Interview with Viggo Mortensen and Sean Bean
A Cannes 2001 interview with two stars of the Lord of the Rings movies
***NOTE: Viggo Mortensen and Sean Bean spoke very quietly and the ancient tape recorder didn't pick it up all too well. A lot of this is paraphrased. Another huge thanks to my friend Amy for providing some quality editing for this interview. ***
Reporter: How deep into this role (Aragorn) did you get, and why?
I think like everybody, I certainly didn't want to let the side down. I wanted to do my very best for one long period of a year and a half. But its one chance to do justice to this character and to part of this story. I always do my best at whatever job I have - this just happened to be one of the better jobs I've ever had. The material is based on a kind of mythology that Tolkien borrowed from. Whether it be Norse mythology or Celtic or Finnish. These things to some degree I grew up with, was familiar with. And I wanted to do right by that.
Reporter: What about Aragorn?
VM: Did I like him? Well the thing that fascinated me about the Fellowship generally is that each individual has their private struggle, and their ups and downs, and their self doubt. There is no one hero, really, no matter how one may or may not want to simplify what they see. In terms they have to describe it, or market it in some way. No one in the Fellowship is the hero of the story. Everybody has their flaws. And Pete in fact, you know, I mean can't imagine anybody else doing it better. Having endurance to do it that way and work as hard as possible to make sure that you saw the characters on many levels and in many situations. There are other, I'm not going to name names, but there are other epic sort of movies, where you know it may evolve from the same myths but it doesn't feel as complete or thorough because the characters and the relationships between the characters aren't as fleshed out. Pete really went for details, once you can get the big picture, and what you saw, the footage you saw, the scope of things, Harry (AintItCool) was there, he saw some of the stuff being made, and there is a lot of nuance in the characterization. Nobody stayed the same all the time. All the characters have ups and downs.
Sean Bean: Yeah, they all have their problems. One time or other, one member of the Fellowship seems to go through some kind of crisis, or weakness, and the rest of the crew sort of supports the character. That is what is quite interesting with the Fellowship. They're not all perfect coming through, but not typical invincible people, very human in a way, whether they are hobbits and elves. They all have their weaknesses. That's why it keeps you interested. You think they might not make it, they might not be able to achieve it, they've got everything against them. They're not together all the time.
Reporter: It must have been the same with the actors presumably, you all need to keep yourselves going. Because you're going through such uncharted waters. For so long.
SB: Yeah, we didn't know what to expect. We had a general idea of what things were going to take. But no one could have imagined or expected the way it did take. It was a very windy road that Peter took us on. And that was part of the excitement, that nothing was really mapped out. He just took you where and when Peter took it.
VM: Sometimes you or me or somebody would get tired, or had a bad day , or a bad week, and then the others would definitely support the person or the people who were having a bad day. You know, over a course of a year and a half, you're going to have some days, its not feeling right by yourself or with friends.
Reporter: Were there times in the middle of this, when you were like, "Is this never going to end?"
SB: You (Viggo) were in it more intensively than I was.
VM: Yeah, you (Sean) were able to get away for a bit.
SB: Yeah, but I got right into it. From one set to another. You know, there were about 5 units at one point.
VM: It was definitely an around-the-clock kind of thing.
SB: But then you saw the passion and commitment from everyone really.
Reporter: Since you spent so much time on the set, did you really get the sense that you live in that surrounding? Its not you going to your set and then going back to your home normal life?
SB: You forget about your life in the outside world really. We were in a very remote place, and sometimes you didn't have televisions and those things. But it didn't really matter so much. It was quite a relief to get away sometimes.
VM: Also, the crew was living the story as it was being filmed. Its always good when the crew actually likes the story and its not just them working for a paycheck every week. It was a crew that was on board for a long time and stuck with it. Through pregnancies, deaths, divorces, marriages and injuries...
SB: Yeah, Believe me!
VM: It was tough. You saw these kind of things among crew members. All of a sudden someone is in a corner crying and someone goes over, puts their arm around them and takes them for a walk. The interaction between the cast and crew was a complete team. It was in a sense a fellowship of thousands of people who traveled from place to place. I always felt safe. I didn't always feel safe in a sense that you're kind of sometimes just diving into a scene that you are like "I don't know how I'm going to pull this off right now, here comes the clouds, we got one crack at it..."
SB: Or here comes a Cave Troll
VM: Yeah! heh. But at the end of the day, I thought there was a certain safety in the family that we were part of in this isolation. I think it was good that he shot not in North America, but in this place, that felt different.
Reporter: In general, what do you think is the power of fantasy? Why do people enjoy it?
