“I like to live dangerously,” said Viggo Mortensen yesterday at the Marrakech Film Festival. “Last night I made dinner in my house, very quietly, and now I’m surrounded by journalists,” he went on to say, not quite suppressing a grin.
The reticent and intelligent actor was there to participate in a roundtable discussion on his films “Jauja” and “Far From Men” as well as on his career as a whole, for which he was being honored with a tribute at the festival.
“David Cronenberg is someone who’s helped me do really good work,” he said about the three films he made with the Canadian auteur. “Better than other directors, maybe, just because he understands my process, and because I think we have something in common in terms of our sensibility: the kinds of movies we like, the kinds of books we like to read, sense of humor is similar. I think I’m also able to help tell a story the way he likes to tell it. I understand what he’s after without having to talk a lot about it. Although we like sharing all sorts of information.”
His 2005 drama “A History of Violence” also came up in conversation, when Mortensen addressed the film’s script. “Well it’s based on a pulp novel that’s obviously not high-minded literature. But it’s probably, if not the best, probably one of the best films I’ve ever been in. There’s no such thing as a perfect movie, but in terms of the way that script was handled, the way it was shot, everything that David did with that movie, works really well. It’s a perfect film noir-thriller movie, I think. It’s close to perfect, I should say.”
Another notable lesson Mortensen learned from Cronenberg: Less is more.” He did that with that script. When I first met him about that movie, it was 120-some pages, and the shooting script was a little over 70 pages. Let’s stick to what’s essential in that story, and if doesn’t need to be said, let’s show it. That was his approach and it was smart, especially for that movie.”
When asked about the humor in his performance in “Jauja,” he likened it to “a Danish Don Quixote. Without seeing himself that way; he’s pretty organized and serious.” So would Mortensen like to do more comedy? “Yeah, you never know, I like to learn new things, new challenges. That’s why I did ‘Far From Men.’ It’s the kind of character that I haven’t played. And certainly on a surface level, the fact that he speaks French and Arabic was something new, and is a man from Algeria.”
Algeria itself, however, wasn’t as obtainable. “Far From Men” director David Oelhoffen originally wanted to shoot in Algeria, but didn’t want to take the chance on a location potentially being off limits. “The places he wanted to shoot there were really remote. What he did then is go into the mountains in Morocco, not far from the border, and he found places that look the same. It’s the same mountain chain [the Atlas mountains]. So what we did then, was there was an Algerian with us at every second. He was always making sure that I spoke the right sort of accent for that part of Algeria.”
Mortensen brought up the Algerian War for Independence, which culminated in 1962, and how he thought that many of the films made about that period in history were too ideological and were too quick to choose a side. “This movie doesn’t do that,” he said. “It’s about an unlikely friendship. A movie that shows in a realistic, organic way that two men who seem very different, by the end, by just working together and going through a series of difficult situations together, they realize that they’re not so different.”
Whatever nervousness he showed while being surrounded by journalists dissolved into pure charisma while meeting kids on the red carpet, kissing Mélanie Laurent’s hand on stage, wowing a huge crowd in Jemaa el Fna Square for an outdoor screening of “Far From Men” and speaking perfect French after receiving his tribute on stage at the Palais de Ccongrès that night.
“The opportunity to show our film in the famous Jemaa el Fna Square was incredible. The meeting place of artists, poets, raconteurs, and the people of Morocco, it was like a dream,” he said in French about the crowds, vendors and snake-charmers. At the end of his speech, he even broke out in a bit of Arabic, which instantly received huge cheers from the audience. “May I say that being here tonight is for me like returning home,” he said.