With its in-demand cast (Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac co-star), Patricia Highsmith source novel, and the chic, summery setting of Sixties Greece and Turkey, it’s a film that couldn’t have been made without the precedent of Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), though it was shot on roughly a third of the budget. He was always saying that simple was best.” Mortensen sees Chester as an autodidact, a man who “consumes knowledge”, even though he’s a desperate fugitive, on the run from angry investors he defrauded in America.
It’s part of what makes the 55-year-old Danish-American star an old-fashioned sort of movie idol.
He’s cut from the same chiselled, masculine material as Robert Mitchum, with whom he shares a dimpled chin and a taste for complex heroes.
'I’m listening,” Viggo Mortensen says, his back turned to pour a glass of water.
He means it casually, but the phrase has a stray menace.
(A typical new title, Dreams Before Extinction, by the Iranian artist Naeemeh Naeemaei, consists of 12 paintings of endangered species with facing text in two languages.) During Mortensen’s time in New Zealand on The Lord of the Rings, when he had already twigged that old editions of Tolkien were about to become highly prized, he would stop in at second-hand boutiques, and assembled a valuable collection.
And he’s losing her already, so you don’t get the benefit of seeing that begin to happen.” Mortensen is an obsessive bibliophile and, in any conversation, it’s not long before he’ll bring the subject around to books.
He owns a publishing company in Santa Monica, Perceval Press, which puts out volumes of his own painting, poetry, and Ansel Adams-ish photography – you name it, he dabbles in it – along with a slate of works by other artists and scholars.
It’s the sort of line one of his film characters might mutter as they sat, quietly dominating a scene, absorbing new information, working out what to do with it.
Mortensen tends to play listeners – whether the laconic adventurer-king Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, or Nikolai, his Russian mobster in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises.
Highsmith wrote the novel in 1964, nine years after The Talented Mr Ripley. But it doesn’t start out nearly as interestingly, because the characters are already drawn for you.
Mortensen brushes it off as “inferior in her oeuvre”, before checking himself. Chester’s a loser, he’s a slob, he’s kind of pathetic, and he’s a bad person.