Viggo Mortensen Dismisses Shirley Family Claim That ‘Green Book’ Lies About the Story

Dr. Donald W. Shirley is played by Mahershala Ali in "Green Book," which has been criticized by members of Shirley's real family.
Viggo Mortensen Dismisses Shirley Family Claim That Green Book Lies
"Green Book"
Universal Pictures

Green Book” is heading into the weekend with five Golden Globe nominations, including Best Picture Musical or Comedy and Best Director, but its awards season journey hasn’t been without backlash. Last month, family members of Dr. Donald W. Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali in the movie) gave an extensive interview to Shadow And Act and criticized the film for being a “symphony of lies.” When asked about these claims by Variety at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, “Green Book” co-star Viggo Mortensen dismissed them.

“[Writer] Nick Vallelonga has shown admirable restraint in the face of some accusations and some claims – including from a couple of family members – that have been unjustified, uncorroborated and basically unfair, that have been countered by other people who knew Dr. Shirley well,” Mortensen said. “There is evidence that there was not the connection that [the family members] claimed there was with him, and perhaps there’s some resentment.”

Mortensen stars in “Green Book” as Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, who became Dr. Shirley’s chauffeur on a music tour across the South in the 1960s. The movie makes it appear that Vallelonga and Dr. Shirley changed each other’s world views while becoming friends during the tour, but Dr, Shirley’s family has said otherwise. Dr. Shirley’s brother, Maurice, said Vallelonga was never called a “friend” by Dr. Shirley in real life. Maurice’s wife Patricia said the two men’s relationship was purely an “employer-employee relationship,” which Maurice added was “the only kind of relationship that [Dr. Shirley] ever had with any of the people he worked with.”

“You asked what kind of relationship he had with Tony? He fired Tony!” Maurice said. “Which is consistent with the many firings he did with all of his chauffeurs over time…Tony would not open the door, he would not take any bags, he would take his [chauffeur’s] cap off when Donald got out of the car, and several times Donald would find him with the cap off, and confronted him. When you hear that Tony had been with him for 18 months, I can assure you, no chauffeur lasted with my brother for 18 months.”

When Variety asked “Green Book” director Peter Farrelly to weigh in on the backlash from Dr. Shirley’s family, he responded, “I’m very disappointed by that. I wish they were, and they have a right to their opinion, but when we went down that road, we looked into the heirs of Don Shirley, and unfortunately it wasn’t the family. The heirs were friends. When we found out about the family, we tried to embrace them, and they’re not having it right now, and it’s very disappointing.”

“Green Book” is now playing in theaters nationwide.

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