Mortensen at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival
|Born||Viggo Peter Mortensen Jr.
October 20, 1958
New York City, New York, United States
|Alma mater||St. Lawrence University|
|Occupation||Actor, author, musician, photographer|
|Spouse(s)||Exene Cervenka (m. 1987â€“98)|
|Children||Henry Blake Mortensen (b. 1988)|
As far as money goes, there's a saying in Denmark: 'Your last suit doesn't have any pockets.' You can't take it with you. You can make all the money you want, but who cares?
I'm certainly curious about people. As a kid, I moved around a lot. I was raised in a lot of different places, and thanks to working in the movies, I've gotten to keep traveling. I've always been interested in other cultures and languages.
You see people on the street yelling and think they're crazy, but maybe they're just happy and expressing what they feel at all times.
I've never had a problem with people paying attention to what you're doing and say they find that they liked it.
More often than not, the experience of shooting the movie has been disappointing and the end product has been a mere shadow of what I hoped it would be. But immersing myself in the story – that's what I like best of all.
'The Road' is about that fear that all parents can have – 'What's going to happen to your child if you're not around?'
I think every family is dysfunctional, and some manage to control it better than others.
I have a roof over my head. I had a breakfast, and a lot of people in the world can't say that. I'm not going to complain about being interviewed.
Saying you are a patriot does not make you one; wearing a flag pin does not in itself mean anything at all.
I mean, any movie or story that makes you accept and be grateful for something about your life is doing something right.
Ignorance breeds antipathy. Until I got to know how computers worked, I didn't want anything to do with them. I said, 'Well, why do I need them? I write letters.' Which I still do.
I hate divers, like Cristiano Ronaldo, who might be the greatest athlete in the sport, but he's a big baby. If things are going well he's great, but when things are going badly it's the ref's fault, it's his teammates' fault.
Some actors learn the habit of promoting themselves as a brand – by dressing in a certain way, by going out with a certain person – it gives them what they obviously want, which is to keep a level of fame. I'm not putting it down.
I'm not that involved in personal grooming. But I try not to be offensive to people.
You know, Freud accepted his lot very stoically and very well and with a sense of humor. He aged and died gracefully, and there's a lot to be said for that.
Further devastation of the air, land and sea is obviously a very real possibility, unless the attitudes of politicians and all who irresponsibly exploit our natural resources change significantly in the very near future and all collaborate and sacrifice for the good of the planet.
I've been lucky to learn by playing all kinds of roles and watching all kinds of really good cinematographers, actors, and directors for many years before people were even aware of me in terms of audience.
Sometimes a scene works and acting is the easiest thing in the world and you don't have to do much of anything – just enjoy yourself and listen to the other actor. When it doesn't work, then every actor has different ways of dealing with the impasse. Sometimes you use memories from the past. Whatever. It depends from job to job.
Freud was the son of a Jewish merchant who had to move his whole family to Vienna because he couldn't get work. He, as a boy, had to watch his father be mocked and abused on the street for being Jewish… You develop a thick skin and you develop a certain kind of wit to defend yourself.
You know, 'Viggo' is a pretty dorky name in Denmark. It's like 'Oswald' or something. It's a very old Scandinavian name, at least 1,000 years old.
When I have a day off, I won't spend it at a Hollywood party. I'd rather be at home with paints and a blank canvas.
For 'Hidalgo,' I just spent as much time around horses as I could, which made sense.
We live as though there aren't enough hours in the day, but if we do each thing calmly and carefully we will get it done quicker and with much less stress.
Nobody really knows anybody completely, even if they've been married to 'em for 53 years, you know?
You know, real life doesn't just suddenly resolve itself. You have to keep working at it.
Each time I make a movie, it's like a paid scholarship to a different university course.
Travel is one of the best anti-war weapons that there are. I've been to Iran, and if you're there you see little kids, cops, old people, cemeteries. Once you see that, you can't say, 'Oh, Iran, let's bomb them.'
I prefer the smaller acting than big histrionics. It's about reacting and looks, which is often underestimated.
It's just like with people. You're going to get along better working with them – human or equine – if you ask politely rather than demand that they do things.
In terms of the movie business, being in a 'Lord of the Rings' has given me more interesting options as work.
When I land in a country and they ask for 'occupation,' I always just put 'artist.' I think that covers all of it.
I think that every person has many, many people inside of them. We change our personality depending on who we are talking to or what situation we are in.
People talk about method actors, meaning someone that's prepared very, very well, or whatever they mean when they talk about it. But the right method is whatever works for you. And what works for me on any given day is going to be different.
I try to research or make up for myself what happened in any character's life. From when he was born until the first page of the script. I fill in the blanks.
