Vladimir Putin was an inspiration for his character in Easter Promises, he owned his two horses from the Lord of the Rings, and then T.J. from Hidalgo, and he thinks it is total bullshit that David Cronenberg has never been nominated for best director. Viggo Mortensen is an accidental movie star who is fluent in seven languages, has his own publishing house, and never tires of people walking up to him on the street to talk to him about Aragorn. The 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s American Riviera Award was presented to Mortensen by his two-time co-star and one-time director, Ed Harris, which was preceded by a delightful two-hour Q&A with Deadline’s Peter Hammond.
Mortensen is currently making the rounds for his third Academy Award nomination for one of the year’s best films, The Green Book, knowing full well that he’s going to be three and out but continues to champion a film that he truly loves and believes in. He and Harris were about an hour late to the event, a serve storm prolonged their trip up from LA, diverting to take a private plane to a local airport and eventually hitting the red carpet and taking his time along the way promoting his latest feature.
“Coke doesn’t do R rated films, and then I asked if I could call the guy,” Mortensen continued, “I can’t remember his name, but I called the rep from Coca Cola and asked him if he had read The Road. He had not but his wife or someone he knew had. I told him to read pages, I don’t know, eighty-six through eighty-seven. And then to speak to his kids or his wife or whoever, and then in a few days he called back, and we could use Coke.”
His first on-screen appearance was in Peter Weir’s Witness, which came right off the heels of his scenes being cut from Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo. He was in his very early twenties when he decided to become an actor, there was not a specific film or an actor who inspired him, but the theatre experience was an emotional enlightenment that was woven with curiosity about how film could evoke reactions from laughter to tears.
The Lord of the Rings series is a part of his life that remains incredibly special to him. Not only did he love making the films, but he also speaks to what that afforded him to achieve not only professionally, but also personally. He started Percival Press, a publishing house that produces works of poets, musicians, and photographers as well as his own music, poetry, art, and photo books.
The Extended Cut of The Fellowship of the Ring is his favorite of the trilogy, reasoning that it was the film with the most human to human interaction. As the films went on, there was more CGI, more green screens, creating less and less interaction with other people. That was not a slight towards the other films, he warned because he has stated the same prior and he has been taken out of context.
Mortensen has a flip phone and has gotten better at emailing since he launched his website, but he’s just not all that interested in modern technology and frankly doesn’t find an interest in it. He is more interested in bringing stories to the screen that would not otherwise have a voice. He finds unique narratives and uses his movie star cache as a vehicle to shine a light on compelling characters and writer-directors whose visions would not be told.
Green Book is a special film to Mortensen, he loves it and the character of Tony Lip. He is very aware of the campaign against the film, especially how some are citing that the real Tony and Dr. Shirley were not friends and the film is a false representation of factual events. Firstly, Mortensen noted that Green Book is a movie, and only covers a span of two weeks and that Tony Lip went on to drive Dr. Shirley for another two years, and moderator Peter Hammond noted that Deadline has published audio tapes of Dr. Shirley speaking of his friendship with Tony and how the two remained friends for the rest of their lives.
He spoke very highly of the cast of Captain Fantastic and especially Mahershalla Ali, and how Ali was the greatest acting partner he’s had. He made not of Ali’s reactionary acting to him, and how so much of Ali’s performance is store within his reactions and economy of movement. He also spoke of his fondness for Ed Harris, who was there to present Mortensen with the award.
Dressed in cowboy boots and a red vest that looks like something William Holden would have worn in a genre-pushing western, Harris gave a rather straight forward yet emotional tribute to Mortensen, conveying that their friendship was built on a foundation of loyalty. Mortensen thanked Harris, SBIFF, and executive director Roger Durling for an award that he was not just a nominee for, but the outright winner. Mortensen is the strong silent type who is fiercely intelligent, and a man made up for passion and raw talent that elevates every single project that he touches.