Mortensen at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival
Viggo Peter Mortensen Jr.
October 20, 1958
|Alma mater||St. Lawrence University|
|Height||1.8m (5ft 11in)|
(m. 1987; div. 1998)
Viggo Peter Mortensen Jr. (/
Mortensen made his film debut in a small role in Peter Weir's 1985 thriller Witness starring Harrison Ford and has appeared in several notable films since, including The Indian Runner (1991), Carlito's Way (1993), Crimson Tide (1995), Daylight (1996), The Portrait of a Lady (1996), G.I. Jane (1997), Psycho (1998), A Perfect Murder (1998), A Walk on the Moon (1999), and 28 Days (2000).
Mortensen received international attention in the early 2000s with his role as Aragorn in the epic film trilogy The Lord of the Rings. In 2005, Mortensen won critical acclaim for David Cronenberg's crime thriller A History of Violence. Two years later, another Cronenberg film, Eastern Promises (2007), earned him further critical acclaim and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor. A third teaming with Cronenberg in A Dangerous Method (2011) resulted in a nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture. Other well-received films include Appaloosa (2008) and Far from Men (2014). Further Academy Award nominations came for his leading roles in Captain Fantastic (2016) and Green Book (2018).
Aside from acting, Mortensen's other artistic pursuits include fine arts, photography, poetry, and music. In 2002, he founded the Perceval Press to publish the works of little-known artists and authors.
Mortensen was born the first of three boys in New York City on October 20, 1958, the son of Grace Gamble (née Atkinson; July 8, 1928 – April 25, 2015) and Viggo Peter Mortensen Sr. (May 8, 1929 – March 2, 2017). His mother was American, while his father was Danish; they met in Norway. His maternal grandfather was a Canadian from Nova Scotia. The family moved to Venezuela, then Denmark, and eventually settled in Argentina in the provinces of Córdoba, Chaco, and Buenos Aires, where Mortensen attended primary school and acquired a fluent proficiency in Spanish while his father managed poultry farms and ranches. He was baptized Lutheran.
When Mortensen was 11 and his brothers 8 and 6, their parents divorced and they and their mother returned to New York, where Viggo spent the rest of his childhood, graduating from Watertown High School in Watertown in 1976. He then attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, earning a bachelor's degree in Spanish Studies and Politics in 1980. Upon graduating, he lived in England and Spain, then moved back to Denmark, where he took various jobs such as driving trucks in Esbjerg and selling flowers in Copenhagen. He eventually returned to the United States to pursue an acting career.
Mortensen's first film role was in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), but his scenes were deleted from the final cut. His first onscreen appearance was playing an Amish farmer in Peter Weir's Witness. He was cast in Witness because the director thought he had the right face for the part of an Amish man. He had also been simultaneously cast for another role as a soldier in Shakespeare in the Park's production of Henry V, but he decided to turn down that one for the film because he wanted to try something new. He credited that decision and the very positive experience on the film as the start of his film career. Also in 1985, he was cast in the role of Bragg on Search for Tomorrow. Mortensen's 1987 performance in Bent at the Coast Playhouse, Los Angeles, won him a Dramalogue Critics' Award. Coincidentally, the play, about homosexual concentration camp prisoners, was originally brought to prominence by Ian McKellen, with whom Mortensen later costarred in The Lord of the Rings. In 1987, Mortensen guest starred as a police detective on the hit series Miami Vice.
During the 1990s, Mortensen appeared in supporting roles in a variety of films, including Jane Campion's The Portrait of a Lady, Young Guns II, Prison, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, Sean Penn's The Indian Runner, Danny Cannon's The Young Americans, Carl Colpaert's The Crew, which won the São Paulo Film Festival Audience Award, Brian de Palma's Carlito's Way, Crimson Tide, G.I. Jane, Daylight, A Walk on the Moon, American Yakuza, Charles Robert Carner's remake Vanishing Point, Philip Ridley's films The Reflecting Skin and The Passion of Darkly Noon, the remake films A Perfect Murder and Gus Van Sant's Psycho (the 1998 remakes of two Alfred Hitchcock's movies Dial M for Murder and Psycho), 28 Days, and The Prophecy, with Christopher Walken. Of these roles, Mortensen was probably best known for playing Master Chief John Urgayle in G.I. Jane.