Anyone can identify with those moments in life where circumstances or people inform us that we've strayed from the path of our better nature and intentions. We know what that's like, and we resist it – so as not to feel like we're bad people.
When I make a movie, I don't break it down and analyze it. I could but it would get in the way of doing a job – on instinct based on all the research we did going in. you want to trust yourself and your director and your acting partners in the circumstances you're shooting. I don't like to have any kind of overview.
It's hard not to get depressed when you pay attention to the world and how strangely and corrupt the people in it sometimes behave.
Kids accept where they are because they don't know the past. They know what they have; they know where they are.
I'm sort of contrary and stubborn sometimes. When everybody says, 'You have to read this book! You have to read this book!' I'm like 'Oh, I'll get around to it.'
I was raised speaking English and Spanish. And I also speak Danish. And I can get by in French and Italian. I've acted in Spanish and English, but when something has to do with emotions, sometimes I feel I can get to the heart of the matter better in Spanish.
I'm optimistic about people and about the planet and about nature. I think it's resilient, like people are.
When I heard Puerto Ricans in New York City, it sounded very strange. And the first time I heard someone from Spain, I thought they had a speech impediment!
Sometimes you look at a movie and you can see that the actor or actress said, 'I'm taking this onboard because I'm making a ton of money, and not because it's going to be something special.'
In a lot of places in the United States and certainly even more places around the world, the image of the cowboy has become, for some people, a negative one. The word 'cowboy' implies a strong, stubborn individual whose individualism depends on pulling down other people's individualism.
Adult characters are all the things they've encountered over time. But kids haven't accumulated all the life experience, all the regrets. They tend to be more in the moment, more willing to play, to be joyful.
Toronto Film Festival is one of those festivals where there are 400 movies, and unless you have a distributor who is super confident and puts a lot of money into it, sometimes movies can go unwatched or unnoticed.
As a kid I read Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and a few others. As an adult have admired Leonardo da Vinci's drawings and notebooks.
Life is short and the older you get, the more you feel it. Indeed, the shorter it is. People lose their capacity to walk, run, travel, think, and experience life. I realise how important it is to use the time I have.
I don't have a BlackBerry or whatever you call it. And there is something to be said for being isolated and out of phone range, because you can fall into a habit to such a degree that you don't even realise that you've lost something: silence.
You know, real life doesn't just suddenly resolve itself. You have to keep working at it. Democracy, marriage, friendship. You can't just say, 'She's my best friend.' That's not a given, it's a process.
This basic thing I always do: 'What happened between the character's birth, and page one of the script?' Anything that's not in the story, I'll fill in the blanks.
It's very rare you get a great script just handed to you, or sent to you, by someone you don't know.
I grew up with horses when I was a kid in Argentina. I like them. I respect them. I'm careful around them. You never know what they're going to do. They're endlessly interesting. I've had some good acting partners that were horses over the years.
I know people who prepare their roles in such a way that they technically look ahead and memorize their gestures, and then they stick to it. Those that are technically proficient enough can make it seem natural, but they do that and don't really take in what other people are doing.
Jung viewed Freud as a mentor, but he never wanted to be anybody's disciple.
A little recognition is not a bad thing because it means people appreciate your work. The only problem is when you can't walk down the street or have a meal without people looking at you. I want to be the one looking at people.
When you're under stress as a human being, you behave oddly and your relationships with people become strained.
I'm just looking as always for something that's stimulating and I hope to find a good story that's a challenge, whether it's big or small. Or that it finds me. I don't have like a career plan. Maybe I should, but I don't.
I like a twisted sense of humour. On 'A History of Violence,' David Cronenberg and I would be doing the grimmest scenes and laugh a lot.
People will like to say that 'Eastern Promises' is brutal, but the only reason they say that is because the scenes stick with them. They are realistic. They are in-your-face and you see the consequences. It's not a bunch of quick editing cuts.
In principle, I think the idea of rewarding a good effort is interesting, but movies are generally different from each other as are performances and the conditions on how the performances are given and how they're edited and so forth.
When there is conflict, it's good to step away, even for five minutes, because you could say terrible things that you can't take back, so it's best to walk away.
To be an artist, you don't have to compose music or paint or be in the movies or write books. It's just a way of living. It has to do with paying attention, remembering, filtering what you see and answering back, participating in life.
Life is short and the older you get, the more you feel it. Indeed, the shorter it is.
I'm very comfortable in Argentina. I was raised there as a baby and stayed there until I was 11 years old, so the first decade of my life or my formative years were spent in Argentina. I stayed in tune with the food, music and language.
I really enjoyed working with New Zealanders as crew members, as teammates. They're great, and it's a beautiful country. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, and I've traveled quite a bit.
You can't really divorce yourself and your life from the world you live in.
