Happy Birthday, Viggo Mortensen!
The Lord of the Rings actor turns 62 on October 20
It’s hard to believe that Viggo Mortensen is 62 years old now, celebrating his birthday on October 20. Best known in his role of Aragorn in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, Viggo is loved by fans for his contribution to Tolkien’s Strider-turned-King-Elessar: a role he almost turned down if not for his son, Henry, who convinced him of the character’s importance. In the years after Aragorn, though, Viggo has not been idle, and there is far more to him than the average viewer may know.
Viggo was born in 1958 in Manhattan, New York to Danish father, also named Viggo Mortensen, and American mother, Grace Garber (Atkinson), who first met each other in Norway. According to IMDb, “They wed and moved to New York, where Viggo, Jr. was born, before moving to South America, where Viggo, Sr. managed chicken farms and ranches in Venezuela and Argentina.” Viggo spent much of his young life there in boarding school.
This lifestyle of living around the globe helped attribute his multilinguistic abilities. He speaks fluent Danish, English, French and Spanish, plus he’s conversational in Italian and Catalan, and understands Norwegian and Swedish. He’s filmed multiple movies in other languages, such as Everybody Has a Plan (2012) in Spanish, Juaja (2014) in Danish, and Far From Men (2014) in French. And those are just a few of many, many more.
Some of the more common films viewers may know him from include, 28 Days (2000) with Sandra Bullock, Hidalgo (2004), Appaloosa (2008), A Dangerous Method (2011), G.I. Jane (1997)—yes, that Master Chief, The Road (2009) from Cormac McCarthy's novel, The Indian Runner (1991), A Walk on the Moon (1999), and Green Book (2018), which won Best Picture at the Oscars last year. He’s even a detective on a Miami Vice episode, “Red Tape” season 3 episode 19 (1987).
In addition to being an accomplished international actor, Viggo is also a well-established poet, photographer, and musician, with numerous books of both photography and poems published, as well as several music records. In 2002, he founded Perceval Press, a small publishing house dedicated to contributing works of fine art, critical writing, and poetry by lesser known artists.
All of these elements naturally and subconsciously worked their way into Viggo’s genuine portrayal of Aragorn, a humble but noble figure who is well-versed, well-spoken, and well-talented and experienced. Viggo was so convincing as Aragorn while filming The Lord of the Rings that director Peter Jackson frequently called him by his character’s name on accident. Indeed, his incredible dedication to the character involved many commitments.
Swordsmanship, for instance, is one skill Viggo truly believed needed to be evident in the character. He demanded a real, steel sword for his scenes instead of a lighter prop. He trained constantly and stayed in character garb often to get the feel—he was reported to local authorities once and was found, half in Aragorn clothes, half in street clothes, carrying around his sword. Swords master Bob Anderson has said that Viggo was the greatest swordsman he ever trained. Indeed, stunt doubles for the enormous, meaty Uruk-hai were nervous filming fight scenes with Viggo because of how skilled and natural he was. That scene near the end of Fellowship where the Uruk Lutz hurls the knife at Aragorn? That was real. It was an accident and wasn’t planned, but Viggo didn’t bat an eye. Just expertly knocked it aside with his sword.
Other cast members commented on his wide-ranging skills being demonstrated in random, but somehow completely natural, ways. He is an accomplished equestrian, and did nearly all the crazy riding scenes (including ones in the film Hidalgo) by himself. The scene in The Two Towers where he kicks a helmet and screams was filmed in multiple takes because Peter Jackson really wanted him to show emotion in it. The last take was the best because Viggo broke his toe kicking the helmet and continued the scene, letting it give that yell a little extra umph.
Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins) spoke of how Viggo wanted them all to hike up to set in the mountains where they were filming by a lake instead of taking a helicopter, and that they pretty much all followed him in it without questioning. He said Viggo would disappear at night while they camped out on set, and would return in the morning with fresh fish and game that he’d then cook for them for breakfast. He was always running off to fish between takes, even if just for a few moments. But, as you'll see below, he ascribes it all to variety.
It’s certainly safe to say that the actor, though famously soft-spoken and quiet, is a man of vast potential and drive. He’s politically outspoken as an environmentalist and peace advocate, and much of his work outside of acting supports this. His latest project, a film entitled Falling (2020), was debuted at the Cannes Festival and is expected to be released soon.
I'll close with a note that I highly recommend this read by The New York Times from 2018 entitled, "Viggo Mortensen, the Unlikely Leading Man." Author Thessaly La Force sums up his ethereal appeal and quiet dignity:
He is Hollywood’s most appealing man probably because he is Hollywood’s least threatening man... He’s a regular guy — except he’s not. There’s something about Mortensen that is difficult to describe, because who he is, paradoxically, is almost entirely about what he isn’t. The empty charm and insecure braggadocio often present in his peers are unsettlingly, though wonderfully, absent in him. He is, in such a superficial medium, able to transmit the feeling of a soul.
To our regular guy (or not?), many happy returns on year 62. In the words of Gandalf as he crowns Aragorn in The Return of the King: "may they be blessed."