The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - FIONA PUR­DON

Viggo Mortensen, star of mega-bud­get movie fran­chise Lord of the Rings, has one of the world’s most fa­mous faces, yet the Dan­ish-Amer­i­can ac­tor has a tal­ent for go­ing un­der­cover so that he is rarely no­ticed when re­search­ing a role.

His latest film, Far From Men, is no dif­fer­ent. Mortensen, 56, was able to move around Al­ge­ria’s desert towns and coastal mar­ket­places with­out be­ing recog­nised, soak­ing up the lo­cal cul­ture and the ways of the peo­ple in his prepa­ra­tion to play a French school­teacher.

“No­body recog­nised me walk­ing around,’’ he says. “If you are not trav­el­ling with a whole bunch of friends or body­guards, then you are sim­ply a per­son walk­ing around mar­kets and trav­el­ling around small towns.

“You will not get no­ticed. It’s a fun way to learn and re­tain in­for­ma­tion. And I like trav­el­ling and learn­ing about other cul­tures.’’

In Far From Men, Mortensen’s char­ac­ter Daru is sym­pa­thetic to the plight of the Al­ge­rian peo­ple as civil upris­ing be­gins in the mid1950s.

The film is partly based on the short story, The Guest, by Al­ge­rian-French clas­si­cist Al­bert Ca­mus.

Daru’s de­scrip­tions of Al­ge­ria piqued Mortensen’s cu­rios­ity, lead­ing the ac­tor on his own per­sonal jour­ney so he could give a fully com­mit­ted per­for­mance.

“So when Daru men­tions (in the film) where he got mar­ried, I have been to that place,’’ Mortensen says.

“It’s more in­ter­est­ing for me be­cause I have a con­crete vi­sion for what the places look like. When Daru talks about the sea breeze, I have been there and felt it. I know what the bay is like. I went all along Al­ge­ria’s Mediter­ranean coast.’’

Far From Men is a stun­ningly filmed western about kindly school­teacher Daru, who is “liv­ing a monas­tic life’’ in the moun­tains, teach­ing lo­cal Arab chil­dren, un­til vi­o­lence comes to his doorstep.

Daru is forced to de­cide whether he will obey French author­i­ties and de­liver a lo­cal Arab, Mo­hamed (ris­ing French star Reta Ketab) to the nearby town of Tin­guit to go on trial for mur­der. By tak­ing Mo­hamed to Tin­guit, Daru is al­most cer­tainly seal­ing the Arab’s fate.

But Daru does not want to be re­spon­si­ble for the man’s death.

“Mo­hamed and my char­ac­ter end up mak­ing a jour­ney to­gether, while in nor­mal cir­cum­stances they wouldn’t spend any time to­gether. They end up learn­ing about each other – and about them­selves – lit­tle by lit­tle,’’ Mortensen says.

“They are both soli­tary in­di­vid­u­als who are not com­fort­able with speak­ing about their feel­ings. In­for­ma­tion comes out grad­u­ally, in an or­ganic way, which is more re­ward­ing for them and the au­di­ence. They be­come al­lies and friends.’’

Far From Men is set in 1954, the year Al­ge­ria’s Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Front be­gan its bloody upris­ing. Mo­hamed and Daru get caught up in sev­eral high-ten­sion in­ci­dents, such as a bloody con­fronta­tion be­tween Al­ge­rian rebels and French sol­diers.

Mortensen’s por­trayal of Daru won him the best ac­tor award at the 2014 Sar­lat In­ter­na­tional Cin­ema Fes­ti­val in the Dor­dogne re­gion of France.

“Now Daru is liv­ing in the moun­tains. In his mind he is choos­ing life rather than death and con­flict and trou­ble, but he has un­wit­tingly turned his back on parts of life – whether good, bad or sad,” he says.

When writer-di­rec­tor David Oel­hof­fen be­gan work on the film’s script, he imag­ined a “Viggo Mortensen type’’ char­ac­ter who spoke French. Lit­tle did Oel­hof­fen know that Mortensen, who is flu­ent in English, Dan­ish and Span­ish, could speak con­ver­sa­tional French, al­beit with a Cana­dian ac­cent.

Born in New York City, Mortensen’s mother, Grace, is Amer­i­can, his fa­ther, Viggo Sr, is Dan­ish. Mortensen’s pre­teen years were spent in Venezuela, Ar­gentina and Buenos Aires be­fore his par­ents di­vorced and he re­turned to New York State.

Mortensen has long been an ad­mirer of No­bel prize-win­ner Ca­mus. The Guest and Ca­mus’s Al­ge­rian Chron­i­cles be­came the foun­da­tion for Far From Men.

“I’ve al­ways ad­mired him as a writer and as a hu­man­ist,” he says.

Far From Men opens to­day

Viggo Mortensen in a scene from Far From Men which opens to­day.

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