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Monday, September 14, 2009

Who is Viggo Peter Mortensen, Jr.?

Who is Viggo Peter Mortensen, Jr.? The acting world knows him as Viggo Mortensen. He is is an Danish-American actor, poet, musician, photographer, and painter.

His film roles include Aragorn in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, Frank T. Hopkins in Hidalgo, David Shaw in A Perfect Murder, Tom Stall in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, and his Academy and Golden Globe Award-nominated role as Nikolai Luzhin in Cronenberg's Eastern Promises. He is to star in the upcoming film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road as "The Man".


Mortensen was (born October 20, 1958) in New York City. His American mother, Grace Gamble (née Atkinson), and Danish father, Viggo Peter Mortensen, Sr., met in Norway.[1][2] His maternal grandfather was from Nova Scotia, Canada.[3] His family moved to Venezuela, Argentina, and Denmark, settling in Argentina, in Chaco, Córdoba, and Buenos Aires, where he learned Spanish. His father managed chicken farms and ranches in Argentina.[4] They remained there until Mortensen was eleven, when his parents divorced and his mother moved back to New York. He moved with his father to Copenhagen, Denmark. Mortensen and his father eventually went back to the United States, where Mortensen graduated from Watertown High School in Watertown, New York. After high school, he returned to Denmark and became a truck driver in Esbjerg, Denmark, before again returning to the United States to pursue an acting career. He attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, earning a bachelor's degree in Spanish. He chose that subject because he could get good grades without a lot of study, leaving him free to be in a lot of plays. At his commencement, he refused to wear an academic gown because they were made by sweatshop workers. However, after the Lord of the Rings trilogy, when he was granted an honorary doctorate by his alma mater, he did appear in the appropriate robes.

After several years of experience in live theater, Mortensen made his first film appearance playing an Amish farmer in Peter Weir's Witness. (Mortensen had actually acted in two prior films, Swing Shift and The Purple Rose of Cairo, but his scenes in both of these films were deleted from the final cuts.) Also in 1985, he was cast in the role of Bragg on Search for Tomorrow. Mortensen's 1987 performance in Bent at the Coast Playhouse, Los Angeles, won him a Dramalogue Critics' Award. Coincidentally, the play, about homosexual concentration camp prisoners, was originally brought to prominence by Ian McKellen, with whom Mortensen later costarred in The Lord of the Rings.

During the 1990s, Mortensen appeared in supporting roles in a variety of films, including Jane Campion's The Portrait of a Lady, Young Guns II, Prison, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, Sean Penn's The Indian Runner, Carlito's Way, Crimson Tide, G.I. Jane, Daylight, A Walk on the Moon, American Yakuza, Charles Robert Carner's remake Vanishing Point, Philip Ridley's two films The Reflecting Skin and The Passion of Darkly Noon, A Perfect Murder, Gus Van Sant's 1998 remake of Psycho, 28 Days, and The Prophecy, with Christopher Walken. Of these roles, Mortensen was probably best-known for playing Master Chief John Urgayle in G.I. Jane.[5]

Mortensen's major mainstream breakthrough came in 1999 with his being cast as Aragorn in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. According to the Special Extended Edition DVD of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Mortensen was a last-minute replacement for Stuart Townsend, and wouldn't have taken the part of Aragorn had it not been for his son's enthusiasm for the J. R. R. Tolkien trilogy. In the Two Towers DVD extras, the film's swordmaster, Bob Anderson, described Mortensen as "the best swordsman I've ever trained." Mortensen performed all of his own stunts, insisting it would look more authentic, and even the injuries he sustained on several of them did not dampen his enthusiasm. At one point during shooting of Two Towers, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies' stunt double, and Mortensen all had fairly serious injuries, and during a shoot of them, running in the mountains, Peter Jackson jokingly referred to the three as "the walking wounded."

In 2004, Mortensen starred as Frank Hopkins in Hidalgo, the story of an ex-army courier who travels to Arabia to compete with his horse, Hidalgo, in a dangerous race for a massive contest prize.

In 2005, Mortensen starred in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence. He was nominated for a Satellite Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture for this role. In the DVD extras for A History of Violence, David Cronenberg relates that Mortensen is the only actor he'd come across who would come back from weekends with his family with items he had bought to use as props on the set.

In 2006, he starred as Captain Diego Alatriste in Alatriste, based on the series of novels The Adventures of Captain Alatriste, written by the Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

In September 2007, the film Eastern Promises, directed by David Cronenberg, was released to critical acclaim for the film itself and for Mortensen's performance as a Russian gangster on the rise in London. His nude fight scene in a steam room was applauded by Roger Ebert: "Years from now, it will be referred to as a benchmark."[6] Mortensen's performance in Eastern Promises resulted in his winning the Best Performance by an Actor in a British Independent Film award from the British Independent Film Awards.[7] He also received a Academy Award for Best Actor nomination.[8]

In 2009, Mortensen appeared as himself in the film Reclaiming The Blade [9] where he discussed his passion for the sword and his sword-work in films such as The Lord of the Rings and Alatriste.[10] Mortensen also talks about his work with Bob Anderson, the swordmaster on The Lord of the Rings, Alatriste, Pirates of the Caribbean and many others.[11]

With part of his earnings from The Lord of the Rings, Mortensen founded the Perceval Press publishing house — named for the knight from the legend of King Arthur — to help other artists by publishing works that might not find a home in more traditional publishing venues.[12]

Perceval Press is also the home of Viggo's many personal artistic projects in the area of fine arts, photography, poetry, song, and literature (see below).

