Born October 20, 1958 in New York, New York, Viggo Mortensen (Jr.) was the first of three brothers born to Grace and Viggo Mortensen, Sr. The family moved to Venezuela, then Demark, then Argentina, the boys and their mother returning to New York when Viggo was 11 after their parents’ divorce. After graduating from St. Lawrence University in 1980, he moved to England, then Spain, then back to Denmark, returning to the U.S. in 1984 to pursue an acting career.
Mortensen made his film debut in Woody Allen’s 1985 film, The Purple Rose of Cairo in support of Mia Farrow and Jeff Daniels, but his scenes were deleted from the film’s release print. His portrayal of an Amish famer in Peter Weir’s 1985 film, Witness in support of Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis and Lucas Haas got him noticed. His films over the next few years included Fresh Horses and Young Guns II. It was as David Morse’s brother 1991’s The Indian Runner, directed by Sean Penn, that he became a star.
The actor ‘s films through 2000 included Crimson Tide in support of Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman, The Portrait of a Lady in support of Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich and Barbara Hershey, G.I. Jane opposite Demi Moore , A Perfect Murder in support of Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow, Psycho in the John Gavin role in the infamous remake of the 1960 Hitchcock classic, A Walk on the Moon opposite Diane Lane and 28 Days opposite Sandra Bullock.
Mortensen became a household name with his portrayal of Aragon in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy from 2001-2003, earning various critics’ nominations and awards for Best Supporting Actor in all three, The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Subsequently, he starred in Joe Johnston’s 2004 film, Hidalgo and David Cronenberg’s 2005 film, A History of Violence for which he received numerous award nominations for Best Actor.
The actor received his first Oscar nomination for Cronenberg’s 2007 film, Eastern Promises after which he received strong notices for his work in such films as Ed Harris’ Appaloosa opposite Harris, Renée Zellweger and Jeremy Irons, John Hillcoat’s The Road opposite Kodi Smit-McPhee, Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method opposite Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender, Walter Salles’ On the Road in support of Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart and Amy Adams and Hosseein Amini’s Two Faces of January opposite Oscar Isaac and Kirsten Dunst.
Matt Ross’ 2016 film, Captain Fantastic brought Mortensen his second Oscar nomination for Petr Farrelly’s 2018 film, Green Book opposite Mahershala Ali, his third.
The very busy actor has two film in pre-production, Unabomb and Falling which will mark his directing debut.
Viggo Mortensen is still going strong at 60.
THE INDIAN RUNNER (1991), directed by Sean Penn
Penn made his directorial debut with this dysfunctional family drama, intending to give up acting. Instead he went on to win two Best Actor Oscars in addition to making other films as a director. The performances of both David Morse as the good brother, a deputy sheriff and Mortensen as the bad one, a troublemaker before he went to Vietnam and just as much a problem when he returns. The superb supporting cast includes Valeria Golino, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Charles Bronson and Sandy Dennis in her last film. It was also the first film in which Mortensen appears in a full-frontal nude scene.
A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005), directed by David Cronenberg
Horror meister Cronenberg’s most accessible mainstream film features Mortensen as a mild-mannered owner of a small-town diner who becomes a local hero when he thwarts a robbery and potential murder. That action makes the national news which exposes his secret past life. The film features unforgettable performances from Mortensen and Maria Bello as his wife as well as Ashton Holmes as his son with Ed Harris and William Hurt in outstanding support as the principal villains. Both Mortensen and Bello received multiple awards recognition from the critics, but it was Hurt in a late, one scene performance who received the Oscar nod.
EASTERN PROMISES (2007), directed by David Cronenberg
Mortensen received further awards recognition for his portrayal of a Russian mobster’s driver who is not all he seems, including his first Oscar nomination in Cronenberg’s drama about a clash between Russian and Chechen mobsters in London. Naomi Watts. Armin Mueller-Stahl and Vincent Cassel led a large supporting cast in the film famous for the scene in which Mortensen takes on the bad guys in the nude. Covered in tattoos, the ones around his ankles meant “Where are you going?” and “What the fuck do you care?” in Russian. Mortensen thought it was hilarious that “one foot doesn’t respect the other.”
CAPTAIN FANTASTIC (2016), directed by Matt Ross
Mortensen plays the father of six raising his children, whose ages range from 17 to 7, in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. He and his wife were former anarchist activists disillusioned with capitalism and American life who chose to install survivalist skills, lest wing politics and philosophy in their children, educating them to think critically, training them to be self-reliant, physically fit and athletic, guiding them without technology, demonstrating the beauty of coexisting with nature and celebrating Noam Chomsky’s birthday instead of Christmas. It warned him a second Oscar nomination.
GREEN BOOK (2018), directed by Peter Farrelly
Mortensen received his third Oscar nomination for playing a real-life working-class Italian-American bouncer who becomes the driver of a popular African-American pianist on a tour of the deep south in 1962. In the tradition of previous Oscar winners, Rain Man and Driving Miss Daisy, the film won Oscars for Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali) and Original Screenplay. Unfairly criticized in some circles as a “white savior” movie, it is the story of two men who saved each other, one from living a life of racism and ignorance, the other from a life of unnecessary personal restrictions.
VIGGO MORTENSEN AND OSCAR
- Eastern Promises (2007) – nominated – Best Actor
- Captain Fantastic (2016) – nominated – Best Actor
- Green Book (2018) – nominated – Best Actor