I have never been in a natural place and felt that it was a waste of time. I never have. And it's a relief. If I'm walking around a desert or whatever, every second is worthwhile.
It's not the end of the world if I can't get a film job, or if a movie doesn't turn out well – even though I don't like it when that happens. There are other things I enjoy doing, and I involve myself in them.
One of the main ways that leadership stays in power is by, in various ways, convincing people that they should just let those who are in government govern: 'Trust us. Trust me. Just let us take care of things. Stay out of it.' Your opinions don't really matter. You are isolated. You are insignificant.
I think that people who get to a certain position, and then try to ferociously defend it or build on it, it's kind of a dead-end street. You see people becoming miserable that way.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a horse master. He told me to go slow to go fast. I think that applies to everything in life. We live as though there aren't enough hours in the day but if we do each thing calmly and carefully we will get it done quicker and with much less stress.
I like the detail work of telling a story in small pieces, as is done in movie-making, and also the long leap of faith needed to see a theatre performance through each night. Both require focus and self-discipline.
I've never played a Dane in a movie. I've had offers to be in Danish movies, including for some good directors, but I either had a job at the time or, when I was available, the movie just didn't happen. Hopefully someday I'll do one.
It's always interesting to play a character that obviously has a secret.
I'm not a great fan of monarchy in general, but I have to say the Danish monarchy is closer to the people; it's not as stuffy as the English one.
It's amazing to me that Glenn Beck can be on the cover of 'Time,' and there can be a whole article about him basically saying, 'Well, you know, he's controversial.' It's like, 'No, he's a dangerous idiot who needs the help of a good psychiatrist!'
I don't like people who get into fights about football – or anything else.
I love rehearsing, but a lot of directors don't, and some actors don't.
I've never been conscious of having any real career plan, and I do not have a wish-list of actors, directors, screenwriters, or cameramen I'm hoping to work with. Life, I feel, has a way of leading us to the right situations and people, or at least to interesting ones.
I would literally climb out of the cradle while my parents slept, go and crawl off. I did this a couple of times apparently. I'd cross the road and into someone's house, wake them up banging pots and pans in the kitchen.
If there's one thing I've learned from traveling, it's that it is definitely more important how you are than where you are. You can say, 'Oh, I hate X city, I hate that country, or I prefer this city,' but it's a little bit up to you to find some kind of happiness.
Those who have the power and should be the most responsible are often the least responsible.
I like stories that leave you wanting more, leave you wondering, but don't tell you everything.
Be kind. It's worthwhile to make an effort to learn about other people and figure out what you might have in common with them.
In a way, editing is not unlike the movies. The best books, just like the best movies, are a collaboration. They're only as good as the compromise made between the artists involved.
What art does is it makes you feel alive and makes you feel like you're connected.
Like most people – unless they're very practised at it or have no warm blood at all in their veins – I feel a little apprehensive about the red carpet. It's always a bit bewildering when people are taking pictures and asking questions before the ceremony.
I don't think you get to be pope without making some enemies, like you do when you're president.
On a practical level, poetry isn't something anybody has really made a great living at. I might sell some books and, once in a while, someone might pay to hear me read.
I think every family is dysfunctional, and some manage to control it better than others.
At the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century in Austria, there was a lot of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism in Austria was much more pervasive than in Germany. And Austrians took to Nazi ideas and anti-Semitism much more readily than Germans did, really.
A lot of times, movies that are in the top 10 lists or maybe even win Baftas or Oscars, you then watch them a year later and you go, 'Maybe it wasn't so great.'
To be honest, I don't really care about any pope. It's not something I think about much, to be quite honest with you.
In a lot of ways, I envy someone like Omar Sharif who lived in a hotel for decades.
I'm not afraid of death, but I resent it. I think it's unfair and irritating. Every time I see something beautiful, I not only want to return to it, but it makes me want to see other beautiful things. I know I'm not going to get to all the places I want to go.
I'm an optimist; I always hope that each new script is going to be a great story.
If you're trying to please everyone, then you're not going to make anything that is honestly yours, I don't think, in the long run.
The money I earn from films means I can help the people I want to help – you can do a lot of good if you want to.
The best thing an actor can be is flexible, because all directors are different and all actors are different.
I don't think Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell fear competition from me in their arena.
Most movies are lucky to have one moment, one shot that you look at and you always remember that moment and that scene.
'The Road' is about that fear that all parents can have. What's going to happen to your child if you're not around? It takes those concerns to an extreme. In the film, without me the boy has no food, no shelter, no resources at all.
There's no sense in doing something, especially if it's a hard job, if you can't have a little fun.
'The Road' was a movie that has a good reputation, even though it wasn't released very well, but that's a movie I'm very proud of.
