Viggo Opens Up

Viggo Mortensen opens up about his role in Hildago—the GT exclusive

Q: The movie is emotional; quite a journey. How has this experience changed you? Or do you know how it changed you?

Viggo Mortensen: I really don’t know. I’m not sure if you ever know. I mean it reminded me of things that I value… and it made me think about finding some connection with different cultures, which I may disagree with, which I always felt was valuable but I didn’t consistently worry myself about it. I guess this made me more aware of it. The last two projects I’ve done in a row—The Lord of the Rings, and then this—I thought hard about that … community. The idea that it being worthwhile to make a conscious effort to figure out what you have in common. I’ve always been curious about other cultures and I think for different reasons, but the character of Aragorn makes that effort—they show a certain respect for those who seem different. With Aragorn, he’s been around the world a lot. He knows that elves and dwarves; that people are not as different as they seem. Hopkins hasn’t traveled around, but he is at least curious about it. If you’re curious about it, at least you are open to learning about it.

Any special training?

I rode a lot. I rode a lot… And [Learning] the Lakota language, which I worked hard on. The language, which I think is quite beautiful, was important, not just to speak a little bit, but to make it seem that the character was speaking that language as if he were speaking English.

How would you rank that with learning Elfish for Lord of the Rings—you already speak several different languages..

It helps if you know other languages, it gives you a little head start on adapting and getting your mouth around certain words and vowel sounds…

Was one harder than the other to pick up—Elvish or Lakota?

No. I think they are similar… similar languages. But there

There were five Hildagos?

There were five horse. Not every one of them was prepared every day. There was always an extra one in case something went wrong with the horse.  Just the traveling. You would go airplanes and trucks and more airplanes and trucks and then the Sierra dessert where there is all this dust and heat and dryness..  and all of a sudden you are on another bunch of trucks and airplanes… and then you’re in South Dakota. It was pretty hard…  The main horse TJ / the makeup artist Garrete would paint one or two… sometimes more so that this other horses would match TJ. It was kind of painstaking… Sometimes it would just be TJ, especially when they did the running… But you have to alternate the horses.. especially when they were filming some of the hard running sequences… you have to alternate to save the horse… big shots with a  lot of different cameras… you have to shoot a lot of angles and a lot of takes at different angles…There were scenes were you would have to do a take five to ten times, well you can’t really run a horse… a quarter mile as fast as you can… more than three times before you give it a rest…

You actually purchased TJ?


Have you ever purchases a horse before?

I bought the two horses I rode in LORD OF THE RINGS, even though I am not with him most of the time I developed a real friendship with him. Because he kind of came to the movie the same way I did… didn’t have that much preparation… was kind of thrown in… and it was rough on him and it rook a while for us to get in sync… and get comfortable… (YAWNS) … sorry my brain is a little mush today… Yeah.. so we got close and I wanted to stay in touch with him.. and you, know, by the end, he became a real ham. He was so good, relaxed and happy.  He had been a performing horse, but an equestrian competition horse… but he wasn’t used to some of things we had to do—some of the battles; the gear… we rode through it together and we became friends … that was that story and there was another horse name Kemmy that I rode through in beginning of Two Towers… again, it was a situation where I said, why don’t you just borrow that one… and I just put on saddle and rode him that day… I had no intention of buying a horse off this one, but with TJ, he  was… I don’t know… I just got to realty, really like him… I tink even I didn’t know him, as an audience member, I think I would feel that way… he has such a strong, unique personality…he’s perfect for the story. I mean, he’s a small horse but very intelligent and a quick learner and for a stallion very relaxed on the set… but he did uncanny things, and his reactions were consitently appropriate… whether it be jealousy, possessiveness.. being annoyed… his expressions were vivid–you can see it… and you ca see that’s not a MR. Ed.  Or a faked animal story… It’s a straight-ahead, old fashioned story… joe Johnson… reminds me of the old time directors.. use all the tools, tell the story, don’t show off. And that’s the way he captures TJ.. he lets the horse speak for himself,  as a horse, there’s not a lot of imposed traits we impose on him as humans. But he didn’t know… I didn’t know that TJ would be so into it…  For a stallion …. It was incredible what he did.

Couldn’t help but notice you put out an album with Buckethead.


I was kind of laughing because in Vanity Fair, they call him Japanese…

Yeah, he was like, you told them I was Japanese, I love that… that’s so ingenious—he loves Japanese culture. But I don’t remember saying that. I might have said that he had an underground following in Japan…

Curious as to how you hooked up with him.

He is very pure as a person and as a musician in my experience with him. That’s the reason I like working with him, but I think the reason he has a good time in the studio coming up with stuff is because I don’t try to make him fit into repeating anything he’s done… I don’t try to make him try to fit a certain mold.  Even from piece to piece we work on.. I don’t have  a set way that I do it so I allow him to do whatever he wants to do to a degree too. I mean we would never put anything out or call it a final mix of any kind unless he was completely happy with it..   He also feels safe to experiment or do whatever—mess up, although I don’t think he ever does mess up.  He’s so amazing, so it just makes him more fun…when he doesn’t feel like I am kind of sterring him …you know what I mean. I don’t try to make hium fit into a  style of a band. He can just be himself and be appreciated for being himself.   And I like working with him too, he inspires me and I feel like I can try different things too. I mean there’s a good back and forth and there’s a safe place to experiment and what comes out of that is some excellent stuff that hopefully peoiple will enjoy to a degree… we do. We’re working on something now that’s going to be longer—one long piece… He’s great. I am so glad that in my life, I got to know him … He;s one of the most original, genuine, and most sincere and most gifted people I’ve ever met in my life.

Did you seek him out?

What happened was… it was just sort of coincidence really… Dub Audio approached me and said would you consider writing a piece, we’re doing a recording for greek gods, and goddesses … and can you do one … and you can use whatever words you want to put to it… I said sure and so I made a recording  and then I added some sound—water sounds—and then I sent this rough mix to then. And then when I heard the final, I heard a guitar  that was really beautiful  and so I said, who’s that?   They said, it’s this guy, Buckethead. I can send you some of his stuff …

You also do poetry.

Yeah, spoken word.  Some recordings.

What do you love most about acting?

Well there are two things that go hand in hand a lot of the time..  A lot of times I don’t like  being in the movie business because there are a lot of—at least there can be—a  lot of frustration, and time and energy zapping; obligations that don’t leave you with energy for anything else, including a personal life some times. But what I do like and still like about it is the interaction  with others that tends to, if you are open to it especially—and even if you are not open to it, it happens sometimes—that tends to bring things out of you that you wouldn’t normally find in yourself on your own necessarily. You reach levels of expression that are surprising and ways of expressing yourself in reaction to others; in connection with others.  I like that.  The other thing is that you have the opportunity to learn a lot  of stuff; to see things that you wouldn’t. Just the act of constantly putting yourself in other peoples’ shoes.

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