Viggo Mortensen is surprised at how many fans he has in Japan. “They turn up at my movie premieres, photo exhibitions and poetry readings all over the world, even in places as faraway as Iceland. It makes me so happy,” said the 50-year-old star during a visit to Japan this month to promote his new film, “Alatriste.”
Born in New York to a Danish father and American mother, Mortensen spent much of his childhood living in Venezuela and Argentina. Completing his education in the U.S., Mortensen started writing poetry and short stories and took acting classes before making his movie debut in “Witness” (1985). Among his other film credits are “The Indian Runner,” “Carlito’s Way,” “Crimson Tide,” “G.I. Jane,” “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promise.”
“Alatriste” proved to be Mortensen’s biggest challenge to date because it is all in Spanish. Based on five of Arturo Perez-Reverte’s novels, “Alatriste” tells the story of soldier-turned-mercenary Capt Alatriste, a heroic figure from the country’s 17th century imperial wars. It covers 20 years of his life, from the wars in Flanders in 1623 to those against France in 1643, when Spain, under King Philip IV, fell from its position as the world's dominating superpower.
“The golden age of Spain has never really been told by Spanish filmmakers before,” said Mortensen. “There have been countless books and some Hollywood and English productions, told from their point of view and self-promotion. The Spanish have never been big on promoting themselves after their empire. So everybody in Spain had high expectations for the film. I thought they’d be out for my scalp. But I’m certain this movie will grow as a classic film from Spanish cinema.”
Mortensen said he felt comfortable making a movie in Spanish. “Sometimes, I can express my feelings and access my emotions much better in Spanish than I can in English,” he said. “The challenge was not the Spanish dialogue. Having been raised in South America, I’m fluent in Spanish. The challenge was to learn the different dialect of another time and place. I was never familiar with words and phrases from the 17th century. It was an interesting anthropological project.”
Mortensen thinks “Alatriste” will appeal to Japanese audiences because of its similarity to Japan’s samurai era. “There are many parallels to Japan, including (legendary swordsman) Miyamoto Musashi and his code of ethics,” he said. “The themes of friendship and pride are universal.”
Next up for the actor will be a stint in the Spanish theater. “It’s been 20 years since I last did stage work. There’s no take 2, no escape. You either remember your lines or you don’t. It’ll be a good challenge.”© Japan Today