Viggo Mortensen Talks About Taking Risks in Hollywood Filmmaking

Viggo Mortensen Mar del Plata Film Festival - H 2014
Courtesy of Mar del Plata Film Festival

Viggo Mortensen Mar del Plata Film Festival - H 2014

“All around the world it’s getting harder to make films,” said the star of ‘Jauja’

One of the most talked-about films in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard this year, Argentinean auteur Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja, had its local premiere Sunday at the 29th Mar del Plata Film Festival, presented by the director alongside star Viggo Mortensen and writer Fabian Casas.

The film, winner of the FIPRESCI award at Cannes, features a Danish-speaking Mortensen as a 19th army captain who sets out on a hypnotic and somewhat magical journey through the Argentine Patagonia to find his kidnapped young daughter.

Mortensen, who grew up in Argentina and speaks perfect Castellano, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about how the film didn't get support from Denmark, the hardships of making personal films in Hollywood and how Jauja managed to do what Interstellar did — with no money.

The son of a Danish man and an American woman, the actor, who just won the Best Actor category at the Fenix Awards, had been asked to make a film in Danish for a long time. Surprisingly enough, this Denmark-Argentina co-production didn’t get any support from that country, and still hasn’t been picked up for distribution there, unlike in the U.S. and the U.K. where it will be released in the winter.

The star of David Cronenberg's edgy Eastern Promises, A History of Violence and A Dangerous Method claims the problem with backing and supporting films such as Jauja is simple: “they don’t see a lot of money there,” he says.

“It’s not just Denmark: all around the world it's getting harder to make films. If people don’t see an extraordinary, guaranteed profit, they don’t take the risk. It has always been like that, but now it’s more complicated," he adds, and defends a layer of the industry where more personal filmmakers can work: "There will always be people making independent films. Just like Lisandro. He doesn’t say, ‘It’s too hard, I’ll quit.’ He just does it," he says.

Yet Mortensen, who will star in Captain Fantastic after a stint doing mostly mid-level budget films and foreign art house productions, doesn’t look down on Hollywood’s way of business.

“Whenever there’s a lot of money in stake, I completely understand that some people won’t be inclined to take a risk and tell a brand-new story,” he says.

“They will tell you a story that is somewhat recognizable, even if it’s dressed-up or marketed as a new thing. In the end, you will see it’s something you already saw in some way,” he adds.

“There are many ways to skin a cat,” says Mortensen, who also produced, co-wrote and scored Alonso's film, in which his character's time-breaking journey through the desert leads him to a cave where he meets an old woman — played by legendary Danish actress Ghita Norby — who could be his daughter. (A spoiler from Interstellar follows.)

“I went to see Interstellar, which I thought was interesting, since Nolan is one of those directors who [has] managed to move within high-budgets and make riskier things. But since I have to defend Jauja now, I have to say it: OK, Interstellar has good things and bad things, but considering the metaphysic and existential ideas it deals with — like a father who reunites with his daughter who is older than him — well, we actually did all that, really cheap and maybe even with more subtlety. This is not to criticize Nolan’s film, which is very interesting. But people say, ‘Yeah, sure, if I had all that money I could do all sorts of things.' And Lisandro did it. And with no money.”

Nov. 25, 4:45 a.m. Updated title of Lisandro Alonso's film Jauja, previously reported as Land of Plenty.