Why Viggo Mortensen Recycled ‘Lord of the Rings: Return of the King’ Premiere Shirt for ‘Thirteen Lives’ Screening: “It Was Absolutely Intentional”

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Viggo Mortensen turned up to Thursday night’s Thirteen Lives premiere in Westwood wearing the same shirt he donned for the London premiere of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King on Dec. 11, 2003. Make no mistake — the red carpet déjà vu moment was “absolutely intentional.”

Under a midnight blue suit, Mortensen wore a sky blue silk shirt modeled after a United Nations flag that he had custom-made nearly two decades ago.

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“[Thirteen Lives] is a story about a selfless, international collective effort to save ordinary people —12 kids and a coach. The world came together and did something like that, not for political gain, not for money, but because it’s the right thing to do,” the actor told The Hollywood Reporter of the Ron Howard-directed film, a narrative recreation of the 2018 dramatic rescue in a Thailand cave. “Those things seem to be much more popular than collective efforts for the common good so I thought, well, I’m going to wear this shirt.”

Viggo Mortensen, left, wore the same shirt at the Thirteen Lives premiere on July 28, 2022, that he donned for the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King premiere on Dec. 11, 2003.
Viggo Mortensen, left, wearing the same shirt at the Thirteen Lives premiere on July 28, 2022, that he donned for the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King premiere on Dec. 11, 2003.

When he put it on for Peter Jackson’s Return of the King U.K. debut, he was sending a sartorial message then, too. “Because that is a story about people from different cultures coming together for the common good,” he said of the third installment of Jackson’s blockbuster franchise about the battle between good and evil for the fate of Middle Earth. “So, I thought I would bring it out of the closet to wear it again.”

The common good kept rolling off his tongue so it seemed an obvious question to ask Mortensen how he navigates the increasingly fractured state of affairs in the world. While he admits it’s challenging, stories like Thirteen Lives and its happy ending remind him of the power in unity. Playing real life rescue diver Rick Stanton, he stars opposite Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton and Tom Bateman in the MGM/UA/Bron/Prime Video film, now in theaters.

“I lose my temper all the time and try not to give up on the idea that human beings are not inherently evil because sometimes it feels that way,” he explains. “I’m hopeful. Stories like [Thirteen Lives] remind me of that because it’s a real thing, and it happened just a few years ago.”

“People can do the right thing,” he continues. “People can be compassionate and look past culture, language, race, socioeconomic status and say, ‘No. This is the right thing. Let’s all pull together and do this. Nobody will make any money and we may die trying but it’s the right thing to do.’ I wish there was a lot more of that happening in the world.”

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