I realise how important it is to use the time I have. I respect people who want to do that by watching television. I happen to want to read books. But I know I can't read all the books or watch all the movies in one lifetime.
Every year I hear people complain that the quality of screenplays and movies is declining. In my opinion, the vast majority of scripts written – as well as most movies that are released – are not very original, well-written, or interesting. It has always been that way, and I think it always will be.
Be kind. It's worthwhile to make an effort to learn about other people and figure out what you might have in common with them. If you allow yourself to be somewhat curious – and if you get into the habit of doing that – it's the first step to being open minded and realizing that your points of view aren't totally opposite.
It doesn't take that many years for a kid to realise that they're going to die. It's always there in the back of their mind the rest of their lives.
I like naturally occurring film grain, and what happens to film when it's under- and over-exposed.
It's true that I have a wide range of interests. I like to write and paint and make music and go walking on my own and garden. In fact, gardening is probably what I enjoy doing more than anything else.
Usually the characters I play are men of few words, who communicate in non-verbal ways.
Yes, I would agree that America, just like Spain was in the 17th Century, is the main empire of the world and they are the ones who, on the surface, are the most pushy: pushing their language, pushing their culture – or what there is of it – pushing by force their system on others.
One of the most effective tools that the Cheney-Bush junta has used to marginalize dissenting or even mildly inquisitive American citizens has been the accusation of being unpatriotic.
I'm not afraid of death, but I resent it. I think it's unfair and irritating.
Pinochet and Barack Obama both have the same primary goal, and that's to be president and stay president as long as allowed.
You can't really go back to where you came from. I don't think any of us can.
When we shot 'The Lord of the Rings,' we had special permission to film in wild areas of New Zealand that could be accessed only by helicopter. They would drop us off and we would work all day, and they'd pick us up and take us out again.
In a movie, you're raw material, just a hue of some color and the director makes the painting.
I suppose a good director is like a teacher. I think that someone like David Cronenberg was very much like a teacher, because there's an openness, but a certain set of rules of behavior, and a certain conduct expected. But there's an atmosphere that's relaxed and conducive to exploration, and that is created by someone like Cronenberg.
Like most people I can be lazy, so it's nice to have a goal or deadline or reason to work out. I feel better when I get to exercise, or when I'm outdoors. I like to hike, swim and run, and I love to play soccer.
With any character I have played, there's infinite possibilities for how they might behave, depending on who they are talking to or how they react to things.
If in my twenties I'd gotten one of the two-dozen roles that I did screen tests for and almost got, I think I would have become bored with the awards circuit, the whole hype machine.
I think maybe because I do other things and they mean as much to me as movie acting, it takes the onus off me. It's not the end of the world if I can't get a film job, or if a movie doesn't turn out well – even though I don't like it when that happens.
My goal is just to make movies, whether they're big or small, that I'd like to see 10 years from now.
Walking down the street in any town or city in the world and having people look at you and start talking to you, convinced that they know you as well or better than they do members of their own family, that's just an odd phenomenon. But I mean, I wouldn't say it was a bad thing. It's an interesting thing.
I don't like the 'must', the 'always', and the 'never' words. I don't like 'no' either.
I like movies that leave you with something to think about, to discuss, to debate, you know?
Photography, painting or poetry – those are just extensions of me, how I perceive things; they are my way of communicating.
If you don't find some way to discuss what's going on inside you, it can come out in other ways that are self-destructive.
I have a publishing company of books by me and books of others. It drew people to poetry readings and photo exhibitions and painting exhibitions that I've been doing for years before that.
I have a multicultural background, so I tend to have an open mind about things, and I find other cultures interesting.
I know I said I wanted to live forever and I would never be bored, but the reality is, it's probably kind of sad to live forever if you're the only one sticking around.
Any nominations a movie gets helps to raise the level of curiosity in the public, so in that sense awards and nominations are important.
I was raised in Argentina until I was 11 and now I go back there a lot, at least twice a year. It's a country where I feel very comfortable and it represents an important period in my life.
I think, on a surface level, people are surprised to see me playing such a passive role in 'Good.'
Looking at acting, in the movies or the theater, and the way I like to look at it, it's just an extension of childhood play… Kids play and imagine in a very intense fashion and they don't need any director telling them, 'You really have to believe in it.' They believe in it completely.
I'd like to, when it's all said and done, say that I have at least a few stories that I feel proud of.
In my opinion, the vast majority of scripts written – as well as most movies that are released – are not very original, well-written, or interesting. It has always been that way, and I think it always will be.
Being an actor, imitating to the point of inhabiting the lives of others, may simply be a way of continuing to do what I learned to do as a boy – to travel, mentally and physically.
There's no excuse to be bored. Sad, yes. Angry, yes. Depressed, yes. Crazy, yes. But there's no excuse for boredom, ever.