Viggo Mortensen
Mortensen at a premiere of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, December 1, 2003
Born Viggo Peter Mortensen Jr.
October 20 1958 (1958-10-20) (age 65)
New York City, New York, USA
Years active 1984 - present
Spouse(s) Exene Cervenka (1987 - 1998)

Viggo Peter Mortensen, Jr. (born October 20, 1958) is a Golden Globe- and Academy Award-nominated American theater and movie actor, poet, musician, photographer and painter. He is perhaps best known for his roles as Aragorn in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, and as Nikolai Luzhin in David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises.


Early life[]

Mortensen was born in New York City, New York. His American mother, Grace Gamble (née Atkinson), and Danish father, Viggo Peter Mortensen, Sr. (a farm manager who worked in business), met in Norway.[1][2] His maternal grandfather was Canadian.[3] His family moved to Venezuela, Argentina and Denmark, settling in Argentina, where his father managed chicken farms and ranches.[4] They remained there until Mortensen was age eleven, when his parents divorced and his mother moved back to New York. He moved with his father to Copenhagen, Denmark. Mortensen and his father eventually went back to the United States where Mortensen graduated from Watertown High School, Watertown, New York. After high school, he returned to Denmark, and became a truckdriver in Esbjerg, Denmark, before, again, returning to the United States to pursue an acting career. He attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, earning a bachelor's degree in Spanish. He chose that subject because he could get good grades without a lot of study, leaving him free to be in a lot of plays. At his commencement, he refused to wear an academic gown because they were made by sweatshop workers.[citation needed] However, after the Lord of the Rings trilogy, when he was granted an honorary doctorate by his alma mater, he did appear in the appropriate robes.

Acting career[]

After several years of experience in live theater, Mortensen made his first movie appearance playing an Amish farmer in Peter Weir's Witness. (Mortensen had actually acted in two prior films — Swing Shift and The Purple Rose of Cairo — but his scenes in both of these films were deleted from the final cuts.) Also in 1985, he was cast in the role of Bragg on Search For Tomorrow. Mortensen's 1987 performance in Bent at the Coast Playhouse, Los Angeles, won him a Dramalogue Critics' Award. Coincidentally, the play, about homosexual concentration camp prisoners, was originally brought to prominence by Sir Ian McKellen, with whom Mortensen later co-starred in The Lord of the Rings.

During the 1990s Mortensen appeared in supporting roles in a variety of films, including Jane Campion's The Portrait of a Lady, Young Guns II, Prison, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, Sean Penn's The Indian Runner, Brian DePalma's Carlito's Way, Tony Scott's Crimson Tide, Ridley Scott's G.I. Jane, Rob Cohen's Daylight, Tony Goldwyn's A Walk on the Moon, Frank A. Cappello's American Yakuza, Charles Robert Carner's Vanishing Point (remake), Philip Ridley's two films The Reflecting Skin and The Passion of Darkly Noon, Andrew Davis's A Perfect Murder, Gus Van Sant's 1998 remake of Psycho, Betty Thomas's 28 Days and The Prophecy with Christopher Walken. Of these roles, Mortensen was probably best known for playing Master Chief John Urgayle in G.I. Jane.[5]

Mortensen's major breakthrough came in 1999 with his casting as Aragorn in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy (released in 2001, 2002 and 2003). According to the Special Extended Edition DVD of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Mortensen was a last-minute replacement for Stuart Townsend, and wouldn't have taken the part of Aragorn had it not been for his son's enthusiasm for the J. R. R. Tolkien trilogy. In the Two Towers DVD extras, the film's swordmaster Bob Anderson described Mortensen as "the best swordsman I've ever trained". Mortensen performed all of his own stunts, insisting it would look more authentic, and even injuries suffered on several stunts did not dampen his enthusiasm. At one point during shooting of the Two Towers, Orlando Bloom, Gimli's double and Mortensen all had fairly serious injuries, and during a shoot of them running in the mountains Peter Jackson referred to the three as "The walking wounded".

Viggo Mortensen 2005

Mortensen interviewed by eTalk Daily, 2005 Toronto Film Festival for A History of Violence, photo by Tony Shek

In 2004, Mortensen starred as Frank Hopkins in Hidalgo, the story of an ex-army courier who travels to Arabia to compete with his horse, Hidalgo, in a dangerous race for a massive contest prize.

