Viggo Mortensen: Modern renaissance Man
If you've read me before you know that I'm not the effusive with praise, and that for me to write a headline like the one above means I believe someone is truly exceptional. I'm reprinting a review of Viggo that I wrote for another site here. Whenever I publish anything about this man it is with the intent of getting more and more people to read and peruse his poems and visual arts. So go to Perceval Press and be challenged and enjoy the work of an artist
For most of us our introduction to Viggo Mortensen came via the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. His portrayal of Aragorn will undoubtedly be forever engraved in the memories of all fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's work. Ironically enough those were not the first movies I had seen him in, but it was not until going back through my library of D.V.D.s was it revealed I had seen him three times previously. Obviously it's not that he is forgettable that caused this memory lapse on my part so I set about trying to figure how this could have happened.
In all three movies (Young Guns 2, 28 Days, and a murder mystery with Gweneth Paltrow and Michael Douglas whose name escapes me) he was not in the leading role, save for the last where he was second leading man to Mr. Douglas, so there was that to allow him to stay in the background. Although he was central to the action in all cases our attention was on how the central character or characters reacted to him, rather then him controlling the movie.
But aside from the role of his character there was more then that. David Cronenberg whose just finished directing Mr. Mortensen in a movie called A History of Violence said that he choose him for the part because he combined the charisma of a leading man with the abilities of a character actor. "Viggo is less concerned about how he appears on screen then with the truth of his character"
That to me is the answer to my question. For each movie that he performs in Mr. Mortensen creates a character who is distinct from the personae of Viggo Mortensen. Not once do we ever see him playing himself. Emotional reactions are based on how a character should react in a given situation not how he would. Most Hollywood leads (men and women) let there star power carry them through a performance. We know when we go to a Mel Gibson movie or a Goldie Hawn movie who we are going to be seeing on screen.
This is not the case with Viggo Mortensen. This is why I could not recognise him from his performance in Lord of the Rings as the same actor who performed in 28 days or either of the other two movies I mentioned. As a former stage actor I am always deeply impressed when I see that kind of work being done on screen. It is so rare Hollywood films to see anybody willing to take that kind of risk, especially a leading man.
I think that I gained a deeper understanding of the man when I learned that his artistic endeavours stretched beyond the silver screen. I had greeted the news of his ability as a painter, poet, and photographer with some skepticism I must admit. There are so many "stars" out there claiming the title artist these days that I greet any pronouncement of professed talent with more then a grain of salt. But his work is for real.
Not only is technically skilled in all three areas but he brings a unique creative vision to his work. His poetry speaks from the heart and the brain; his paintings use abstract technique to explore emotions; and his photos of even familiar subjects like fellow actors tell a story that was not previously known. Like his acting there is an element of risk in all his projects. They are not easy to approach or understand either intellectually or emotionally. No Hallmark sentimentality here, the audience has to make a decision about how to react on an instinctual level.
He leaves no room for ambivalence, he will force you to have an opinion of his work, whether positive or negative it doesn't matter. But there is not a chance of someone saying "Oh isn't that nice" That's the element that also makes his acting so unique. In even the bland world of Walt Disney in his creation of the character Frank Hopkins for the movie Hidalgo, we see a person of many layers, warts and all. Not your typical Saturday afternoon matinee idol.
In a world of paste reproductions Viggo Mortensen is a rare gem of creative energy. His work as an actor goes far beyond the normal level of effort exerted by a conventional leading man which results in his performances being elevated into works of art as unique as his poems and pictures. If the chance arises for you I strongly urge you to read some of his poetry or look at some of his visual art. The web site that I have mentioned is a link to his publishing house where you can buy his work and the work of other artists. I purchased "Coincidence of Memory" which is a collection of work from the last twenty years, so provides a good introduction to all three modes of expression. Take a risk, you'll find the rewards far out strip the cost.