Another major mainstream breakthrough came in 1999, when Peter Jackson cast him as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. According to the Special Extended Edition DVD of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Mortensen was a last-minute replacement for Stuart Townsend, and would not have taken the part of Aragorn had it not been for his son's enthusiasm for the J. R. R. Tolkien novel. In The Two Towers DVD extras, the film's swordmaster, Bob Anderson, described Mortensen as "the best swordsman I've ever trained." Mortensen often performed his own stunts, and even the injuries he sustained during several of them did not dampen his enthusiasm. At one point during shooting of The Two Towers, Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, and Brett Beattie (scale double for John Rhys-Davies) all had painful injuries, and during a shoot of them, running in the mountains, Peter Jackson jokingly referred to the three as "the walking wounded." Also, according to the Special Extended Edition DVD of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Mortensen purchased the two horses, Uraeus and Kenny, whom he rode and bonded with over the duration of the films. He received critical acclaim for his portrayal of Aragorn, and was ranked No. 15 on a 2015 survey of "The 100 Greatest Movie Characters" conducted by Empire.
In 2005, Mortensen starred in David Cronenberg's movie A History of Violence as a family man revealed to have had an unsavory previous career. He was nominated for a Satellite Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture for this role. In the DVD extras for A History of Violence, Cronenberg related that Mortensen is the only actor he had come across who would come back from weekends with his family with items he had bought to use as props on the set.
In 2006, he starred as Captain Diego Alatriste in the Spanish language film Alatriste, based on the series of novels The Adventures of Captain Alatriste, written by the Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte.
In September 2007, the film Eastern Promises, directed by David Cronenberg, was released to critical acclaim for the film itself and for Mortensen's performance as a Russian gangster on the rise in London. His nude fight scene in a steam room was applauded by Roger Ebert: "Years from now, it will be referred to as a benchmark." Mortensen's performance in Eastern Promises resulted in his winning the Best Performance by an Actor in a British Independent Film award from the British Independent Film Awards. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.
In 2009, Mortensen appeared as himself in the film Reclaiming The Blade, in which he discussed his passion for the sword and his sword-work in films such as The Lord of the Rings and Alatriste. Mortensen also talked about his work with Bob Anderson, the swordmaster on The Lord of the Rings, Alatriste, Pirates of the Caribbean and many others.
In 2009, Mortensen performed in The People Speak, a documentary feature film that uses dramatic and musical performances of the letters, diaries, and speeches of everyday Americans, based on historian Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.
While it was reported in April 2009 that Mortensen had, at least temporarily, retired from film acting, Mortensen said he was misquoted. In a 2012 interview, he denied that he ever said he was retiring, only that he didn't have "plans to do another movie" at the time and that he was "taking a little break now. I don't have anything lined up."
With part of his earnings from The Lord of the Rings, Mortensen founded the Perceval Press publishing house—named after the knight from the legend of King Arthur—to help other artists by publishing works that might not find a home in more traditional publishing venues.
Perceval Press is also the home of Mortensen's many personal artistic projects in the area of fine arts, photography, poetry, song, and literature (see below).
Mortensen is also an author, with various books of poetry, photography, and painting published. With anthropologists Federico Bossert and Diego Villar, he has written several works related to ethnography of natives in South America, specifically in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Some of the published books co-authored by Mortensen are Sons of the Forest and Skovbo. Mortensen's bibliography includes:
- Ten Last Night – (1993), his first collection of poetry.
- Recent Forgeries – (1998), ISBN, 5th Edition, documents Viggo's first solo exhibition and includes a CD with music and spoken-word poetry. Introduction by Dennis Hopper.
- Errant Vine – (2000), limited edition booklet of an exhibit at the Robert Mann Gallery.
- Hole in the Sun – (2002, ISBN), color and black & white photographs of a back yard swimming pool.
- SignLanguage – (2002 ISBN), a catalog from an exhibition of his works, combining photographs, paintings, and poetry into a multimedia diary of his time in New Zealand while filming The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Introduction by Kevin Power.
