As a man, Viggo Mortensen is the consummate artist. Musician,
painter, photographer and poet, his better-known acting career
skims only the surface. But a movie star he is … or has
become.

Before his role as Aragorn in “The Lord of the
Rings” trilogy, his parts consisted almost completely of
supporting characters. In fact, the soft-spoken demeanor and
laid-back stature of Mortensen is markedly opposed to the noble and
tough characters audiences see him portraying. “It seems odd
to take that much of a beating, and go ahead and ask for
more,” he said in an interview with The Michigan Daily.

And with the upcoming release of his first marquee gig,
“Hidalgo,” Mortensen still has much appreciation for
being cast as the king. “In this case, obviously because
‘The Lord of the Rings’ was such a successful project,
I not only got into the room to talk to the director about it, but
I got the job, which wouldn’t have happened.”

He was drawn to the character of Frank T. Hopkins, a prolific
cowboy and horseman who was actually known for his mustang breeding
and horse racing, and his story for many of the same qualities of
his previous role. “It’s a story that’s a classic
call to adventure. There are several individuals that go through
these experiences, but you’re sort of focusing on Hidalgo and
Frank T. Hopkins.” That special relationship, with the horse
as a veritable lead, symbolizes much of the culture and subtext
behind the plot, one of Native American heritage and
responsibility.

Together, Hopkins and Hidalgo travel to Saudi Arabia to
participate in a 1,000 mile race across the Arabian desert.
“As a moviegoer, I like to see those sorts of stories that
involve an ordeal or a big challenge because those are the kinds of
events in our own lives, big and small, that kind of clear things
up. You get a sense of who you are and how you fit into the world,
or don’t, and it’s up to you whether you want to do
something about it.”

At first glance, “Hidalgo” appears to have the sappy
sentimentality so characteristic of titles under the Disney banner,
with the hero’s journey literally lost in its own quicksand.
Usually, the audience is treated like a group of four-year-olds.
Luckily though, the mouse is derailed by the class, beauty and
subtlety of the story.

Viggo himself understands the importance of recognizing the
audience’s intelligence. “If these stories work, then
you’re told in a sort of no-frills way — like an old
fashioned movie — then the audience is respected and allowed
to find the subtleties and whatever they want to get. It’s up
to them to read into it. You’re not being hit over the head
with it.”

Within that respect, the direction and script honors all the
cultures involved in the story — Arabic, Lakota and cowboy.
Filmed in South Dakota as well as Morocco, the native people were
given the opportunity to become involved. “They were careful
to do everything right. Even though you don’t see it very
well, the dancing and singing at Wounded Knee is done by Lakota
singers and dancers who got special permission from the tribe to
sing that particular song in that particular situation, and all the
actors took it very seriously.”

Though he knew little of Hopkins before the job, what he
discovered once hired gave him the utmost respect for the man he
portrays. “I read what there is to read, which isn’t a
lot. Hopkins was ahead of his time in his appreciation of that
breed of mustang. But what I found to be equally, or perhaps more
valuable, was the oral tradition that I got to hear about
firsthand.”

While he could hardly say enough about the cultures and the
visual as well as popcorn experience “Hidalgo” is,
nothing compared to the wealth of information and genuine interest
of the man himself. In that sense, he resembles his characters
tremendously, with a quiet knowingness that affects those around
him.

Viggo Mortensen’s fame is growing, and there’s no
reason to believe that “Hidalgo” won’t be a
success. But more important is the art. He’ll surely be out
working on a new album or taking more photographs until the next
worthy acting offer comes around “or at least until the money
runs out.”

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