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Viggo Mortensen
Viggo Mortensen B (2020).jpg
Mortensen in 2020
Viggo Peter Mortensen Jr.

(1958-10-20) October 20, 1958 (age 65)
New York City, U.S.
  • United States
  • Denmark
Alma mater St. Lawrence University
Occupation Actor
Years active 1984–present
Exene Cervenka
(m. 1987; div. 1997)
Partner(s) Ariadna Gil (2009–present)
Children 1

Viggo Peter Mortensen Jr. R (Danish: [ˈviko ˈmɒːtn̩sn̩]; born October 20, 1958) is an American actor. He made his film debut in a small role in Peter Weir's 1985 thriller Witness. He appeared in several notable films, including The Indian Runner (1991), Carlito's Way (1993), Crimson Tide (1995), Daylight (1996), The Portrait of a Lady (1996), G.I. Jane (1997), A Perfect Murder (1998), A Walk on the Moon (1999), and 28 Days (2000).

Mortensen gained international attention for playing Aragorn in the fantasy trilogy The Lord of the Rings (2001–2003). He gained acclaim for his collaborations with filmmaker David Cronenberg in the thrillers A History of Violence (2005), Eastern Promises (2007), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, and A Dangerous Method (2011). He gained additional Academy Award nominations for his leading roles as an anarchist father in Captain Fantastic (2016) and as Tony Lip in Green Book (2018). Mortensen made his directorial debut with Falling (2020), in which he also starred.

Aside from acting, Mortensen has explored fine arts, photography, poetry, and music. In 2002, he founded the Perceval Press to publish both his works and the works of little-known artists and authors. Mortensen sang and composed for part of The Lord of the Rings soundtrack and has collaborated with guitarist Buckethead on several albums.

Early life

Mortensen was born in Watertown, New York in northern New York on October 20, 1958, the son of Grace Gamble (née Atkinson; July 8, 1928 – April 25, 2015) and Viggo Peter Mortensen Sr. (May 8, 1929 – March 2, 2017). His mother was American, while his father was Danish. They met in Norway. His maternal grandfather was a Canadian from Nova Scotia. His paternal grandmother was from Trondheim, Norway.

The family moved to Venezuela, then Denmark, and eventually settled in Argentina. They lived successively in the provinces of Córdoba, Chaco, and Buenos Aires. Mortensen attended primary school and acquired a fluent proficiency in Spanish while his father managed poultry farms and ranches. He was baptized Lutheran, the tradition of his father.

When Mortensen was 11 and his brothers 8 and 6, their parents divorced. The three boys returned with their mother to the United States, where Viggo spent the rest of his childhood in New York State. He graduated from Watertown High School in 1976. He attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, earning a bachelor's degree in 1980 in Spanish studies and politics.

Upon graduating, Mortensen went to Europe, living for a time in the United Kingdom and Spain, before returning to Denmark. There he took various jobs such as driving trucks in Esbjerg and selling flowers in Copenhagen. He eventually returned to the United States to pursue an acting career.

Acting career

1980s–1990s: First films

Mortensen's first film role was in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), but his scenes were deleted from the final cut. His first onscreen appearance was playing an Amish farmer in Peter Weir's Witness. He was cast in Witness because the director thought he had the right face for the part of an Amish man. He had also been simultaneously cast for another role as a soldier in Shakespeare in the Park's production of Henry V, but he decided to choose acting in the film because he wanted to try something new. He credited that decision and the very positive experience on the film as the start of his film career.

Also in 1985, he was cast in the role of Bragg on the TV series Search for Tomorrow. Mortensen's 1987 performance in Bent at the Coast Playhouse, Los Angeles, won him a Dramalogue Critics' Award. The play, about homosexual prisoners in a concentration camp, was known for the leading performance by Ian McKellen. Mortensen later costarred with him in the film trilogy The Lord of the Rings. In 1987, Mortensen guest starred as a police detective on the hit TV series Miami Vice.

