The two-time Academy Award nominee, 60, was on a panel at Arclight Hollywood Wednesday with Ali and director Peter Farrelly, talking about the movie, which explores the interracial friendship between Jamaican-American classical pianist Don Shirley and New York City bouncer Tony Lip. He spoke the word while he was discussing interracial progress in America, though he has since offered an apology and vowed to never “utter it again.”
“In making the point that many people casually used the ‘N’ word at the time in which the movie’s story takes place, in 1962, I used the full word,” Mortensen said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter. “Although my intention was to speak strongly against racism, I have no right to even imagine the hurt that is caused by hearing that word in any context, especially from a white man. I do not use the word in private or in public. I am very sorry that I did use the full word last night, and will not utter it again.”
Mortensen went on to say that a reason he took on the role in the first place was “to expose ignorance and prejudice” and that he hoped the film “might help in some way to change people’s views and feelings regarding racial issues.” Clearly apologetic for bringing bad press to the film, he concluded by calling the movie “beautiful” and “profound,” adding, “I am very proud” to be a part of it.
Dick Schulz, a Hollywood freelance director, was in the audience for the panel — and tweeted about the Lord of the Rings star saying the word. He later explained to the website how it all played out.
— Dick W. Schulz (@DickSchulz) November 8, 2018
While answering a question posed to one of the other men, “Viggo just started talking, and it got away from him quickly,” Schulz said. “He started talking about how, in this climate, the world today, progress isn’t going to happen quickly, it’s going to happen slowly, but the movie is going to mean a lot for a long time because we’re constantly coming up against racism and how racism is almost human nature and these things come in waves. And that’s when he went, ‘I’m gonna go off on a tangent here, but it’s important, and I don’t like saying the word, but, for instance, people don’t say’ — and then he said the N-word in its entirety — ‘anymore,’ and you could just feel the room immediately tense up.”
Schulz said that a woman yelled, “Don’t say that,” and it appeared Mortensen “immediately regretted it.” However, he kept talking to answer the question (that he wasn’t even asked). “He went on for I don’t know how long it was — it felt like an eternity after that, because everyone was waiting for the answer to end, but he was trying to steer the ship back to where he was trying to go.”
On Friday, Ali issued a statement on what happened.
“However well-intended or intellectual the conversation may have been, it wasn’t appropriate for Viggo to say the n-word,” Ali told Variety. “He has made it clear to me that he’s aware of this, and apologized profusely immediately following the Q&A with Elvis Mitchell. Knowing his intention was to express that removing the n-word from your vocabulary doesn’t necessarily disqualify a person as a racist or participating in actions or thoughts that are bigoted, I can accept and embrace his apology.”
He continued, “An excellent and poignant thought was unfortunately overshadowed by voicing the word in its fullness. Which for me, is always hurtful. The use of the word within the black community has long been debated, and its usage should continue to be examined within the black community. The use of the word by those who aren’t black, is not up for debate. The history of discrimination, slavery, pain, oppression and violence that the word has come to symbolize only causes harm to members of the black community and therefore needs to be left in the past.”
Mortensen has been making movies since the mid-’80s and received Oscar noms for 2007’s Eastern Promises and 2016’s Captain Fantastic.
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