By Marc Lee
AFI FEST Daily News
4 November 2009
In front of a packed house on Wednesday at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, AFI FEST paid tribute to actor Viggo Mortensen before a gala screening of THE ROAD.
In her introduction to the evening, Festival artistic director Rose Kuo called Mortensen “a true Renaissance man,” and interviewer David Poland, executive editor of Movie City News, asked the audience to note how the actor “changes dramatically from role to role,” before introducing a tribute reel.
Afterward, Mortensen recalled watching movies at the Chinese with his son: “We’d have pretty good Siskel and Ebert sessions afterward.”
A native New Yorker, he spent several of his younger years in Venezuela and Argentina before moving to Los Angeles where his first onscreen role was playing a young Amish farmer in Peter Weir’s WITNESS (1985).
“I remember watching his movies in this old art deco theater after work,” he recalled. “My role in this film was to be like a dog and follow around Alexander [Godunov]. Weir made it easy for me. It was a great learning experience.”
He also remembered an earlier part in PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO that was cut and working with Woody Allen. “I couldn’t figure him out, “ he said.
Mortensen moved his way into bigger parts in movies like FRESH HORSES and YOUNG GUNS II before landing prime roles in films like CARLITO’S WAY, ALBINO ALLIGATOR, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, HIDALGO and EASTERN PROMISES.
On the experience of acting, he said, “You meet all kinds of people; you see all sides of yourself. And if you do it properly, you can learn a lot of things.”
Before the lights came down and the curtain rose on THE ROAD, the story of a man and his son trying to survive the apocalypse, he remarked on his view of the film:
“In the end, the story is about you,” he said. “When it comes down to the end, how are you going to survive? How are you going to get food? And how are you going to treat other people? Are you going to be kind?”