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Role Recall: Viggo Mortensen Talks 'Witness,' 'Eastern Promises,' 'The Road,' 'Captain Fantastic,' and More

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  • Viggo Mortensen
    Viggo Mortensen
    American actor
  • Harrison Ford
    Harrison Ford
    American actor

Few actors have had A-list careers as diverse as Viggo Mortensen, the 57-year-old star who reappears on big screens this Friday in Captain Fantastic, a saga about a lifelong hippie dad who endeavors to re-enter society with his misfit brood. Written and directed by Matt Ross, the film arrives on a wave of good will, thanks in large part to well-received premieres at this year’s Sundance and Cannes film festivals.

In particular, it was the film’s reception at Cannes that proved a great relief to Mortensen, who tells Yahoo Movies, “Having been there [Cannes] many times before, I know that those audiences can be tough, and they can be very judgmental, especially with regards to North American movies.” Fortunately, as he recounts, “they laughed, they cried, people were weeping at the end, and they were standing and clapping forever. We were there with all the kids it was a once in a lifetime experience.”

Viggo Mortensen in ‘Captain Fantastic’: Watch a clip:

That’s certainly saying something, given that over the course of the past three decades, Mortensen has starred in some of Hollywood’s most illustrious — and gargantuan — projects, none bigger than Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, in which he played future Middle Earth king Aragorn. Thus, he had plenty to discuss when he sat down with us for our latest Role Recall (watch it above), from the impressive carpentry skills of Harrison Ford he witnessed, to his preparation for playing a Russian gangster, to his admiration for his young The Road co-star.

Witness (1985)
Peter Weir’s 1985 thriller about a cop (Harrison Ford) who goes undercover in an Amish community to protect a young boy (Lukas Haas) who witnessed a murder was Mortensen’s film debut — or, rather, “it wasn’t the first movie I did, but it was the first I wasn’t cut out of.” The actor was not only amazed by Peter Weir’s “professional, pleasant” filmmaking approach, but was also taken aback by Ford’s ability with a hammer and nails — skills which he puts to use when, during the movie, his character helps build a barn. “I was surprised at how good he was at carpentry,” Mortensen chuckles.

Eastern Promises (2007)
To play a vicious, heavily tattooed Russian mobster compelled to aid a young woman (Naomi Watts), Mortensen says that he approached the part by inventing a back story for his protagonist. “This guy — I don’t really know much about him. Where do I start? I have to start somewhere. Where I usually start, which is — what happened before page one.”

The Road (2009)
Despite the fact that its story involves a man and son trying to stay alive in a decrepit post-apocalyptic American wasteland, Mortensen admits that, when it comes to John Hillcoat’s The Road (adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel), “I have good memories of the shoot.” In particular, he recalls being extremely impressed with his young co-star Kodie Smit-McPhee, whom he calls “wonderful in that role, and very brave, and emotionally available. Just striking.”

‘Captain Fantastic’: Watch the trailer: