'Green Book' Director Says Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali Turned Serious Story Into "Hilarious" Movie

Green Book Cast - Getty - H 2018
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for AFI

Premiering at AFI Fest, 'Green Book' tracks the friendship that develops between a bouncer and musician as they travel the American South.

Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali and Linda Cardellini all walked the red carpet at the TCL Chinese Theatres on Friday night to celebrate the premiere of Green Book, which tells the true story of the friendship that developed between Italian-American tough guy Tony Lip and African-American pianist Dr. Don Shirley when they embarked on a concert tour together through the American South in the 1960s.

The movie's title refers to a book that was once published for African-American travelers so that they could find nonsegregated restaurants, hotels and other facilities while traveling across the country.

It’s a film the celebrates friendship amid difficult circumstances. On Friday, Mortensen, who plays Lip, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about what he hoped audiences would ultimately take away from the film. “Hope," he said. "People, if they spend any time with someone else, no matter how different they seem to be...you’re always going to learn something. You’re always going to find a reason to connect with that person. Any story that can do that, that can restore some faith, is valuable.”

Ali plays Dr. Shirley, a virtuoso musician who also had three doctorates, who deals with the everyday dangers and indignities of being a black man traveling through a segregated country. He told THR about the chemistry that developed between himself and Mortensen which enabled them both to give their best performances.

“Honestly, I felt like it clicked before we even started shooting. We had about 10 hours of table time going into it and I felt like we were on the same page from the jump. And then once we started filming on the day, it was really all about discovering, uplifting each other, rooting for each other,” he said. “If a take was good for me and wasn’t for him, I was totally ready to do another take, and vice versa.”

The film was directed by Peter Farrelly, who attempted to bring a light comedic touch to the movie while also respecting the seriousness of the subject matter. 

“I’ve never had actors elevate roles as much as these guys did,” Farrelly told THR of his actors. “This story was good on paper, but it's way better on screen. It was nuanced stuff that they came up with, that they tried, that I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is hilarious.’ This is not a funny script, but it's a hilarious movie, and it's because of their performances.”

The ending of the film was greeted with a rousing standing ovation and more than a few tearful eyes.

After the film’s conclusion, guests crossed the street to the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel, where they were served an Italian feast in the lobby that included penne pasta with meatballs and potato gnocchi in a cream sauce.