Movies

Viggo Mortensen thought twice about bouncer role in award-winning Green Book

Actor Viggo Mortensen was nervous about taking role in comedy-drama Green Book

Danish-American actor Viggo Mortensen said he was nervous at first about playing a burly, tough-talking Italian-American bouncer from the Bronx in the award-winning comedy-drama Green Book. He was unsure if he could portray the character convincingly.

The 59-year-old, best known for portraying heroic warrior Aragorn in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, also had to gain around 20kg for the role of Tony Lip, who is hired to drive world-class black jazz-classical pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on a concert tour of the segregated US Deep South in the early 1960s, as well as be the latter's bodyguard.

The film is named after The Negro Motorist Green Book, a mid-20th century guidebook for African-American travellers written by Victor Hugo Green, to help them find motels and restaurants that would accept them.

Opening here tomorrow, Green Book - inspired by a true story - has won best film prizes from the National Board of Review, Golden Globes and Producers Guild of America.

"I was a little nervous about taking the role," Mortensen said at the opening of the Zurich Film Festival last September.

"For one thing, I'm not Italian-American. And there's a lot of good Italian-American actors," he said.

"I asked (director) Pete (Farrelly) whether he was sure and he said yes and I said, 'Well, let me think about it'. So it took me a little bit to commit, but I'm glad I did. It's a beautiful movie."

While Tony and Don appear to have little in common at first, friendship blossoms as they encounter prejudice as well as threats on their journey.

Mortensen said: "The movie says to me we all have similar needs. We all have a desire, a need to be respected for who we are, wherever we're from, whatever we look like, whatever our education level is. Everybody deserves a hearing."

When asked if he thought it was important film-makers of today return to these 1960s cinematic themes, Mortensen said in a separate interview at the Marrakech International Film Festival last month: "I think it's sometimes easier to see the present when you tell a story from the past.

" I think the problem of discrimination will remain a current issue for generations - we're like that, us humans!

"We're like children, we need experiences. We always need stories like Green Book that make us think and see society differently."

And on Green Book's chances of snagging the big prize at this year's Academy Awards on Feb 24, he said: "I don't know if (it) will win an Oscar or not. It's a mystery. If we win, it's good. If we don't win, it doesn't change a thing. I know it's a very good film, which could become a classic that we'll watch in five or 10 years. Many movies are popular right now but may be forgotten in a year. This is not the case with Green Book."

Meanwhile, the man himself is ready to make his directorial debut, with plans to go behind the camera for the upcoming father-son drama Falling.

Mortensen wrote the screenplay and will take one of the leading roles in the film, an intimate look at a gay man's (Mortensen) complicated relationship with his ageing father (Lance Henriksen).

He said: "We are in the pre-production phase, and filming will start (next month) in Canada. I was inspired by memories surrounding my father and mother, but it's not a true story. It's made up."

So who's his dream director?

He said: "I don't know if she will continue, but (Belgian-born French film-maker) Agnes Varda... or (US film-maker) Martin Scorsese. I'd like to film with him. But for me, the most important thing is the story, then the role and then the director." - REUTERS/AFP

Celebrities