Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Viggo-a-go-go: Inspired actor never rests

Earlier this year, Viggo Mortensen recorded a rock album with Guns ‘N Roses guitarist Buckethead titled Pandemoniumfromamerica. The record also features hobbits Elijah Wood and Billy Boyd. Mortensen himself recites poetry over spooky guitar soundscapes and the occasional tribal beat.

Although this may seem unusual by traditional Hollywood standards, for the restless star of “The Lord of the Rings” films, eclecticism is the status quo.

A few weeks ago Mortensen sat down with a panel of college reporters to discuss his new film, “Hidalgo.” After propping his stocking feet up on the coffee table in front of him, Mortensen leaned forward and listened carefully to a reporter, who asked which he preferred, painting or acting.

“I don’t separate them really. I mean they both have to do with the same impulse: to pay attention, to be an active participant in my own life.”

He continued, “As an actor I’m just part of shooting the movie. As far as I’m concerned it’s (done), but really it’s not finished because it’s raw material for the director,” he paused and considered what he had just said. “And that’s not to say it’s unsatisfying, I don’t know if it’s more satisfying, it’s just different when something happens that is collaborative. I could go on, but you guys better stop me.”

It’s this cornucopia that encapsulates Mortensen: an over-abundance that wildly spills into acting, painting, photography, music, poetry, publishing and even his loquacious personality.

Perceval, the small press Mortensen runs with a partner, puts out an eclectic mix of media, including some of Mortensen’s own work. Their Web site (percevalpress.com) offers a collection of photography by Mortensen entitled “Hole in the Sun,” which “documents and abstracts the urban backyard swimming pool as monument.”

His new film, “Hidalgo,” is an epic Disney adventure that, in Mortensen’s own words, “could have been directed by Howard Hawks, or something.” The film tells the story of the long distance endurance rider Frank Hopkins (Mortensen) and his horse Hidalgo and chronicles their travel to the Arabian Peninsula and their entry in a race held by a Bedouin Sheik.

“I liked the fact that is was a script … for a big-budget, Hollywood movie and in some ways, in terms of the structure and the way it might be told, an old-fashioned type of Hollywood movie.”

Although Mortensen does see the big picture, he is extremely detail-oriented. Props and costumes often command his attention.

“The sword in ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ even if I had gotten there a month before and had enough time to prepare, I still would have requested permission to hang on to it and keep it, to work with it, and get comfortable and really familiar with it,” Mortensen said. “If I hadn’t have had that sword and scabbard, I wouldn’t have been looking at them and asking questions. I started wondering what would (Aragorn) use to clean a rabbit or what would he use, you know, how would he clean his nails?”

He shifted his focus to “Hidalgo” and the cowboy hat he wore while filming the movie.

“The braided hatband is made of horsehair. The reddish-brown hair is off the tail of Hidalgo and the black hair is from a horse named Sundown. When I went up to Pine Ridge, SD, in preparation for the movie, to meet some people and go riding with them in the country that I was supposed to come from as the character, this one horse, Sundown, a black stallion, who had sired most of horses we were on, was along. Well, he stumbled and went down and it turned out he had a heart attack and he sort of took out this whole long fence …”

Mortensen paused thoughtfully.

“And he finally collapsed and died. And we were out, far away from anything, and the guy that was with us was a medicine man. He said a prayer and sang. And they stayed up most of the night telling stories about this horse, like it was a dead relative, like a wake. They told funny stories, funny things that he’d done, or that happened, or scary things. It was just like a person, the whole unburdening about this horse. They gave me a strand of his tail and I wove that into the hat.”

Towards the end of the interview, Mortensen wanted to let everyone ask one quick question. Someone leaned forward and asked for music recommendations.

Appropriately, Mortensen couldn’t pare down his thoughts. He got lost in a vast catalog of influences and interests. After remaining silent for a full 30 seconds, he looked at his watch and laughed.

“So much for keeping it quick.”

Weinberg sophomore Josh Malmuth is a writer for PLAY. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Viggo-a-go-go: Inspired actor never rests