Actor Viggo Mortensen met with festival attendees at a "Close Encounter" event during the Rome Film Fest on Monday night and shared that he is looking to direct his first film as early as next year.
Fans came out in droves for one of the most rambunctious panels of this year's edition to see the Lord of the Rings star. The fest played a range of clips - from his infamous Eastern Promises sauna fight scene to his wheelchair-bound role in Carlito's Way, all to great applause.
Saying that he feels uncomfortable judging other people's works and turns down offers to be on festival juries, he praised the fest for not having a jury, but rather simply being a celebration of cinema. Mortensen also discussed the finer points of being an artist as he looked back over his 30-year acting career.
The Academy Award-nominated actor has worked with several actors turned directors, from Ed Harris in Appaloosa to Matt Ross in Captain Fantastic, which had its Italian premiere at the fest after his talk. As such, it was fitting that Mortensen used his appearance to unveil that he hopes to use much of what he's learned working with them as he plans his own directing debut as soon as next year.
"Once in the late '90s I almost got one made. This year, now, I was supposed to be shooting my first movie as a director, but I lost the money," he said. "I didn't lose it, but somebody decided not to give it to me. It wasn't a lot of money, but I don't have enough to do it myself."
He added: "But someone else is interested in a different screenplay, so I'm hoping I can do that next year."
What is the project? "I don't want to name what it is, because I think it's bad luck until I know I'm shooting my first day," he said. "Then I'd be happy to talk to you about it."
Mortensen, also a poet who founded his own publishing company, Perceval Press, said he has several different screenplays in the works.
Mortensen had nothing but praise for Harris and Ross, explaining why he thinks actors can make great directors. "These are actors who have a sincere interest in the process of not only their own acting, but other actors," he said. "As actors, when they work they prepare very well. When they arrive they are usually working. Half of what they do depends on what they get from the other actors. These are the kinds of actors who understand that the foundation of good acting is good reacting. It's what helps them make the characters they play seem like real people."
But it takes special talent to understand the big picture, he acknowledged. "When you are dealing with an actor who is directing you, who is the kind of actor who prepares maybe very well his role in front of a mirror, every moment, every emotion, every inflection, then maybe they are not so interested in what other actors do because they arrive on set and they expect everybody to adapt to what they are doing, what they have prepared," he said. "They are inflexible. They are not so helpful because they have never shown an interest in actors."
Mortensen believes the secret to great directing, again singling out Harris and Ross, as well as his frequent collaborator David Cronenberg, "is to be very well prepared, is to not have shouting on the set, to create a calm atmosphere."
He concluded: "I think the director, to be effective with actors, has to be a little bit like a magician or a really fine actor."