Mortensen at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival
Viggo Peter Mortensen Jr.
October 20, 1958
|Alma mater||St. Lawrence University|
(m. 1987; div. 1998)
Viggo Peter Mortensen Jr. (/ /; Danish: [viːko ˈmɒːtn̩sn̩]; born October 20, 1958) is a Danish-American actor, author, musician, photographer, poet, and painter. Born in New York to a Danish father and American mother, he was a resident of Venezuela and Argentina during his childhood. He is the recipient of various accolades including a Screen Actors Guild Award and has been nominated for three Academy Awards, three BAFTA Awards, and four Golden Globe Awards.
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 fantasy adventure trilogy The Lord of the Rings (2001–2003). 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 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. One of his grandmothers was from Trondheim, Norway 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:
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:
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.
On October 13, 2006, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Province and the City of León, Spain.
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.
|1985||Witness||Moses Hochleitner||Peter Weir|
|1987||Miami Vice||Eddie||Gabrielle Beaumont||Episode: "Red Tape"|
|Salvation!||Jerome Stample||Beth B|
|Prison||Burke / Forsythe Electrocution||Renny Harlin|
|1988||Fresh Horses||Green||David Anspaugh|
|Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III||Edward "Tex" Sawyer||Jeff Burr|
|Young Guns II||John W. Poe||Geoff Murphy|
|The Reflecting Skin||Cameron Dove||Philip Ridley|
|1991||The Indian Runner||Frank Roberts||Sean Penn|
|1993||Boiling Point||Ronnie||James B. Harris|
|Ruby Cairo||John E. "Johnny" Faro||Graeme Clifford|
|Carlito's Way||Lalin||Brian De Palma|
|The Young Americans||Carl Frazer||Danny Cannon|
|1994||The Crew||Phillip||Carl Colpaert|
|Floundering||Homeless Man||Peter McCarthy|
|Gospel According to Harry||Wes||Lech Majewski|
|American Yakuza||Nick Davis/David Brandt||Frank A. Cappello|
|1995||Gimlet||Hombre||José Luis Acosta|
|Crimson Tide||Lieutenant Peter "Weps" Ince||Tony Scott|
|The Passion of Darkly Noon||Clay||Philip Ridley|
|Black Velvet Pantsuit||Junkie||William Butler|
|The Prophecy||Lucifer||Gregory Widen|
|1996||Albino Alligator||Guy Foucard||Kevin Spacey|
|Daylight||Roy Nord||Rob Cohen|
|The Portrait of a Lady||Caspar Goodwood||Jane Campion|
|1997||Vanishing Point||Jimmy Kowalski||Charles Robert Carner|
|G.I. Jane||Master Chief John James "Jack" Urgayle||Ridley Scott|
|My Brother's Gun||Juanito||Ray Loriga|
|1998||A Perfect Murder||David Shaw||Andrew Davis|
|Psycho||Samuel "Sam" Loomis||Gus Van Sant|
|1999||A Walk on the Moon||Walker Jerome||Tony Goldwyn|
|2000||28 Days||Eddie Boone||Betty Thomas|
|2001||The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring||Aragorn||Peter Jackson|
|2002||The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers|
|2003||The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King|
|2004||Hidalgo||Frank Hopkins||Joe Johnston|
|2005||A History of Violence||Tom Stall / Joey Cusack||David Cronenberg|
|2006||Alatriste||Diego Alatriste y Tenorio||Agustín Díaz Yanes|
|2007||Eastern Promises||Nikolai Luzhin||David Cronenberg||Oscar Nominated – Best Actor|
|2008||Appaloosa||Everett Hitch||Ed Harris|
|Good||John Halder||Vicente Amorim|
|2009||The Road||The Man||John Hillcoat|
|2011||A Dangerous Method||Sigmund Freud||David Cronenberg|
|2012||On the Road||Old Bull Lee||Walter Salles|
|Everybody Has a Plan||Agustín / Pedro||Ana Piterbarg||Also producer|
|2014||The Two Faces of January||Chester MacFarland||Hossein Amini|
|Jauja||Gunnar Dinesen||Lisandro Alonso||Also producer and composer|
|Far from Men||Daru||David Oelhoffen||Also co-producer|
|2016||The Revolution Televised||Narrator||Kevin Ronca|
|2016||Captain Fantastic||Ben Cash||Matt Ross||Oscar Nominated – Best Actor|
|2018||Green Book||Tony Lip||Peter Farrelly||Oscar Nominated – Best Actor|
|2020||Falling||John Petersen||Himself||Also writer and producer |
Although [Mortensen] was born in New York and has lived outside of Denmark for most of his life, he retains Danish citizenship.
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