Viggo Mortensen is the greatest living American actor that no one in America cares about. After struggling through a lot of false-starts early in his career, including a so-so remake of VANISHING POINT for television and opposite Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow in A PERFECT MURDER, he finally broke in a big way when cast as Aragorn in director Peter Jackson's epic adaptation of LORD OF THE RINGS. He has a new movie (finally) coming out this week, Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD, directed by John Hillcoat, who also made one of the best modern Westerns, THE PROPOSITION, so I thought I'd give a run-down of some of my favorite Viggo roles from the past decade.
A vehicle for Christopher Walken, who stars as the angel Gabriel, sent to Earth to nab the soul of a child that will end the war raging in Heaven, this dark fantasy / horror first caught my attention because it was pretty intense. While some may find it hokey now (it was a bit then, too), the film boasts a powerful cast, with a personal favorite of mine, Elias Koteas, playing the down and out Thomas Daggett, a man who must stop Gabriel from fulfilling the prophecy. Mortensen makes an appearance as Lucifer, and almost steals the show from Walken and company; no easy task, I assure you.
Mortensen carries this trilogy on his shoulders, and handles it brilliantly. While the films are about the journeys of many characters, Aragorn is really the thread that holds everything together, growing from an outcast into rightful heir to the throne of man in Middle Earth. This series put him on the map, and oddly enough, a sex symbol to nerd and non-nerd alike, who were down one way or another for his rough-and-tumble portrayal of the wandering prodigal son.
Ed Harris's traditionally paced and styled Western may have put a lot of viewers off, but it was a great vehicle for an engaging story and some great acting from Mortensen, who carries around one of the biggest shotguns I've ever seen as Everett Hitch, sidekick and companion to Harris's Virgil Cole. The gun - Mortensen's idea - becomes an extension of Everett, as much a part of his character as any other mannerism an actor might bring to the role. Mortensen plays Hitch as loyal, but always willing to do the right thing, even if it means sacrificing something he holds dear, which is really what most Western heroes are all about.