Mortensen is also an author, with various books of poetry, photography, and painting published. His bibliography includes:

  • Ten Last Night — (1993), his first collection of poetry.
  • Recent Forgeries — (1998), ISBN, 5th Edition, documents Viggo's first solo exhibition and includes a CD with music and spoken-word poetry. Introduction by Dennis Hopper.
  • Errant Vine — (2000), limited edition booklet of an exhibit at the Robert Mann Gallery. Only about 300 were published at the time of the exhibition, so it is a very rare book.
  • Hole in the Sun — (2002, ISBN), color and black & white photographs of a back yard swimming pool.
  • SignLanguage — (2002 ISBN), a catalog from an exhibition of his works, combining photographs, paintings, and poetry into a multimedia diary of his time in New Zealand while filming The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Introduction by Kevin Power.
  • Coincidence of Memory — (2002, ISBN Third Edition. In this book, the artist combines photographs, paintings, and poems that cover his artistic output from 1978 to 2002.
  • Mo Te Upoko-o-te-ika/For Wellington — (2003), ISBN, a book to accompany the joint exhibitions at Massey University and the Wellington City Gallery during the premiere of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
  • 45301 — (2003), ISBN. Abstract images, fragments, and phrases from poems comprise this photography book. Many of the photographs were shot during travels to Morocco, Cuba, and the northern plains of the United States.
  • Un hueco en el sol — (2003), a small booklet published to accompany the exhibition "Un hueco en el sol" at the Fototeca de Cuba in Havana. In Spanish.
  • Miyelo — (2003), ISBN-X), a series of panoramic photographs of a Lakota Ghost Dance. It also tells about the events leading up to the massacre at Wounded Knee.
  • Nye Falsknerier - (2003). Paintings and poems translated into Danish from Ten Last Night, Recent Forgeries, Coincidence of Memory.
  • The Horse is Good — (2004), ISBN, a photography book, partly shot during his work on the film Hidalgo, about horses as partners, teachers, and fellow travelers. Images from Morocco, South Dakota, Montana, California, Iceland, New Zealand, Denmark, Brazil, and Argentina. This book reflects Mortensen's fondness for horses. In fact, he bought Uraeus—the horse who played Brego, Aragorn's steed (Roheryn in the books) in The Lord of the Rings movies—as well as TJ, one of the horses who played Hidalgo. He also purchased the stallion that played Arwen's horse, a grey Andalusian stallion named Florian, and gave it to the stunt woman, Jane Abbott, who rode the horse in place of Liv Tyler.
  • Linger - (2005). In this book, the artist combines black and white photographs and prose poems. Images from Spain (partly shot during his work on the film Alatriste), Morocco, Iceland, United States, Denmark…
  • I Forget You For Ever - (2006). Texts and photographs.
  • Skovbo - (2008). Collection of photographs, poems (in English, Spanish and Danish) and quotes. The book is dedicated to Howard Zinn and Dennis Kucinich. The book functions as a companion to the photo exhibit Skovbo at the Reykjavik Museum of Photography (2008).
  • Sådanset - (2008). A small booklet published to accompany the exhibition Sådanset (October 18 - November 16, 2008) at the Palæfløjen in Roskilde (Denmark).

Mortensen is a painter and photographer. His paintings are frequently abstract and often contain fragments of his poetry in them. His paintings have been featured in galleries worldwide, and the paintings of the artist he portrayed in A Perfect Murder are all his own.

Mortensen experiments with his poetry and music by mixing the two art forms. He has collaborated with guitarist Buckethead on several albums, mostly released on his own label (Perceval Press) or TDRS Music. Viggo was first introduced to Buckethead's work while working on sounds for an educational CD on Greek mythology. The finished product included a guitar part by Buckethead, which caught Viggo's ear and led him to initiate contact with the guitarist. The collaboration grew from there.[13]




Viggo's discography includes:

Mortensen is featured on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King soundtrack, singing "Aragorn's Coronation", the words by Tolkien and the music composed by Mortensen. In the extended DVD edition of the first Lord of the Rings movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, he sings the song "The Lay of Beren and Lúthien." His poems are written in English, Danish, and Spanish.


Mortensen has a son, Henry Mortensen, with ex-wife Exene Cervenka, singer in the punk band X. Henry and Viggo have done public father/son poetry readings together as recently as April 2006. Mortensen is fluent in English, Danish, and Spanish, and conversant in Norwegian. He also speaks French, Italian and Swedish reasonably well.

Mortensen is an ice hockey fan, particularly of the Montreal Canadiens. He wore a classic Canadiens logo t-shirt underneath his armour all through the filming of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.[14] He also loves soccer and is a fan of Argentine star Diego Maradona, Héctor "Bambino" Veira, and both the Argentine and Danish national teams as well as Argentine club San Lorenzo de Almagro.[15] In 1993, Mortensen went to Ireland during a break in shooting (without the consent of the production company) to watch Denmark play in a 1994 FIFA World Cup qualification match. He is also a fan of the New York Mets.

He has spoken out against militarism and U.S. foreign policy. In continuing with his opposition to the Bush administration's foreign policy, he participated in a series of fundraisers for the Congressional candidate from the Watertown, New York area, Bob Johnson, in September 2006. In January 2008, he publicly supported Dennis Kucinich for U.S. president, speaking alongside him in a number of public appearances. In Denmark, Mortensen is known for his support for the Freetown Christiania and criticism against the Danish participation in the Iraq war.

Mortensen has owned property near Sandpoint, Idaho, since the mid-1980s and spends time there when not filming movies.[16] more

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