Viggo Mortensen has had an interesting career in front of the camera. When The Lord of the Rings trilogy began entrancing audiences in 2001, Mortensen — as the films’ triumphing hero — seemed destined to become a Hollywood icon. His follow-up to the blockbuster series of films, Hidalgo, was another ambitious film, but it ultimately didn’t find massive success. Since then, the Danish-American actor has chosen to stay relatively under the radar, occasionally popping up for riveting performances in films like History of Violence, Eastern Promises, and The Road.
The accomplished actor is also a writer, painter, and photographer, and it’s obvious that he’s much more concerned with creating great art than selling out theaters with a multimillion dollar spectacle. Hence, it’s easy to understand his feelings when looking back on the trilogy that helped make him a star. Some LOTR fans may call Mortensen ungrateful, but he’s candidly gone on record to say, “I wouldn’t have gotten to do a lot of the things that I’ve done,” when referencing the effect Jackson’s epic films have had on his career. Just don’t expect him to bite his tongue when expressing his other thoughts on the epic series…
“It Was Very Sloppy”
In an interview with Telegraph earlier this year, Mortensen wasn’t afraid to speak his mind when it came to Peter Jackson’s love of computer generated effects over the humanized elements of cinema:
They were in a lot of trouble, and Peter had spent a lot. Officially, he could say that he was finished in December 2000 – he’d shot all three films in the trilogy – but really the second and third ones were a mess. It was very sloppy – it just wasn’t done at all. It needed massive reshoots, which we did, year after year. But he would have never been given the extra money to do those if the first one hadn’t been a huge success. The second and third ones would have been straight to video.
The Genie Was Out Of The Bottle
Mortensen also elaborated on Peter Jackson’s thought process in prioritizing effects over traditional and practical filmmaking:
I guess Peter became like Ridley Scott – this one-man industry now, with all these people depending on him,” Mortensen adds. “But you can make a choice, I think. I asked Ridley when I worked with him (on 1997’s GI Jane), ‘Why don’t you do another film like The Duellists [Scott’s 1977 debut, from a Joseph Conrad short story]?’ And Peter, I was sure he would do another intimately scaled film like Heavenly Creatures, maybe with this project about New Zealanders in the First World War he wanted to make. But then he did King Kong. And then he did The Lovely Bones – and I thought that would be his smaller movie. But the problem is, he did it on a $90 million budget. That should have been a $15 million movie. The special effects thing, the genie, was out of the bottle, and it has him. And he’s happy, I think…
If you expect Aragorn to go back on his words when speaking from the heart, then guess again. When Salon asked him if he would backtrack or retract his honest statements about the quality of the LOTR films, Mortensen was quick to respond:
No, no, I stand by it. If you’re referring to the Telegraph article …
If It Ain’t About The Money…
In reference to the struggle in Hollywood for actors and filmmakers to balance a good payday with a good film, Mortensen justified his choices in starring in the big-budget features:
And most of the time in this business, understandably, you’re trying to pay the rent and help your family or whatever, and think about your career, I suppose. So if you’ve been waiting a year or two years trying to get something made, and then someone comes along and says, “Well, this is financed, it’s got a green light, it’s going next month,” and it’s a good paycheck, then you make your excuses, you say to the person, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to take this.”
But, as it pertains to the lasting quality of Jackson’s follow-up films set in Middle Earth…
It doesn’t stay with you.
Prefers Things More Organic
Like a carefully worded politician, Viggo is conscious to not completely toss Jackson under both axels of the bus, but he still maintains that LOTR isn’t his cup of tea:
It turns out that I prefer things more organic, with fewer effects. But I didn’t exactly say that, it’s true I talked about my tastes, but I also repeated for the thousandth time the positive things about the trilogy. They are unfortunately not included in the article … The success of that Peter Jackson film opened numerous doors for me. The filming was also an extraordinary experience in New Zealand. So I’m repeating it again in this interview, in the hope that you won’t cut it out! (laughs)
Martin Freeman, the star of Peter Jackson’t follow-up trilogy of Tolkien films, went on record to Seven magazine to express his sentiments relating to Viggo’s understanding of practical narratives versus special effects-bolstered processes:
All I can say is: I hope that’s not the case. I know Peter and the team who make those films, they’d be horrified to think they’d jettisoned all subtlety. Yeah, there’s a lot of CGI, an awful lot of that business going on. But they are still very, very interested in the story. They want the human side of it to be absolutely pivotal. Beyond that?…Of course it’s a question of taste and I respect Viggo’s opinion.