Viggo Mortensen had read all of Cormac McCarthy’s books prior to the release of ‘The Road’ three years ago. The post-apocalyptic Pulitzer Prize winning novel about a father and son on a journey of survival across a bleak, dangerous American landscape was a sensation that everyone was talking about. Even Oprah was saying the book was a must read. So, Mortensen resisted a bit.
“I don’t like the ‘must’, the ‘always’, and the ‘never’ words,” Mortensen noted last night, reiterating his rebellious instinct, adding, “I don’t like ‘no’ either.”
Mortensen stars in John Hillcoat’s adaptation of “The Road,” which had its North American premiere last night at the Telluride Film Festival after debuting at the Venice Film Festival where it drew a lengthy standing ovation. He plays ‘The Man’ in “The Road,” but just as it took him some time before he read the novel, he didn’t immediately sign on for the lead role in the film. He wasn’t looking to make a movie so soon after the success of his 2007 film, “Eastern Promises” – for which he received his first Academy Award nomination. And, once he read the novel, like many of its fans, he was concerned about the ability to successfully adapt it for the screen.
John Hillcoat’s “The Road” is a powerful and intimate portrait of a father and son. Mortensen’s ‘Man’ has seen the previous, seemingly prosperous world before it was struck by a massive, unnamed cataclysm that has apparently left no sustainable natural resources and just a few survivors who are battling each other to survive.
During a conversation on stage at the Palm Theater in Telluride last night, Mortensen told filmmaker Ken Burns that these days he is often drawn to a movie if he is a bit frightened by it. “I try to find something interesting and a little scary,” Mortensen explained.
“‘The Road’ was to some degree one of those instances,” he related, adding that he was also “gravely concerned” that it couldn’t be made into a movie. If he was going to do the film, he said that the key role of ‘The Boy’ in the film had to be cast perfectly. When Hillcoat tapped Kodi Smit-McPhee, Mortensen said he gained more confidence.
Even securing his role in the wildly successful “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was a bit of a tug-of-war. He was offered the role of Aragorn at the last minute and quickly rejected the overture, deciding he didn’t want to spend more than a year in New Zealand. But, his own son (with ex-wife Exene Cervenka of the legendary punk band, X), intervened.
Mortensen’s son, a fan of the books, probed his father further about the opportunity, wanting to know which character he’d been offered. Mortensen said he couldn’t remember exactly and after more questions, his son determined that he was offered the role of Aragorn. He would campaign for his dad to take the role, saying, “He’s the king!”
“The king of what?” Mortensen recalled asking his son.