Viggo Mortensen Opens Up About Early Acting Experience

Viggo Mortensen is one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood. He began his career by landing a featured role in the Peter Weir thriller Witness. In the years that followed, Mortensen built up his filmography by appearing in popular films such as G.I. Jane and A Perfect Murder. But it wasn’t until he was cast as the sword wielding Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings that the Danish-American actor received international attention.

Now in the heels of his stunning performance as the patriarch of the Cash family in Captain Fanstastic, Mortensen opened up to Variety about his very first acting experience. Below are the most notable parts of the interview.

Viggo Mortensen “Happy” for First Acting Experience

Viggo Mortensen rose to prominence in the ’90s. Hollywood wasted no time when it came to banking on his handsomeness and intense gaze. But before Mortensen became the nineties screen idol, he had a small role in the 1984 CBS miniseries George Washington. 

Variety: You arrived at acting later than most, as an adult.



Viggo Mortensen: I was 22, 23, 24, living in New York, taking acting classes. It was just something I wanted to try. George Washington was one of the first things I auditioned for. I only had a couple of lines. I was a French officer. I had to be on a horse the next morning to shoot my scenes.

Captain Fantastic

Variety: How did that feel, landing a role in a big network show?



Viggo Mortensen: I think at the time I liked the idea. I figured I’d do it until I was 30 and then get a grown-up job.



Variety: Most actors would be intimidated by the horse.



VM: I grew up riding horses, so that was OK. Most actors lie about what they can do anyway: Can you skydive? Sure. Can you rock climb? Sure!

Ben Cash

Variety: What was it like, being on a big shoot for the first time? 



VM: I went from the train station to the park in Philadelphia where they were shooting. All the trailers were there. I went into makeup, and they kicked me out. They said Viggo had been here and tried on the wig and left. I went to wardrobe, and they said Viggo’s been here and got the costume. I said, “I’m Viggo!” There was an imposter. They found the other guy and got their stuff back.



Variety: How strange!



VM: So I went back to the hotel. Pressed the button, and the door opened, and there was this guy with a crazy grin who said, “Hi.” I let the door shut and went to the front desk and said there’s a man, he’s stalking me. I had one more day on the set. The next morning I had to get up early. It’s like 4 or 5 in the morning, and in red lipstick on the door of my room was scrawled, “I know where you are.” That crazy man! That was scary. I’ve never seen that man again. I didn’t know him. I wondered, “Why me?”

Viggo Mortensen

Variety: What was your takeaway from your first acting job? 



VM: Happy to be paid for a job, happy to have that experience. You’re on a set, and people are expecting you to hit your mark. You never get rid of the nerves, and you learn to make friends with the nerves. I like the collective aspect of it, the story-telling. You bring the best out of them, and they bring it out of you. Sometimes the business gets frustrating. But I am still seduced by the idea that if we all do everything right, lightning will strike. “Captain Fantastic” restores my faith in the business.



Variety: Why is that?



VM: It’s still in theaters in New York. We have a really good distributor, but they don’t have a lot of money to force people to see the movie. Our movie is the opposite; people have seen it and recommended it to their friends. People have decided to see it.

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