Friday, April 13, 2012

Actor Spotlight: Viggo Mortensen

A brief primer on why Mr. Mortensen is significantly cooler than you are:

  • He is fluent in at least three languages (English, Danish, Spanish), and is conversant in several others. His performance in the 2006 historical film Alatriste is one example of his mastery of the Spanish language.
  • He was married to Exene Cervenka, co-founder of the influential Los Angeles punk band X. This, in itself, places him in a fairly rarefied realm of coolness. To exceed that level of cool, you'd pretty much have to be Exene Cervenka.
  • He is a photographer, painter, musician, and published poet. (These are not vanity projects; his earliest book was published in 1993, long before his role in The Lord of the Rings made him a household name.)
  • He was in Young Guns II. If you don't think that's pretty cool, then you really need to watch Young Guns II. (You don't need to have seen the first Young Guns, and you don't need to care about Westerns.)
  • His brief performance as Lalin, a paraplegic ex-gangster, opposite Al Pacino in Carlito's Way evinced more genuine pathos than any other moment in the entire 144-minute film.
  • He played the role of Lucifer (yes, that Lucifer) in the 1995 film The Prophecy, and managed to not seem completely ridiculous in doing so. No small feat, if you think about it.
  • His performance in A History of Violence, the actor's first collaboration with director David Cronenberg. Mortensen convincingly plays his character as a small-town everyman, until the plot convinces you otherwise.
  • His performance in Eastern Promises, the actor's second collaboration with director David Cronenberg. Look for a false note in Mortensen's portrayal of compromised Russian gangster Nikolai Luzhin. You will not find one.
  • Along with Johnny Depp, he may be the only human being who can get away with curiously sculpted facial hair. (I am not advocating this.)
  • In A Dangerous Method, his most recent collaboration with Cronenberg, he played the towering historical figure Sigmund Freud. His take on the character was nuanced; calculating without seeming calculated; amusing, but without any trace of parody. (I'm legally required to point out that Mortensen's co-star in A Dangerous Method is the Media Corner favorite Michael Fassbender.)
  • He participated in the documentary film The People Speak, in which actors and musicians perform dramatic renditions of the words of every-day Americans. His reading of a letter written by the family of a man who died in the World Trade Center attacks is deeply moving.
  • His performance in The Road, an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's grim  post-apocalyptic novel. Mortensen powerfully portrays the unnamed father's relentless determination to protect and provide for his son.