Director Hossein Amini has nothing but praise for Viggo Mortensen’s dark side
MENTION Viggo Mortensen’s name and it generally brings to mind a rugged swordwielding hero from The Lord Of The Rings rather than a debonair Great Gatsby type. However, that’s exactly what he plays in The Two Faces Of January, starring as the dapper, suit-wearing 1960s con artist Chester MacFarland.
Adapted from the book by Patricia Highsmith, who also penned The Talented Mr Ripley, it’s the directorial debut of Drive screenwriter Hossein Amini.
Amini was a fan of Mortensen’s work even before The Lord Of The Rings and didn’t know the actor was keen on The Two Faces Of January until he got a call out of the blue. His agency, which also represented Mortensen, explained they had passed on the screenplay and it had piqued his interest.
“Viggo read it without me even knowing. It was the nicest phone call I got,” Amini says.
Their first meeting was even more surprising. “Normally when those meetings happen with a star, the location is changed four times and you’re kept waiting for days,” he says.
“He kind of walked to my hotel, made sure everything was fine and took me out for dinner, and was really unstardom. He’s very down-to-earth and so hard-working.’’ Not only that, but he looked the part. In Highsmith’s book, Amini says Chester is more scruffy, drunk and overweight.
“Whereas I kind of reimagined him in my head more like The Great Gatsby. This beautiful guy with elegant white suits,’’ he says, adding Mortensen is brave enough to play the darker side of Chester as well.
“He’s not afraid to play ugly, in terms of being drunk or being jealous or showing that weaker side and that’s why he’s really perfect.”
Rounding out the main cast is Kirsten Dunst, who plays Chester’s wife Colette, and Oscar Isaac, the star of the Coen brothers’ recent indie Inside Llewyn Davis. He plays a young American, Rydal.
Rydal meets Chester and Colette, a glamorous couple, while they’re holidaying in Greece. But after one of them is caught up in a murder, they are forced on the run.
The Two Faces Of January has been a labour of love for Amini, who’s wanted to make the film since he read the book some 25 years ago at university.
Comparisons to The Talented Mr Ripley are inevitable, with the same author, European setting and time frame. But Amini says the two are actually quite different.
“With The Talented Mr Ripley it’s about a guy who’s a criminal and a psychopath and you’re watching him just be very good at what he does... with this one it’s three very ordinary people,’’ he says.
To him, the three aren’t very clever, or nasty – they’re more unlucky than anything. “It’s not really about outside forces, the police or the mob chasing them. It’s really the three of them and the damage they do to each other, which is quite unusual for a crime film,’’ he says. The Two Faces of January is in selected cinemas now.