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Viggo Mortensen  receives the American Rivera Award during the 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Rebecca Sapp

Viggo Mortensen receives the American Rivera Award during the 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival.


Viggo Mortensen Is Super Cool

SBIFF Honoree Speaks Many Languages, Slays Bad Guys, Barely Breaks Sweat


The rain messed with everyone on Saturday during SBIFF 2019.  

Castillo Street’s beleaguered underpass finally worked. Carrillo’s didn’t.

Highway 101 closed due to overflowing Montecito creeks, so Glenn Close moved her Saturday night event to Sunday at 3 p.m.

Viggo Mortensen, meanwhile, took a special plane to get here for his Saturday afternoon affair. He was driving himself and actor friend Ed Harris to Santa Barbara until it became clear that getting to downtown Santa Barbara was impossible. So SBIFF shifted into storm savior mode, and chartered a reportedly bumpy flight from Camarillo to SBA.

By 3:27 p.m., Mortensen arrived on the red carpet, to much applause from within the Arlington Theatre, and the event started about an hour late. No one seemed to care that much about the delay, perhaps allayed by SBIFF leader Roger Durling’s rainy day song to open the event.  

Once on stage, Viggo was as effusive, honest, and passionate as we’ve seen in this fest in the past 20 years. He engaged with all fronts of Viggo-ness: super sexy LOTR-dude as well as square-jawed adequate-dude as well as man who rides horse and is regarded as the sharpest on-screen swordsman in the shed.

“There are certain spellbinding scenes that transported me. How do these actors make me feel what’s so real?” asked Mortensen, about his young visits to the cinema. “To the point, sometimes, that when the light comes on, you’re surprised that you’re in the movie theater. Like wow. You’re literally crying sometimes. How do they do that? What’s the trick?”

That began his actor life at 21, running through a late-blossoming but successful string of early films such as Witness, GI Jane, and, yes, the entire Lord of the Rings (LOTR) series to super-heady later career flicks like Eastern Promises, Far from Men, and Captain Fantastic.

“What I’ve learned in the thirty something years since is that it’s not just the actor,” he explained. “It’s, obviously, the other actors, it’s first and foremost the screenplay, it’s the director, it’s how it’s lit and how it’s shot and how isn’t edited, so on and so forth. It’s a collective artform. That’s why I first wanted to try acting, because it was…a magic trick, and I was curious what that was. And I’m still trying to figure it out.”

It’s an industry understanding that SBIFF and other festivals around this time of year — between the Golden Globe Awards and Oscars — are now part of the campaign trail for nominees to lobby for Sir Oscar. Mortensen, who’s nominated for Best Actor this year, lodged a firm argument surrounding Green Book, pushing back against accusations that the film wasn’t legit, that his white character, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, and the African-American jazz pianist Don Shirley, played by Mahershala Ali, weren’t really friends.

“To say that it’s all nonsense…” said Mortensen, relaying many accounts of people close to the real life relationship who celebrated the portrayal. “If you want to see where the pack of lies are, well, maybe it’s somewhere else but it’s not in our movie.”

On hand to present the American Riviera Award was Ed Harris, who relayed how professional Mortensen was despite a tight schedule on the set of Appaloosa, which Harris directed. Both nearly became verklempt at acknowledging their friendship, and the crowd quickly dispersed back into the damp night.

Click here to view the Independent’s complete Film Fest coverage.

Correction: This story was corrected on February 4 regarding the name of the film Eastern Promises and that Mortensen did not play an elf in the LOTR trilogy.

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