- Coincidence of Memory – (2002, ISBN) Third Edition. In this book, the artist combines photographs, paintings, and poems that cover his artistic output from 1978 to 2002.
- Mo Te Upoko-o-te-ika/For Wellington – (2003), ISBN, a book to accompany the joint exhibitions at Massey University and the Wellington City Gallery during the premiere of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
- 45301 – (2003), ISBN. Abstract images, fragments, and phrases from poems comprise this photography book. Many of the photographs were shot during travels to Morocco, Cuba, and the northern plains of the United States.
- Un hueco en el sol – (2003), a small booklet published to accompany the exhibition "Un hueco en el sol" at the Fototeca de Cuba in Havana. In Spanish.
- Miyelo – (2003), a series of panoramic photographs of a Lakota Ghost Dance. It also tells about the events leading up to the massacre at Wounded Knee.
- Nye Falsknerier – (2003). Paintings and poems translated into Danish from Ten Last Night, Recent Forgeries, Coincidence of Memory.
- The Horse is Good – (2004), ISBN, a photography book, partly shot during his work on the film Hidalgo, about horses as partners, teachers, and fellow travelers. Images from Morocco, South Dakota, Montana, California, Iceland, New Zealand, Denmark, Brazil, and Argentina. This book reflects Mortensen's fondness for horses. In fact, he bought Uraeus—the horse who played Brego, Aragorn's steed (Roheryn in the books) in The Lord of the Rings movies—as well as TJ, one of the horses who played Hidalgo. He also purchased the stallion that played Arwen's horse, a grey Andalusian stallion named Florian, and gave it to the stunt woman, Jane Abbott, who rode the horse in place of Liv Tyler.
- Linger – (2005). In this book, the artist combines black and white photographs and prose poems. Images from Spain (partly shot during his work on the film Alatriste), Morocco, Iceland, United States, Denmark ...
- I Forget You For Ever – (2006). Texts and photographs.
- Skovbo – (2008). Collection of photographs, poems (in English, Spanish and Danish) and quotes.
- Sådanset – (2008). A small booklet published to accompany the exhibition Sådanset (October 18 – November 16, 2008) at the Palæfløjen in Roskilde (Denmark).
- Canciones de Invierno – Winter Songs – (2010). Collection of photographs and poems. Bilingual : in Spanish and English. It includes new texts (most of the poems and all the translations) and revised versions of texts previously published. They're accompanied by pictures of landscapes taken during the previous two winters.
- That Turned Ugly Fast - (2015), ISBN, Poems by Mark Berriman, with a foreword by Viggo Mortensen.
- Ramas Para Un Nido - (2017). Collection of photos comprising a "distillation of isolated instances".
Visual arts and discography
Mortensen is a painter and photographer. His paintings are frequently abstract and often contain fragments of his poetry therein. His paintings have been featured in galleries worldwide, and many of the paintings of the artist he portrayed in A Perfect Murder are his own.
Mortensen experiments with his poetry and music by mixing the two art forms. He has collaborated with guitarist Buckethead on several albums, mostly released on his own label (Perceval Press) or TDRS Music. Viggo was first introduced to Buckethead's work while working on sounds for an educational CD on Greek mythology. The finished product included a guitar part by Buckethead, which caught Viggo's ear and led him to initiate contact with the guitarist. The collaboration grew from there.
Mortensen's discography includes:
- 1994: Don't Tell Me What to Do
- 1997: One Less Thing to Worry About
- 1998: Recent Forgeries
- 1999: The Other Parade
- 1999: One Man's Meat
- 1999: Live at Beyond Baroque
- 2003: Pandemoniumfromamerica
- 2004: Live At Beyond Baroque II
- 2004: Please Tomorrow
- 2004: This, That, and The Other
- 2005: Intelligence Failure
- 2006: 3 Fools 4 April
- 2007: Time Waits for Everyone
- 2008: At All
- 2010: Canciones de Invierno
- 2011: Reunion
- 2013: Acá
Mortensen is featured on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King soundtrack, singing "Aragorn's Coronation" (the name of the extended version of this song in the 3rd original sound track is "The Return of the King"), the words by Tolkien and the music composed by Mortensen. In the extended DVD edition of the first Lord of the Rings movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, he sings the song "The Lay of Beren and Lúthien". His poems are written in English, Danish, and Spanish.
