- By Markus Tschiedert
Millions love them as the proud Aragorn of “The Lord of the Rings”, but Viggo Mortensen did not want to commit himself to heroic roles after the glorious success. On the contrary, the New Yorker of Danish descent then played Gangster (“Dead Promises”), Murderers (“The Two Faces of January”) and Sigmund Freud (“A Dark Desire”) as controversial contemporaries. Not exactly likeable Mortensen is also introduced in his new film “Green Book”. As Italian-American Tony Lip, he reluctantly takes on the job of chauffeuring black musician Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on a concert tour to the South of the United States in the early 1960s. Slowly he overcomes his racist inclination – the beginning of a wonderful friendship. The author met Viggo Mortensen in London.
Mr. Mortensen, you look fit again. How did you lose all those extra pounds for your role in Green Book?
Surely it was harder to get the pounds off than to get rid of them – and it was less fun (laughs). You can always see me in the movie and I actually stuffed this stuff. Once again, when such a shooting day was over, I definitely skipped breakfast in the morning because I knew I had to eat hot dogs and chicken all the time.
Why did you do that to yourself?
I did not want to make a stereotypical Italo-American, but lend the figure authenticity. Just as a real guy who has family but is intellectually inferior to others and feels insecure. As he speaks and behaves he should look real and not like a joke.
Although there is a lot to laugh in the movie …
When I read the script, there was nothing that made me laugh. That’s why I did not even try to be funny. No, what I say in the movie is meant seriously. The comedy is created by the contrast of the two characters. They react to each other, to what each other says or does.
Is it true that you recalled the character of Tony Lip to your own father?
Sometimes, in the way he tells his stories. My father, like Tony, was a patriarch who liked to tell others about the horse. When I asked him where he got the tickets for the big baseball game, he made a secret by saying, “Do not ask!” He also loved telling family stories. I’ve probably heard it 100 times and therefore got to know how he really skillfully decorated it more and more beautiful. At some point, they barely had anything to do with the original stories 40 years ago.
“Green Book” is based on a true story about racism in the United States that is flourishing in some areas …
In fact, this is again a problem that exists as long as there are people. Tribalism: “What I do not know scares me and sometimes I kill it. But I certainly do not trust the stranger. “Every generation has to deal with this problem and learn from it. However, it is often pure ignorance of other people, cultures and ways of life that causes distrust, misogyny, arrogance and racism.
They generally like to comment on socio-political issues. Has that ever caused you any problems?
Certainly there are people who do not like that. But I can not help it. I am someone who gets his information from different media to not just look at things from one angle. So when I’m asked about a topic, I seriously try to answer it. I even see that as a necessity – not because I’m a well-known actor, but because I’m a citizen of my country. I express my opinion, even if not everyone agrees. I can not wait for everyone to like my films. At any rate, I do not want to worry about whether I’m going to balk at fans or filmmakers. Surely that happens, but I do not care.
Most fans will probably love you for that. Your first movie role was in “The Only Witness” in 1985, but it was not until “The Lord of the Rings” that you became a star. How did that change your life?
Once you are in this business you have to learn to promote yourself. It has always been difficult for me to appear at film parties, to play as much as possible in front of the press and, best of all, to appear in commercials to sip coffee or whiskey. Honestly, I do not want that either.
Do not you go through many attractive film offers by the rags?
Lately I was actually less in front of the camera. The main reason for this was my parents, who were struggling with health problems for a long time. I spent a lot of time with them and took care of them. Nevertheless, I worked a lot because I have my own publishing house. Besides, I’m still a photographer and I’m writing a lot myself.
What are you writing about?
Screenplays! For several years, I’m sitting at several scripts right now. These are very personal family stories. I’ve been dreaming for a long time of directing myself and it looks like it’s going to happen now (“Falling” is about to start filming with Mortensen as director, scriptwriter and lead actor, editor’s note).
Why is this step into the director so important to you?
I still enjoy watching movies and being inspired by other actors as well as great stories. That’s why I started doing it over 30 years ago. Because I see myself as a storyteller. Besides, you will not get any younger.
They turned 60 last year …
That’s why I’m plunging to the direction, hoping that this will open a new chapter in my life.
Does that mean you want to retire from acting?
Not necessarily, I still have a lot of enthusiasm for it. But here, too, it is important to me not to repeat myself in my roles too often. I would like to push with each role in a new area to learn something for myself. Of course, I always challenge myself, which often scares me.
That you have to explain please …
This usually happens when I like the script very much, but I think it may not be the right choice for the role. So I thought about “Green Brook”. Director Peter Farrelly first had to convince me that I could play an Italian-American.
Does the fear of failing make it disappear?
Normally, I still get into a phase where I think you made a big mistake now. Over time, it has become better not to worry so much about it, just from the experience. Because I have already survived several such moments. So when panic attacks me, I wonder how to counteract it. The best part is usually to get into work. Because I know that I can get through this, but the fear is still there.