Birthdate: October 20, 1958
Birthplace: Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA
A fascinating and adventurous actor whose work uniquely spans the range from the blockbuster realm of The Lord of the Rings to the striking arthouse stylizations of filmmaker Lisandro Alonso, Viggo Mortensen (birthname: Viggo Peter Mortensen Jr.) is as involved in a diverse range of moves as any working actor.
Working in nearly every genre and in multiple languages (not only English but Spanish and Danish, in which he is fluent), Mortensen is both celebrated in Hollywood—he is a three-time Oscar nominee—and a prominent face in international auteur cinema, including movies by David Cronenberg, with whom he collaborated on Crimes of the Future (2022), with Lea Seydoux and Kristen Stewart.
Impressively, Viggo Mortensen’s first screen roles, in 1985, were under the direction of Woody Allen (The Purple Rose of Cairo) and Peter Weir (Witness, with Harrison Ford), although his role in Allen’s movie was cut. His performance in Witness opened the door to a steady stream of supporting roles in movies in the late 1980s and the 1990s, including Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner (1991), with David Morse and Patricia Arquette; Tony Scott’s Crimson Tide (1995), with Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman; Jane Campion’s The Portrait of a Lady (1996), with Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich; the hit Ridley Scott movie starring Demi Moore, G.I. Jane (1997); and Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot Psycho remake (1998), with Vince Vaughn and Julianne Moore.
What is notable about Mortensen’s major career turn, as Aragorn in the ensemble of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002), and The Return of the King (2003), is that while he was one of the prominent faces of that period’s biggest movie franchise, the actor opted out of a predictably commercial career track.
Almost immediately following the Rings trilogy, Mortensen did his first of four movies with Cronenberg, the remarkable A History of Violence (2005), for which he was named best actor by the New York Film Critics Circle. In 2007, Cronenberg and Mortensen joined forces again for the gangster drama, Eastern Promises, with Naomi Watts and Vincent Cassel, starting a fascinating period of continuously creative and challenging work in a wide range of movies.
These included a film version of C.P. Taylor’s Good (2008), John Hillcoat’s unsparing version of Cormac McCarthy’s post-Apocalyptic novel, The Road (2009); Sigmund Freud in Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method (2011), with Keira Knightley; and Hossein Amini’s fine version of Patricia Highsmith’s The Two Faces of January (2014). Viggo Mortensen served as actor, producer, and composer for Lisandro Alonso’s superb period Argentine drama, Jauja (2014), a sign that Mortensen was using his money to support auteur Latin American cinema.
Viggo Mortensen took on the ambitious role of Ben Cash in Matt Ross’s wild family drama, Captain Fantastic (2016), with Frank Langella and Kathryn Hahn, but it was his role as true-life bouncer Tony Lip in the Best Picture Oscar winner Green Book (2018) that placed Mortensen at the center of Hollywood. Again, though, rather than cash in fame with commercial studio products, Mortensen made his own debut movie as writer-producer-director, as well as composer, the family drama Falling (2020), with Lance Henriksen.
Mortensen once again reunited with Cronenberg for the body horror drama, Crimes of the Future, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2022, Mortensen joined the cast of Ron Howard’s dramatization of the Thai cave rescue, Thirteen Lives, with Colin Farrell and Joel Edgerton, followed by the starring role in Alonso’s kidnap drama, Eureka, with Chiara Mastroianni.
Mortensen will be starring in the true story drama, Unabomb (date to be announced), about the FBI hunt for the Unabomber, followed by another true story dramatization about the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, Two Wolves (date to be announced), the feature narrative directing debut of famed documentary filmmaker, Alex Gibney.
A native of the northern New York State burg of Watertown, Viggo Mortensen was raised by an American-born mother Grace Gamble, and a Danish-born father Viggo Mortensen Sr. He has two younger brothers, Charles and Walter. His family left New York for Venezuela, Denmark, and the Argentine cities of Chaco, Cordoba, and Buenos Aires. When his parents divorced, Mortensen and his brothers returned with his mother Grace to Watertown, where he attended high school and studied political science and Spanish at St. Lawrence University.
After traveling and working in Spain, England, and Denmark, Mortensen changed his career choices and began to study acting. Mortensen was married to the co-lead singer of the band, X, Exene Cervenka, from 1987 to 1998; his current partner is Spain-based actor, Ariadna Gil, though Mortensen actually spends most of his downtime between projects in northern Idaho. He has one child, Henry, with Cervenka.
Dual Citizen: Viggo Mortensen is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Denmark, the country of his father.
Multi-Media: Mortensen’s creative energies extend far beyond acting, and even filmmaking. He has long been active as a poet, photographer, painter, and musician.
Career Honors: Viggo Mortensen has been honored for his career body of work by a remarkable number of festivals and organizations, including the Telluride, Stockholm, Sitges, San Sebastián, Chicago, Camera image, Lleida festivals, and the Danish Bodil Awards, The U.K.-based Empire Awards, and the Russian National Movie Awards.
Paintings on Screen: Mortensen’s own paintings appear on screen in the Michael Douglas-starring A Perfect Murder, in which Mortensen plays a painter.
Publisher: In 2002, Viggo Mortensen formed a publishing firm in Santa Monica, Perceval Press.
Chivalry Isn’t Dead: Mortensen received the ancient Danish order of chivalry, the Knight’s Cross of the Order of the Dannebrog, in 2010.
Prolific: Viggo Mortensen has published over 18 books of poetry, art, and photographs in English, Spanish, and Danish. He has also recorded 21 discs, many in collaboration with guitarist Buckethead.