Whether he is playing the king of Middle Earth, or one of the founders of modern psychoanalysis, Viggo Mortensen is always concerned with truth.
The actor was recently interviewed by The New York Times regarding his role as Sigmund Freud in A Dangerous Method (2011), but had a lot to say about his career and the life of actors in the industry.
Mortensen offered up his views about being a celebrity, and why he’s so critical: “I don’t have lots of friends in the business, and the ones I do have are probably more like me, in that they’re not the kind of people to go places just so they can be seen. I see people doing that stuff and to me, it seems pathetic and ridiculous and kind of . . . well, humiliating. Life’s too short.”
He’s not a fan of actors who take up roles in horrible Blockbuster films, saying that, “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.’” Mortensen has to connect to the character and the story, otherwise he doubts everything: “An agent will say, if you have the option, it’s good to do a big movie and then a little one. I understand that and within reason, I’ll try to, but 90 percent of the time, I’ll end up in low-budget movies that are difficult to finance and often won’t get distributed very well. I could have done one big-studio movie after another if the goal was to stay as visible as possible, to make as much money as possible. I guess, because of my temperament, I didn’t want to. I wouldn’t have been telling good stories. The challenge would have always been to try not to make a total ass of myself, even though I knew the story was really stupid.”
He is happy, though, that he was given the opportunity to take on a role with more lines, saying, “I haven’t been given the chance to play men who speak much. The parts that people — including David [Cronenberg] — normally give me are men of few words, people who express what they’re thinking or what they’re afraid of or what their goals are, physically. With Freud, it was all words.”
Mortensen finds the research for his roles particularly rewarding, even when he feels that the director has sabotaged the film: “It’s enjoyable and stimulating. I learn things. It’s particularly important to me, because I have had experiences where the shoot has been really annoying and unprofessional, and the director has made poor choices and the movie has not turned out well. But however it turns out, I always feel that I’ve got something out of it, because of the experiences I’ve had and the knowledge I’ve got from the preparation stage.”
On his early experiences as an actor, he did’nt exactly have it easy, saying that “ror a long time after I started out, I couldn’t get anything. I mean, I’d do a small play, or one scene in a TV thing — I’d get just enough encouragement to keep me going — but I wasn’t making a living at it.” Apparently sometimes his performances were cut out of a film altogether as he recalls, “I wasn’t told. Months go by, the movie comes out, I tell my parents — you know, my whole family. They go see it, and I’m not in it. The scene isn’t there. They think I’ve lost my mind. They’re like, ‘What are you really doing in Los Angeles?’”
Although the road was challenging, something kept him from giving up: “I guess I kept being curious. I was curious as to how movies were made. It wasn’t, like, I wanted to be famous or anything like that. I liked the idea of telling these stories, the make-believe aspect. I wanted to do it, to try it. I don’t know.”
Now that Mortensen is established, he doesn’t put up with crap from actors, or as he says, “Earlier in my career, I saw a lot of important actors and actresses splitting when they had done their close-ups. You’d say, ‘Where’s so and so?’ and they’d have gone home, so you’d end up doing your close-up with an assistant director. It makes your work harder and it also makes you feel disrespected… If someone comes up to me and says, ‘Do you mind if I go?’ I’ll look them right in the eye and say, ‘I don’t want you here, if you don’t want to do it.’ If they say, ‘Oh, fine, I’ll stay,’ I’ll be like: ‘No, go. You’ve told me who you are, get out of here.’ I’d rather do it without them. When someone does that to me, it’s like, Boom, I’m not working with you again… There’s no excuse for that behavior. You’re tired? Come on! The crew isn’t tired? The crew who got here two hours before you, and who’ll be here two hours after you leave and who are being paid, in many cases, one thousandth of what you’re being paid? Come on!
“I always thought treating people well was probably the most important thing, but now I’m convinced, life is too short to work with idiots — well, not idiots, but people who are rude and selfish.”