Toronto Film Festival: Viggo Mortensen on his happy 'homecoming' playing twins in Spanish

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There’s no denying Viggo Mortensen’s total intensity and rawness as an actor, in The Road, The Lord of the Rings, and as a muse in David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, and last year’s A Dangerous Method. In Everybody Has A Plan, his fourth Spanish-language film, helmed by Argentinean first-time feature writer-director Ana Piterbarg, the handsome blue-eyed actor wraps his arms around a dark, gritty role worthy of Cronenberg: identical twins. The movie just premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.

“We had a fantastic [premiere] screening,” said Mortensen on Sunday, his longish, salt-and-pepper hair parted, sitting next to Piterbarg, and switching between English and Spanish. “Which was a relief because it was the first time we showed it to a non-Spanish language audience. They got it, every little laugh, the nuances.”

In the movie, Mortensen plays both Agustin, an uncomfortably middle class Buenos Aires doctor and husband, who Mortensen called “arid, dry, unlovable,” and Pedro, Agustin’s scroungy, wild, estranged twin brother, who has lived outside the city in the swampy Tigre Delta since he was a teenager, and who Agustin hasn’t seen in at least 10 years. When Pedro makes a surprise visit to his brother, he reveals he’s terminally ill, and Agustin leaves his cushy, frustrating life to assume Pedro’s, full of criminals and seething, scathing violence. It’s a monumental acting challenge for any performer to take on. Jeremy Irons did, creepily nailing the dual role of identical twin gynecologists in Cronenberg’s morbid 1988 thriller Dead Ringers. Mortensen’s twins, unlike Dead Ringers, don’t spend much time together, and don’t have the same profession.

“We talked about that movie, Dead Ringers, and I even called Cronenberg to ask him some technical questions, anything useful,” the 53-year-old actor said. “In reality, that movie was made in a very different time, with a much better budget. We didn’t have a huge budget. We had to be clever. Also, the brothers in my movie only spend 10 minutes together. But it had to work.”

It was, actually, a really a lucky break that Piterbarg’s script even landed on Mortensen’s lap. The two, both soccer fans, met at a soccer club in Spain; she told him about the screenplay, and then sent it to him by mail, she said.

Mortensen also appears as Old Bull Lee in Walter Salles’ Jack Kerouac adaptation On the Road, starring Kristen Stewart, which also premiered at Toronto.

“People give me quite a few scripts. At a festival like this, even in the hotel, it’s like [mimes a huge stack of scripts]. Then by mail,” said Mortensen. “I try to read everything, but it takes time, and most of them are not very good. … It’s very rare you get a great script, just handed to you, or sent to you, by someone you don’t know. And this one, by Ana, was very good. When I finally read it, I got in touch, and said, ‘Let’s try to do it.’ We were lucky with the weather, and the casting, and the production team. This beautiful script, they don’t always turn out to be beautiful movies. But in this case, the movie’s as good as the script.”

Mortensen, who speaks several languages, including Danish, was born in New York City and currently lives in Spain. But he was raised in Argentina from age 3 through 11. Filming there for nine weeks was a return to his youth, his roots. “This is partly why this movie is so special. Here was a great script, and also it was going to be shot where I was raised. It was like a homecoming,” he said. “The Spanish I speak in the movie is the Spanish I grew up with. My accent is from Buenos Aires, more or less.”

For Mortensen, the kind of actor who routinely challenges himself, playing against, well, himself, was “fun,” he said. He particularly loved Pedro’s craziness, saying whatever was on his mind. “I think every family is dysfunctional, and some manage to control it better than others,” Mortensen said, laughing.

Piterbarg said she poured her own family dynamics into the film. She wondered aloud, also, about people calling the movie hyper masculine. Mortensen saw that as a definite definite plus. “It breaks with these stereotypes of directors,” he said. “It’s a woman director, first movie, and there’s some intense male aggression and insecurity that’s really well done. There’s also women in the movie that are psychologically strong.”

For more film news, including coverage of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival

Read more:
Beyond Oscar buzz: From sci-fi to docs, more Toronto films we can’t wait to see


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