A rare gem who does not go with the flow, this Danish-American actor simply insists on being himself whether Hollywood likes it or not. Making his film debut in Peter Weir’s 1985 crime thriller Witness as Moses Hochleitner, Mortensen then did a variety of roles that also gained him critical acclaim – as small-town diner owner Tom Stall in David Cronenberg’s crime thriller A History of Violence (2005), deputy Everett Hitch in the western Appaloosa (2008), Nikolai Luzhin in the gangster film Eastern Promises (2007), founder of the discipline of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud in the historical film A Dangerous Method (2011) and Daru in the French drama film Far from Men (2014).
The 58-year-old actor, who was born in New York, is also fluent in Spanish, Danish and French, conversational in Italian and understands Norwegian and Swedish. Mortensen is also an abstract painter, photographer, poet, book author and musician. His paintings have been featured in galleries worldwide. As for his music and poetry, he has mixed the two art forms and has collaborated with guitarist Buckethead on several albums.
With part of his earnings from the epic high-fantasy adventure trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, in which he famously he portrayed Aragorn, he founded Perceval Press in 2002 to publish the works of little known artists and authors. It is also the home of many of his personal artistic projects.
Mortensen, who is nominated in the Golden Globe Awards for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama for his performance as the unconventional father of six, Ben Cash, in the film Captain Fantastic, spoke to the HFPA about the Matt Ross-helmed film and his character. Widowed and left to raise six children on his own, Ben Cash defies all conventions and home schools his children. They live in a teepee in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. He engages them in rigorous physical and mental activities and trains them survival skills. And he gifts them with knives and axes.
“The movie is about adapting and self-reflection,” he said. “There is no such thing as a perfect father or a perfect family situation. Ben is trying to do the best possible for his kids but his method is isolating his kids. You need to be with people, make mistakes, have conversations, say stupid things, figure out how to not say stupid things the next time and so forth.”
Mortensen himself is a father to Henry Blake, 28, his son with actress-singer Exene Cervenka (of the first-wave California punk band “X”) whom he met in 1986 on the set of Salvation!, a parody of televangelism. They were divorced in 1997. When not busy acting, painting, writing poems or making music, Mortensen said that he loves taking walks to relax. “Walking calms me and gets my body and brain going,” he shared. “I like being in the woods or the desert. I never feel like I am wasting my time. It’s easy for me to be present.”
He added, “Gardening and planting trees also help me. When I go visit people, I am also visiting their plants. I will take seeds from places, put them in pots in my house. The seeds are probably illegal in some places. They were in my pocket. I forgot.”
He may play Captain Fantastic but deep down, Mortensen is a gardener with many other talents: Artistic. Subversive. Very un-Hollywood. Very Viggo Mortensen.