Viggo Mortensen Says Universal ‘Retreated for Too Long’ During ‘Green Book’ Backlash

Mortensen explained in a recent interview why the Best Picture winner will "stand the test of time" and compared it to the work of Preston Sturges.
GREEN BOOK, from left: Mahershala Ali, Viggo Mortensen, 2018. ph: Patti Perret /© Universal /Courtesy Everett Collection
"Green Book"
Universal/courtesy Everett / Everett Collection

The 2019 Best Picture Oscar winner “Green Book” is back in the conversation as the film’s star Viggo Mortensen starts rolling out his directorial debut “Falling,” where he plays a gay man taking care of his homophobic, ailing father. In “Green Book,” he played the driver of Dr. Don Shirley, the concert pianist played by Mahershala Ali, and some complained that the film played into white savior tropes. Shirley’s family publicly criticized the film as a misrepresentation of their relative, while other critics have condemned “Green Book” as simply the story of a bigot’s (in this case Mortensen’s character) redemption.

But Mortensen has continued to defend the film, and has insisted that it will “stand the test of time” in a new interview with The Film Stage (via The Playlist).

“The dumbass in that story was the white guy,” Mortensen said. “There was a steep learning curve for the character I played. But they both learned from each other. And the fact is, it was based on real events. So the people that really tried to do damage to the movie’s reputation during its run, as you say, and people still to this day are like, oh, is this the ‘Green Book’ of this year? As if it’s a stain to have been part of that movie, which is ridiculous. That very small minority was either unknowingly or knowingly misinformed and misinforming about the foundation of that story, and the friendship that it’s based on.”

He added, “That was unfortunate, and very irritating, because we wanted to talk about the movie and the subject of racism historically and how things hadn’t still hadn’t changed enough by a long shot, as we’ve seen in the last couple of years — certainly, that’s evident. It was unfortunate that it happened, but the public, of all stripes, in all countries, reacted extremely favorably to the movie. I think — and I said so at the time — I think it’s a really good movie and it’s going to stand the test of time.”

Mortensen also said that “Green Book” is “up there in the finest tradition of the best work from people like Preston Sturges and others. It’s a really well-made movie, period, and a valuable glimpse of a specific time in U.S. history, with repercussions to this day and with lessons for this day.”

Finally, when asked about how he was treated at the time the movie came out, he said, “I got shit for that, but why should I retreat? It was a great story, well told. The studio [Universal Pictures] retreated for too long. It was an annoyance, but I’m open to talk to anybody about anything.”

Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.