In 2005, Mortensen starred in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence. He was nominated for a Satellite Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture for this role. In the DVD extras for A History of Violence, David Cronenberg relates that Mortensen is the only actor he'd come across who would come back from weekends with his family having bought items to use as props on the set.

In 2006, he starred as Captain Diego Alatriste in Alatriste, the most expensive Spanish-language film ever made[citation needed], based on the series of novels The Adventures of Captain Alatriste written by the Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

In September 2007 the film Eastern Promises, directed by David Cronenberg, was released to critical acclaim for the film itself and for Mortensen's performance as a Russian gangster on the rise in London. His nude fight scene in a steam room was applauded by Roger Ebert: "Years from now, it will be referred to as a benchmark."[6] Mortensen's performance in Eastern Promises resulted in him winning the Best Performance by an Actor in a British Independent Film award from the British Independent Film Awards.[7] He also received an Academy Award nomination in the Best Actor category.[8]


Mortensen is also an author, with various books of poetry, photography, and painting published. His bibliography includes:

  • Ten Last Night - (1993), his first collection of poetry.
  • Recent Forgeries - (1998), ISBN, 5th Edition, documents Viggo's first solo exhibition and includes a CD with music and spoken-word poetry. Introduction by Dennis Hopper.
  • Errant Vine - (2000), limited edition booklet of an exhibit at the Robert Mann Gallery. Only about 300 were published at the time of the exhibition so it is a very rare book.
  • Hole in the Sun - (2002, ISBN), color and black and white photographs of a back yard swimming pool.
  • SignLanguage - (2002 ISBN), a catalog from an exhibition of his works, combining photographs, paintings, and poetry into a multimedia diary of his time in New Zealand while filming The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
  • Coincidence of Memory - (2002, ISBN Third Edition, in this book, the artist combines photographs, paintings, and poems that cover his artistic output from 1978 to 2002.
  • Mo Te Upoko-o-te-ika/For Wellington - (2003), ISBN, a book to accompany the joint exhibitions at Massey University and the Wellington City Gallery during the premiere of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
  • 45301 - (2003), ISBN, Abstract images, fragments and phrases from poems create this photography book. Many of the photographs were shot during travels to Morocco, Cuba, and the northern plains of the United States.
  • Un hueco en el sol - (2003), a small booklet was published to accompany the exhibition "Un hueco en el sol" at the Fototeca de Cuba in Havana. In Spanish.
  • Miyelo - (2003), ISBN-X), a series of panoramic photographs of a Lakota Ghost Dance. It also tells about the events leading up to the massacre at Wounded Knee.
  • The Horse is Good - (2004), ISBN, a photography book, partly shot during his work on the film Hidalgo, about horses as partners, teachers, and fellow travelers. Images from Morocco, South Dakota, Montana, California, Iceland, New Zealand, Denmark, Brazil, Argentina. This book reflects Mortensen's fondness for horses. In fact, he bought Uraeus, the horse who played Brego in The Lord of the Rings movies (Roheryn in the books), which is Aragorn's steed; as well as TJ, one of the horses who played Hidalgo. He also purchased the stallion that played Arwen's horse, a grey Andalusian stallion named Florian, and gave it to the stunt woman who rode the horse in place of Liv Tyler.

With part of his earnings from The Lord of the Rings, he founded the Perceval Press publishing house — named for the knight from the legend of King Arthur — to help other artists by publishing avant-garde works that might not find a home in more traditional publishing venues.

Visual arts and discography[]

Mortensen is a painter, and photographer. His paintings are frequently abstract, and often contain fragments of his poetry in them. His paintings have been featured in galleries worldwide, and the paintings of the artist he portrayed in A Perfect Murder are all his own.

Mortensen experiments with his poetry and music by mixing the two art forms. He has collaborated with guitar virtuoso Buckethead on 7 albums. His discography includes: Don't Tell Me What to Do, Intelligence Failure, One Less Thing to Worry About, One Man's Meat, Live at Beyond Baroque, The Other Parade, This That and The Other, Live at Beyond Baroque 2, Pandemoniumfromamerica, Please Tomorrow, and At All.

His latest CD/DVD, 3 Fools 4 April, documents the poetry readings given on April Fool's Day 2006 at the Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice, California.

