HIDALGO - Q&A with VIGGO MORTENSEN
Movie Interview by S Felce
Everyone has associated Viggo Mortensen for the last three years as Aragorn in THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and HIDALGO is his first movie following their huge success. PHASE9 met Mortensen during his recent trip to London to find out about his new life after Aragorn and his close friendship to....ehm ...horses!
Rex Peterson (the horse handler and trainer) was full of praise for your horsemanship. Did you have to train a lot beforehand or did you just have to do training to top up what you already knew?
You can always learn more, but the amount of riding required for the story meant I had to work really hard. The advantage was that I used to ride as a boy and there was a lot of riding in THE LORD OF THE RINGS so I had recently become acquainted again with doing it. Also I have my affection for horses, the enjoyment of being around them. I think that the advantage for Rex was that I had the ability and the background to do a lot of the stunts that an actor wouldn't normally get to do. That meant that the director could film me as close as he wanted without having to cut away all the time. It's always nice when you like your job and your work mates, whether human or equines, and I had a good time on this movie with the horses I rode, especially with the horse named TJ.
What about riding bareback?
It is fun, I liked doing that when I was a boy and it helps your balance, but it is difficult! No matter how much training you've had and how much preparation you had, it is going to be difficult. That particular scene has a lot of cuts and we did that for days. There was no other way around to do it. But it was worthy at the end.
Talking about your fondness for TJ, you bought him at the end of shooting, and also you bought your horse in THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Is buying your co-stars becoming a habit?
The humans haven't gone for that - there's no amount of money that would make them want to hang around with me after work! With TJ it was just a way to continue the friendship and I am glad that Rex said yes!
Frank T Hopkins was a real character but not much is really known about him. How much balance is there between the man and the myth and how much myth was there in the film?
I'm happy to go with 100% myth. It's a good story and beyond being a movie story that harks back to classic Hollywood adventures stories. The fact is that it is about a person and a horse that existed and about true events as he really did race. It is a story that has been told through oral tradition from generations to generations.
Saudi Arabia and Morocco must have been quite inspiring for you as you're known to be a photographer, a poet and painter. Did you get much chance to do anything creative on set?
I wrote quite a bit and I took a fair amount of pictures, some of which I have shown, some of which have been published but there wasn't much time to paint. I was either sleeping or sitting on a horse, but I had those saddlebags, and I had a couple of cameras hidden in there. I took some pictures from the horse's point of view, close to his head. Some people will take a nap or read a book. For me, if I take a nap in the middle of day I will be very useless for the rest of the day! It's a way to change gears for a bit, just take some pictures around, and when you go back to work you feel rested somehow.
This film raises a lot of issues, such as racial issues or freedom of animals. Which one is the one closest to your heart?
I personally think that the story was told quite straight forward. The way you can tell a story on a film is through the editing, the music and the camera. I think it's nice that HIDALGO told its story without messing about. Every element is used to serve the story. People can walk out of a movie like this entertained, but at the same thinking that it was also interesting and they learnt something they didn't know before.
There has being some criticism about the film, especially about the way it raised these issues. Did the criticism of the film surprise you?
No, you're never going to please everybody. You will never will. But I have had Muslim and Native American journalists who saw the movie that told me that they went to see the movie reluctantly and were pleasantly surprised as they very expecting something more simplistic or insulting of their culture. It's not a documentary, it's an adventure story. Nevertheless, it clearly makes an effort in respecting different cultures and languages.
You have been associated with one role for the past three years and....
Which one? (Laughs)
How much of a relief was it to play a totally different character in a different country?
Well, it was a different story but it wasn't as neat as it might look. I got the part of Frank Hopkins after and thanks to the success of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING and before THE TWO TOWERS came out. Even during rehearsals when I was getting to know TJ and meeting the Lakota people and learning to speak the language, I was also having to go to New Zealand and do re-shoots. During the shoot there were several times, even in the middle of the Sahara desert, when I'd have to go up on a hill or a sand dune and get cell phone reception and do interviews for THE LORD OF THE RINGS. So it was never one thing and then another, I haven't had a chance to stop and think. It was something that I was grateful it came to me, a story with a lot of potentials. I knew it would have been tricky to schedule it but I think it was worthwhile!