VM: Well, it has roots in it, like I was saying. There is a mythological basis for this story. This is part of human beings, whether you are from Japan or Canada, there is a certain memory, a physical memory that people have of things. Personally, when I watch fantasy movies, I don't usually enjoy them because I find an appalling lack of attention to detail and gritty realism in them. What Pete did with this, he got the most fantastical shots and imaginary and thought provoking dialogue and visuals, but he coupled it with a really grounded vision. It was rough when it needed to be, and it was cold. And it was messy when it needed to be. He shot a lot, no matter how extreme the conditions, he shot so many close-ups on all the characters. There was nowhere to hide in that sense. It didn't matter if you were the smallest to the biggest characters, from the enemy to the fellowship, you see in their eyes what is going on and where their weaknesses and strengths are. It was like acting with people and being very close. We acted that way and he shot it that way. That's why its different.
Reporter: Isn't this very difficult going from a film where you are the center of attention to one where you are not?
SB: This has been a very special one for us all. I think you do get that kind of attention and commitment I think, more than anything I've worked on. It has been the best for me. Lots of enthusiasm. Its been a very special film. We might have gone and worked on something else, but its something that wouldn't quite have that charm and feel. Its not very often you get to work, or films like this come along.
Reporter: In a way you are spoiled a little in a film like this.
VM: However, in a year and a half, there were many times, because of WETA, because of just circumstances, the favorability of a certain location, or whatever it is, that we didn't really have a lot of time. We had to learn to be really flexible in this movie, or you would perish under the weight of the expectation from yourself. We didn't have time to get it right. That is why this is special.
Reporter: What impact does this film have on you. You are a painter, a poet, and a photographer. Does this movie carry over to the other arts that you are interested in?
VM: Maybe a little bit. The arts were definitely on the side and I didn't have much time for it. I would do it at night sometimes, or if I couldn't sleep. Sometimes we'd have a day when you'd be so tired you couldn't really do anything.
The New Zealand Landscape
Reporter: There wasn't an impact in your art? Like you going home and drawing pictures of New Zealand?
VM: Well, New Zealand itself is an amazing country. There are so many things in such a relatively small geographical area. Just around the corner, or a half an hour later, its a jungle and its a glacier. Forests and coves. The weather changes so much. That place will always be embedded in my mind, visually. The streams that I see here, when we were driving up this morning, we were reminded of certain places in New Zealand.
SB: Its a fantastic place to go, because you do have all those ancient forest, mountains, lakes and weather. Its like a big film set all in one place
VM: And the art department was amazing. It was the best art department I have ever been involved with.
SB: They were all enthusiasts. They had all read the book. They all knew exactly what was happening at any given time. You know, a tiny little detail, that maybe you'd never see it, but it was there. It made you feel good.
VM: If you have a battle scene, a big crowd scene, the people in the background , they might not get the buttons right, they might be wearing some kind of synthetic cloth instead of leather or whatever. But these guys would dress up to the point , whether it be WETA or wardrobe department, props. All the weapons, all, you saw the detail that was in them. The people that are in a battle in the background, and it goes for the stunts too, like if you see a battle not only are the people dressed the same as the people in the foreground, but, you don't, not in too many movies (these movies had sort of medieval battles). You can see in the background people going like this (waves his arm) and clearly miss. But we had people that were 50-100 yards away and they looked like they were getting killed. Every department, if one department would even hint at letting up, the other departments would sort of shame them immediately into not even considering that. It was a constant that every department was like that.
Reporter: You can imagine everyone gets inspired and inspired and inspired.
VM: You would see some stunt guy and some weapons guy having some really intense argument about some fine point of thirteenth century pummel hit. I'd say, "Okay, when you're ready."
Reporter: How much injury did you have?
VM: Most people got hurt at some point. Didn't they?
SB: Yeah, because we were doing it almost every day. We'd rehearse before we started.
VM: I got a bunch of them. I was doing a lot of long battle sequences. I got a tooth knocked out, broken toes, lots of cuts and sprains, pulled muscles. Everybody had them.
Reporter: Is it true you wanted to glue your tooth back together and finish the scene?
SB: Put some chewing gum on it!
VM: Yeah, it was lunchtime, so I went to the dentist and came back and continued from there. I gotta say, some of the stunt guys, really took some hits. Anything we went through was nothing.
Reporter: Did both of you train with Bob Anderson?
Reporter: What was that like? He is an icon for people who like this kind of action.
VM: It was great. He was very strict but very supportive. Helped us a lot I think. We had to learn quickly
SB: Yes, we did have to learn quickly. We were doing fights with different moves all the time, then we'd kind of be doubling up with Orcs. And then something with a sword.
They choreographed a specific fight from the gym or somewhere and then the set hadn't been built yet, and then we get there and ask him for his angles and the needs of the scenes. We'd have to make adjustments. We'd have to really trust each other. The players and the stunt men and us. And us fighting together.
SB: It looks quite messy. A lot of slashes.
VM: Yeah, there is more desperation in this
SB: You really felt like you were fighting for your life.
