say he's the only winner who moonlights as an artist, poet, and musician (one who has frequently collaborated with a guy named Buckethead).
In conjunction with the ninth-annual award ceremony, the Coolidge screened many of Mortensen's films, including Eastern Promises, The Road (an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel), and, of course, the extended version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Before an audience of fans dressed as wizards and elves, a jokey Mortensen introduced the series with some geek-friendly trivia. (He even sang Aragorn's coronation song.)
The actor is currently in pre-production for a new movie called Everyone Has a Plan, about a man who assumes the identity of his deceased twin in Argentina. But we caught up with Mortensen at the Coolidge while he was in town to accept his award.
How does this award reflect your entire body of work, especially the days when you were playing character roles? Getting an honor like this forces you to think about this kind of thing. I like to play characters where it's like, “Whoah, how am I going to do that?” When I look back at those roles, they were full of obstacles. I also know from experience the more I believe that I'm that character, the more chance there is that you're going to believe it. That's the game.
You've worked repeatedly with a couple of directors, like Peter Jackson [ The Lord of the Rings ] and most recently David Cronenberg [ Eastern Promises , A Dangerous Method ]. Do you prefer to work with the same director on multiple projects? Not with all directors, but certainly with Cronenberg because I know he's going to be ready and he loves what he does, and that's contagious. Sometimes on the set, people are yelling because someone is unprepared. With Cronenberg, there is a guaranteed quality, and each movie is going to be worth watching. I can't say that about many directors.
Are you more passionate about your music or your acting? They are branches of the same tree, so to speak. These artistic activities have to do with paying attention and filtering what you do and then trying to express what you think you saw. That's my way of paying attention and communicating with the world I'm in.
How did the blockbuster success of The Lord of the Rings affect you? For me it was great. I wouldn't have worked with Cronenberg, and I wouldn't be in this theater right now. I thought about this last night when I was on the stage. There was more to it than just “I love Legolas!” There is something very thought-provoking about those stories. They could use some editing, but so does the Bible.
Is there anything you enjoy doing while in Boston? I enjoy going to museums and walking around. I like Boston; I know it's a big sports town, and I like sports. I've never been to Fenway, and I'd like to go sometime. I like teams that people in Boston don't like.
I know you're a soccer fan. Would you consider making a sports-related movie? I'd be game. Unless it's some story about a guy coming out of retirement and shocking everyone, I'd probably have to direct it or something. I like good stories — it doesn't matter the setting.
Do you plan on directing? I might want to try it at some point. I like everything that goes into movie making. I like actors, which is a plus. I don't know of many directors who like actors and see them as more than just tools.
How would you like to see your career go from this award forward? I'll see what happens tomorrow. I never really had a set plan. I've never thought if I do this, that, and the other, maybe I'll get a Coolidge Award. Whether it's photography, editing books, writing poems, acting in plays — I just like stories.