“I thought it was a crazy idea when David [Cronenberg] came up with it ... I usually like to approach roles in a physical, nonverbal way. So this was a new way of working for me”
VIGGO MORTENSEN stacks his case and suit protector neatly in the corner of the room. The precision of the movement is entirely in keeping with an angular formation of razor cheekbones and sharp suit. We probably shouldn’t be surprised the Danish-american-argentine has this travelling thing down.
This is his final press engagement for David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, a film that pitches Mortensen’s patriarchal Sigmund Freud against Michael Fassbender’s corruptible Carl Jung. Keira Knightley’s Sabina Spielrein, a former patient turned psychoanalyst, is the spank-happy nymphomaniac who comes between them. What’s not to like?
“I thought it was a crazy idea when David came up with it,” says Mortensen. “But I just had this idea of a man with a beard. You don’t have to read far to discover a man who was ironic and funny and capable of using language as a weapon. I usually like to approach roles in a physical, non-verbal way. So this was a new way of working for me.”
Method is Mortensen’s third collaboration with the Canadian film-maker, gathering A History of Violence and Eastern Promises into a (very) loose trilogy about civilisation and its discontents.
“With David it’s always about what’s lurking beneath,” says Mortensen. “He’s never obvious. There are only a handful of good film-makers who have been working for decades, and within that group they all eventually seem to slow down and play it safer or slip into self-parody.
“David may be the only film-maker I can think of who never repeats himself.”
Mortensen had already enjoyed an impressive career when he first met Cronenberg eight years ago. A polymath, the actor’s paintings and photographs hang in galleries around the world; he runs a publishing imprint; and he has recorded 10 albums.
Having grown up between Venezuela, Denmark and Argentina, he’s capable of emoting across languages and took the lead in the 2006 Spanish-language swashbuckler The Adventures of Captain Alatriste. (Of course he rides horses, and is an ace swordsman.)
But even before that, Mortensen had long been in demand among big-name directors and fellow thesps. He had popped up in Peter Weir’s Witness, Brian De Palma’s Carlito’s Way, Jane Campion’s Portrait of a Lady and Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner, when Lord of the Rings came along and catapulted him into a more glittering limelight.
By the time Cronenberg’s A History of Violence came along, Mortensen had wrapped on Peter Jackson’s epic Tolkien saga and had his pick of projects.
“I wasn’t sure about going to meet him,” he says. “I wasn’t sure about the script, and I admired the man and I didn’t want to waste his time. So I said to him on the phone that there were a few things I thought were too trashy and not real to me. And he said, ‘Oh, me too.’
“And that’s him. He wants to talk these things through. He wants to thrash out the details. He’s very flexible and playful as a director. He’s responsive.”
Cronenberg’s methodology reigned on set, where Fassbender and Knightley proved accomplished pranksters. The larks continued on to the promotional tour. Mortensen turned up on The Late Show before Christmas and told David Letterman that Fassbender prepared for scenes by jumping repeatedly on one leg. Fassbender retaliated by claiming Mortensen liked to sit naked in a corner and eat a banana before filming. Sadly, neither story is true. “But they did play a lot of tricks during filming,” says a grinning Mortensen, without elaboration.
The new film, a British-canadian-german co-production set between Zurich and Vienna, offers a frank and lively exchange of