VM: Biting, kicking, head butts, as well as good sword action.
Reporter (Harry): Both of you have characters that have radically different changes. Strider and Aragorn. Boromir the way he is normally, then when he is influenced by the ring.
SB: The question of the Ring, is something that has been nagging Boromir since the journey began. Because he's a human in a land of men, he is more susceptible to its power. And more likely to be tempted. This is a thing, that throughout the journey he is always trying to keep down. And keep back this temptation, this sort of need, to hold the ring. To just have it in his presence. At the end , when he sees Frodo, in one of his weak moments, it finally overcomes him. Its like a drug. Eating away. He's overcome with it at that point. Then he's totally sorry. He's devastated by that. And in a way, he feels he can't go on anymore. He feels he can't be whole again. He's let everybody down. So he's made a journey and he's a better person for it. Because he's come to see that there is actually more to his existence in Middle-earth then he originally imagined. He originally imagined it military and fighting. Gondor keeping the enemy at bay. He wants to just use the Ring to fight the enemy. This is foolishness, lets use it. He becomes more world-wise and open. He says to Aragorn at one point, "I didn't realize what I know now." But by then, it was too late.
Reporter: Do you see him as a flawed hero or is he evil, who doesn't realize it yet?
SB: No, I don't think he's evil. He means well. He's very well intended. He just had a different opinion. But he realized he is susceptible to the power of the Ring. And that he can become evil with his people. They might feel great while they have it, but they don't realize what's happening to them inside. Its very deceiving. I think essentially he's a good man. Very well intended. Very honorable man. But he was very prone to the Ring's power.
Reporter: Its a very Shakespearean character in that way. The tragic hero. Audiences love them.
SB:Its human emotion. You just can't account of that thing sometimes.
Reporter: And what was the difference between Strider and Aragorn?
VM: Well, obviously they are one in the same person. I think that what the character is as a whole, (I look at the Trilogy as a whole, as one story), that's the beginning of this movie. I know Tolkien, when he began to write the character of Strider, he was someone who was a forest guide. Someone skilled in hunting and woodcraft. And he didn't really know where it was going to go. But I had the benefit, as did anyone who read the book, of knowing who he really is. He is sort of, in one sense, an orphan soul, who does know. As opposed to Boromir, who knows another aspect of the history of middle-earth, because of his upbringing, and understands the danger of the Ring in a different way. You are less likely to trust elves and dwarves. Whereas Aragorn, because of his upbringing with the elves, has a knowledge of his own history and his race of men, and their connection to the Elvish world in particular. He places a value on the different intelligent species in Middle-earth. He sees the value of the Alliance throughout. On the other hand, by having the knowledge of what his antecedents had done, men who were strong individuals, but in the end succumbed to the evil attraction of the Ring and lost their individuality, and their souls so to speak. He does not know whether he will be able to do something, or do right by it. In a way its a curse, having too much knowledge about the Ring. He would never even touch it. While Boromir on a practical level understands it as a weapon, "Lets use the damn thing." But its not. It's sort of a curse knowing that. And also, knowing the frailty, the weakness of men and their history; the way they behaved towards elves and to their own people, with greed and all that. It makes him doubt himself and his own abilities. So, in the case with his relationship to Boromir... Boromir teaches him that there is something inherently valuable about man, and brave, and worthwhile, and that in spite of whatever doubts Strider/Aragorn has about himself and about the value of man, as a race in itself, apart from the others, there's great strength in men. That's what he tells him. What he shows me.
Boromir shows him there are good things to be found in man.
VM: I envy his certainty to some degree.
SB: ...because you are man, and a certain aspect of knowledge is ignorance.
VM: I think that is something that Tolkien spoke about. He said too much knowledge can be dangerous. Characters like Elrond, or Gandalf, or Galadriel or Aragorn, who have the benefit of this overall view of the history of Middle-Earth, are very wary about telling anyone what to do. People have to come to the right decision of their own free will. The most precious thing in Middle-Earth is not the Ring, but the free choice of the individual. The evil of the Ring is that it takes away anybody's individuality. You lose yourself. It tempts you by saying that you will become greater, but in fact, you become nothing.
Reporter: Viggo, would you talk a little bit about working with Liv? Since a good portion of your scenes were with her.
VM: She is Aragorns inspiration, on some level, throughout. She is his muse. There is a fated aspect of that relationship. He is always conscious, in some way, that it is his destiny to be with her somehow. I think also he feels guilt over his own heritage, and what damage was done by his forefathers. He also feels guilty about being with her. If he would be with her, he would rob her of her immortality. If an elf is with a human, they lose that.
Reporter: And working with Liv?
VM: Working with Liv was good. She was part of the team like everybody was. Everybody was really supportive of each other.
Reporter: Will we see a representation of the prophetic dream that haunted Boromir and his brother? At least a representation of it?
Reporters: Thank you.