Awards and honors
On October 13, 2006, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Province and the City of León, Spain.
As of 2019, he has received three Academy Award nominations.
Mortensen holds dual American and Danish citizenship. He speaks fluent Danish, English, French and Spanish; he is also conversational in Italian, and understands Norwegian and Swedish. He has stated that he was raised speaking English and Spanish, and sometimes feels more comfortable expressing himself in Spanish. He also has some knowledge of Catalan; twice, when receiving a prize in Catalonia, he made a short speech in Catalan.
Mortensen met actress and singer Exene Cervenka in 1986 on the set of the comedy Salvation! The couple married on July 8, 1987. On January 28, 1988, Cervenka gave birth to a son named Henry Blake Mortensen. Mortensen and Cervenka lived in Idaho for three years. They separated in 1992 and divorced in 1997. Since 2009, he has been in a relationship with Spanish actress Ariadna Gil and currently lives in Spain with her.
Mortensen has expressed a liking for association football, ice hockey and baseball. His favorite teams include Argentine club San Lorenzo de Almagro, English team Fulham FC, Spanish team Real Madrid, Turkish side Beşiktaş, and both the Argentine and Danish national teams. His favorite soccer players are Diego Maradona and Héctor "Bambino" Veira. He is a fan of the Montreal Canadiens and wore a Canadiens shirt underneath his costume throughout the filming of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. During the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Montreal Canadiens, Mortensen introduced one of his idols, Guy Lafleur, to the crowd at the Bell Centre in Montreal. He is also a fan of the New York Mets and, in an interview promoting 2009 film The Road, was seen wearing apparel indicating his support of the Australian Football League's Collingwood Magpies. While appearing on the Late Show with David Letterman, he held a sign supporting the New York Giants.
Mortensen was a good friend of Icelandic painter Georg Guðni Hauksson until the latter's death in 2011. He had long been an admirer of Georg Guðni's work as a landscape artist, and the two published books together as well as maintaining a close friendship. He was one of the signees of the "Toronto Declaration" protesting against spotlighting Tel-Aviv at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009. Mortensen has owned property in Sandpoint, Idaho, and spends time there when not filming movies.
Mortensen first endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders for President in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. When Sanders lost the nomination, he endorsed Green Party candidate Jill Stein. He wrote an open letter just before Election Day 2016 where he listed the reasons he disagreed with Hillary Clinton and could not support her in the race against Donald Trump, though he also thought that Clinton would be elected president in the end. He went on to narrate a viral documentary, The Revolution Televised, about the 2016 presidential election and the protests in the aftermath of the Democratic National Convention.
Awards and nominations
- Stone, Andrew; Carolyn Bain; Michael Booth; Fran Parnell (2008). "Cinema". Lonely Planet Denmark. Lonely Planet. p. 46. ISBN 978-1-741-04669-4.
Although [Mortensen] was born in New York and has lived outside of Denmark for most of his life, he retains Danish citizenship.
- " Flawed father role a test for Viggo Mortensen". Toronto Star, Michael O'Sullivan, July 16, 2016.
- Viggo Mortensen gets nude for 'Eastern Promises' fight scene | HamptonRoads.com | PilotOnline.com Archived October 12, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
- "St. Lawrence University: Commencement". Stlawu.edu. May 21, 2006. Archived from the original on February 13, 2011. Retrieved February 23, 2011.
- "Film: Viggo Mortensen magret seg ned 15 kilo for drømmerollen VG Nett". Vg.no. May 20, 2009. Retrieved May 9, 2010.
- Pearlman, Cindy (September 9, 2007). "Superstar Viggo's a serious soul at heart". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on September 12, 2007. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
- "How Viggo Mortensen Got Inside Sigmund Freud's Head". The Wallstreet Journal. 2011. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
- Doyle, Macreena A. (2003). "Viggo Mortensen '80 REMEMBERS". St. Lawrence Magazine. St. Lawrence University. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved October 2, 2012.
