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Viggo Mortensen on Learning Another Language for Movies: “It will help [audiences] believe in the story if you do it correctly”

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Viggo Mortensen is a master of languages — and we’re not just talking about Elvish from his Lord of the Rings days. In his career Mortensen — who speaks English, Danish, French, Spanish, and Italian — has spoken many languages on film, but never as extensively as he did for Far From Men, a new film directed by David Oelhoffen. In the movie Mortensen plays former soldier Daru, who primairly speaks the Algerian dialect of French. Though Mortensen already is a French speaker he knew the French dialogue and had to rework it. On top of that, his character also speaks a bit of Arabic in the film. He spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the challenge of learning the languages for the film and how he chooses films these days.

On why he strives to accurately speak other languages on film, Mortensen says, “It’s one thing that’s got to be less distracting for the audience. It will help them believe in the story if you do it correctly. I always make an effort. It’s the same thing as making sure that the clothes I’m wearing are right for the character, the books he is reading that I know what the books are, the objects I handle. The language is one more part of this person. In this case it was, for Daru, it was important for him to speak a French with an accent that would be particular to this guy from this part of Algeria and an Arabic that was correct. I worked hard on that. The French took a little longer just to make sure it was right.”

As for why he’s done far less visible projects than Lord of the Rings and Eastern Promises in recent years, Mortensen says he just looks for films that he wants to see himself. He explains, “Well, I‘m not consciously doing that. I’m basically looking for stories — or I hope they find me — for something I’m interested in watching, that is a blueprint for a movie that I may wanna watch when it’s finished or, twenty years from now, that I won’t be embarrassed about being in.”

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