Mortensen's singing is featured on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King soundtrack — he sings "Aragorn's Coronation," the words by Tolkien but the music composed by Mortensen himself. In the extended DVD edition of the first Lord of the Rings movie, The Fellowship of the Ring he sings the song "The Lay of Beren and Luthien". His poems are written in English, Danish, and Spanish.

Personal life[]

Mortensen has a son, Henry Mortensen, with ex-wife Exene Cervenka of the band X. Henry and Viggo have done public father/son poetry reading together as recently as April 2006. Mortensen is fluent in English, Danish, and Spanish, and conversant in Norwegian. He also speaks French, Italian, and Swedish reasonably well.

Mortensen is an ice hockey fan, particularly of the Montreal Canadiens. He also loves soccer, and is a big fan of all time Argentinean star Diego Maradona, Hector "Bambino" Veira and both the Argentine and Danish national teams, as well as Argentine club San Lorenzo de Almagro.[9] In 1993, Mortensen went to Ireland during a break in shooting without the consent of the production company, to watch Denmark play in a 1994 FIFA World Cup qualification match. He is also a fan of the New York Mets.

He has spoken out against militarism and U.S. foreign policy. In continuing with his opposition to the Bush administration's foreign policy he participated in a series of fundraisers for the Northern New York Congressional candidate from the Watertown, New York area, Bob Johnson, in September 2006. In January 2008, he publicly supported Dennis Kucinich for U.S. president, speaking alongside him in a number of public appearances. In Denmark, Mortensen is known for his support for the Freetown Christiania and criticism against the Danish participation in the Iraq war.

He is affectionately known as "Chooba" by many of his closest peers, the name having originated during his role as a wheelchair-ridden snitch in Carlito's Way. In Argentina he is known as "Guido" Mortensen, after San Lorenzo de Almagro's retired player and former coach, Hector "Bambino" Veira refers to him.


Year Film Role Other notes
1985 Witness Moses Hochleitner
The Purple Rose of Cairo (scenes deleted)
1987 Salvation! Jerome Stample
1988 Prison Burke/Forsythe Electrocution
Fresh Horses Green
1990 Once in a Blue Moon TV
Tripwire Hans
Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III Tex
Young Guns II John W. Poe
The Reflecting Skin Cameron Dove
1991 The Indian Runner Frank Roberts
1993 Boiling Point Ronnie
Ruby Cairo John E. 'Johnny' Faro
Carlito's Way Lalin
The Young Americans Carl Frazer
American Yakuza Nick Davis/David Brandt
1994 The Crew Phillip
Floundering Homeless Man
Ewangelia wedlug Harry'ego Wes
1995 Gimlet Hombre
Crimson Tide Lt. Peter 'WEAPS' Ince
The Passion of Darkly Noon Clay
Black Velvet Pantsuit Worthless Junkie
The Prophecy Lucifer
1996 Albino Alligator Guy Foucard
Daylight Roy Nord
1997 Vanishing Point Jimmy Kowalski TV
G.I. Jane Master Chief John James 'Jack' Urgayle
Pistola de mi hermano, La Juanito
1998 A Perfect Murder David Shaw
Psycho Samuel 'Sam' Loomis
1999 A Walk on the Moon Walker Jerome
2000 28 Days Eddie Boone
2001 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Aragorn
2002 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2004 Hidalgo Frank Hopkins
2005 A History of Violence Tom Stall
2006 Alatriste Diego Alatriste y Tenorio
2007 Eastern Promises Nikolai Luzhin Won - Best Performance by an Actor in a British Independent Film (British Independent Film Awards)
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
2008 Good Halder post-poduction
Appaloosa Everett Hitch post-production
The Road Father in-production
2009 Poe Edgar Allan Poe rumored


Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
  1. Film Reference website
  2. http://content.hamptonroads.com/story.cfm?story=133016&ran=177221
  3. Rootsweb Celebrities website
  4. [Pearlman, Cindy. Chicago Sun-Times, "Superstar Viggo's a serious soul at heart," 9 Sept, 2007
  5. Applebaum, Stephen. "Mortensen's battle scars", BBC News, bbc.co.uk, 2002-12-05. 
  6. :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews :: Eastern Promises. Retrieved December 22, 2007.
  7. British Independent Film Awards 2007 nominations. British Independent Film Awards. Retrieved on 2008-01-24.
  8. 80th Academy Awards nominations. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved on 2008-01-22.
  9. Interview with Clarín (Spanish)

External links[]