LORD OF THE RINGS STAR VIGGO MORTENSEN TAKES A DIFFERENT TURN IN ALGERIAN DRAMA FAR FROM MEN
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.