Di­rec­tor Hos­sein Amini has noth­ing but praise for Viggo Mortensen’s dark side

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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.

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