The Road warrior
Listening to Viggo Mortensen describe production on his latest film,the big-screen adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winningnovel The Road, you’d think he’s been through the post-apocalypticevents of the book himself.
Listening to Viggo Mortensen describe production on his latest film, the big-screen adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road, you’d think he’s been through the post-apocalyptic events of the book himself.
“At the end, there was a sense of satisfaction in having gotten through it OK,” he says. “If the movie turns out well, then fine. But the actual experience was intense.”
The movie indeed turned out well, with Mortensen already garnering Oscar buzz for his portrayal of an unnamed father navigating the ravaged, cannibal-lurking highways of the U.S. after an unnamed disaster, trying to keep his young son (newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee) safe. But it was a role the actor wasn’t originally interested in taking on.
“I was reluctant,” he admits. “I initially said, ‘I don’t think so.’ I said to my agent, ‘I can’t. I’m really worn out. I won’t be focused.’ And then I looked at the story and I thought, ‘Well, being worn out? That works.’”
Once he’d signed on, Mortensen threw himself into his usual process for preparing for a role.
“I tried to do things that I thought would be helpful, like listening to certain kinds of music, watching certain kinds of movies to get me in a certain state where I could go to those places that the character demanded emotionally,” he says.
But the usual techniques didn’t work for this project, Mortensen found. “It was very different than any other role in the sense of how much I had to throw away. It’s about being naked emotionally and just being honest about it,” he says.
Production on the film took them out into the wilds of Pennsylvania, Oregon and Louisiana, exposing cast and crew to the elements. Mortensen says it was that aspect that really pushed his performance to where it needed to be.
“As much as we didn’t like it, the fact that we were so cold and we were wet all the time and tired actually helped us,” he says. “Let’s say it hadn’t been a relatively low-budget movie and it had been shot with green screen. It just wouldn’t have been the same. It forced us to places emotionally.”
One scene stood out above the others for Mortensen, as far as surviving the elements goes: Late in the film, his character has to swim out to a wrecked ship to scavenge, racing completely naked into the churning surf.
“It was cold,” Mortensen remembers. “Very cold. I asked for another take, but they didn’t want me to. They were terrified. They had ambulances standing by. The water was about 41 F, and the air temperature was the same.
“I just sat in the ambulance in a bathrobe and said, ‘Just tell me when you’re rolling. I’m just going to run out and go.’”
– The Road opens in theatres on Friday.