- DePaulo, Lisa. "Why Viggo Mortensen Is Off the Grid". Esquire. Retrieved June 6, 2016.
- Brooks, Xan (April 17, 2009). "The happy trails of Viggo Mortensen". The Guardian. Retrieved October 15, 2014.
- Lane, Harriet (February 22, 2008). "My mother is very happy about it". The Guardian. Retrieved October 15, 2014.
- "Viggo Mortensen". denmark.dk. Retrieved March 28, 2016.
- Keith Clark and Jon Mefford (2005). "Between Two Worlds: The Making of Witness". Witness (DVD). Paramount Pictures. OCLC 949729643.
- Applebaum, Stephen (December 5, 2002). "Mortensen's battle scars". BBC News.
- "The 100 Greatest Movie Characters". Empire, June 29, 2015
- "Eastern Promises". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved December 22, 2007.
- "British Independent Film Awards 2007 nominations". British Independent Film Awards. Archived from the original on December 26, 2007. Retrieved January 24, 2008.
- "80th Academy Awards". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on January 23, 2008. Retrieved January 22, 2008.
- "Rigorous Promotions Have Viggo Mortensen Considering Retirement". starpulse.com. April 6, 2009.
- Gilsdorf, Ethan (March 10, 2012). "Viggo Mortensen Speaks: Part 1 of 3". Wired.
- Shoard, Catherine (August 6, 2010). "Viggo Mortensen to star in Walter Salles's On the Road". The Guardian. London. Retrieved March 8, 2011.
- Lodderhose, Diana (April 22, 2010). "UPI to distribute new Cronenberg pic". Variety. Retrieved February 20, 2011.
- "Viggo Mortensen vuelve al teatro con Carme Elias en una obra sobre la capacidad de perdón (in Spanish)". El País. Retrieved November 23, 2011.
- "Little press shines with star power". Los Angeles Times. March 3, 2004. Retrieved May 9, 2010.
- Viggo editará la obra de Branislava Susnik. ABC Color (Paraguay)
- "Viggo & Buckethead", March 5, 2004, IGN Music". Archived from the original on July 24, 2008. Retrieved August 11, 2008.
- "Viggo Mortensen Tells Grads 'Activism Not A Dirty Word'". Newswise. May 21, 2006.
- Bysted A/S. "Kongehuset - Forside". Kongehuset.dk. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
- "Oscar Nominations 2017: Viggo Mortensen on 'Captain Fantastic' Nod". ABC News. January 24, 2017. Retrieved January 24, 2017.
- "10 Questions for Viggo Mortensen". Time. December 17, 2008.
- Trucks, Rob (May 20, 2008). "Interview: Exene Cervenka of X". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on February 3, 2014. Retrieved February 2, 2014.
- Heller, Zoe (December 2, 2011). "Viggo Talks and Talks". The New York Times. Retrieved February 2, 2014.
- Interview with Clarín (in Spanish)
- "Hollywood'da doğdu Beşiktaşlı oldu - Hürriyet Magazin Hattı". Hürriyet. Retrieved November 12, 2012.
- "Hockey is my religion, the Canadiens are my god." The Globe and Mail. January 23, 2009
- "Guy Lafleur présenté par Viggo Mortensen". YouTube. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
- "Best of ABC Online". ABC News.
- DV ehf. "Viggo Mortensen kveður Georg Guðna". DV.is. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
- "A Visit with Viggo." Sandpoint Magazine. Winter 2004 Edition.
- Norton, Ben (November 6, 2015). "'That's tyranny': Viggo Mortensen blasts U.S. militarism, criticises both parties for 'hawkish' foreign policy". Salon. Retrieved November 10, 2015.
- "Viggo Mortensen Goes Green: 'I Trust Hillary About as Much as I Trust Donald Trump'". The Daily Beast. July 16, 2016. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
- Ronca, Kevin. "The Revolution Televised: Episode 1 - The Awakening of a Generation". YouTube. YouTube. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- Mortensen, Viggo (May 7, 2019). "Vox's political and media blunder (letter to the editor)". El País.
- McNary, Dave (October 15, 2018). "Viggo Mortensen to Star, Make Directorial Debut in Family Drama 'Falling'". Variety.
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