During the 1990s, Mortensen appeared in supporting roles in a variety of films, including Jane Campion's The Portrait of a Lady, Young Guns II, Prison, Boiling Point, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, Sean Penn's The Indian Runner, Danny Cannon's The Young Americans, Carl Colpaert's The Crew, which won the São Paulo Film Festival Audience Award, Brian de Palma's Carlito's Way, Crimson Tide, G.I. Jane, Daylight, A Walk on the Moon, American Yakuza, Charles Robert Carner's remake Vanishing Point, Philip Ridley's films The Reflecting Skin and The Passion of Darkly Noon, the remake films A Perfect Murder and Gus Van Sant's Psycho (the 1998 remakes of two Alfred Hitchcock's movies Dial M for Murder and Psycho), 28 Days, and The Prophecy, with Christopher Walken. Of these roles, Mortensen was probably best known for playing Master Chief John Urgayle in G.I. Jane.

2000s: The Lord of the Rings and breakthrough

Mortensen at the premiere of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, December 1, 2003

Another major mainstream breakthrough came in 1999, when Peter Jackson cast him as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. According to the Special Extended Edition DVD of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Mortensen was a last-minute replacement for Stuart Townsend, and would not have taken the part of Aragorn had it not been for his son's enthusiasm for the J. R. R. Tolkien novel. He received critical acclaim for his portrayal of Aragorn, and was ranked No. 15 on a 2015 survey of "The 100 Greatest Movie Characters" conducted by Empire.

In The Two Towers DVD extras, the film's swordmaster, Bob Anderson, described Mortensen as "the best swordsman I've ever trained." Mortensen often performed his own stunts, and even the injuries he sustained during several of them did not dampen his enthusiasm. At one point during shooting of The Two Towers, Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, and Brett Beattie (stunt double for John Rhys-Davies) all had painful injuries, and during a shoot of them, running in the mountains, Peter Jackson jokingly referred to the three as "the walking wounded." Also, according to the Special Extended Edition DVD of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Mortensen purchased the two horses, Uraeus and Kenny, whom he rode and bonded with over the duration of the films. In May 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mortensen joined other stars from The Lord of the Rings for actor Josh Gad's YouTube series Reunited Apart, which reunites the cast of popular movies through video-conferencing, and promotes donations to non-profit charities.

In 2004, Mortensen starred as Frank Hopkins in Hidalgo, the story of an ex-army courier who travels to Arabia to compete with his horse, Hidalgo, in a dangerous desert race for a contest prize.

In 2005, Mortensen starred in David Cronenberg's movie A History of Violence as a family man revealed to have had an unsavory previous career. He was nominated for a Satellite Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture for this role. In the DVD extras for A History of Violence, Cronenberg related that Mortensen is the only actor he had come across who would come back from weekends with his family with items he had bought to use as props on the set.

Viggo Mortensen 2005
Mortensen interviewed by eTalk Daily at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival, for A History of Violence

In 2006, he starred as Captain Diego Alatriste in the Spanish language film Alatriste, based on the series of novels The Adventures of Captain Alatriste, written by the Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

In September 2007, the film Eastern Promises, directed by David Cronenberg, was released to critical acclaim for the film itself and for Mortensen's performance as a Russian gangster on the rise in London. ....." Mortensen's performance in Eastern Promises resulted in his winning the Best Performance by an Actor in a British Independent Film award from the British Independent Film Awards. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.

In 2009, Mortensen appeared as himself in the film Reclaiming The Blade, in which he discussed his passion for the sword and his sword-work in films such as The Lord of the Rings and Alatriste. Mortensen also talked about his work with Bob Anderson, the swordmaster on The Lord of the Rings, Alatriste, Pirates of the Caribbean and many others.

Viggo Mortensen 2012
Mortensen at the 32nd Genie Awards in March 2012

In 2009, Mortensen performed in The People Speak, a documentary feature film that uses dramatic and musical performances of the letters, diaries, and speeches of everyday Americans, based on historian Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. While it was reported in April 2009 that Mortensen had, at least temporarily, retired from film acting, Mortensen said he was misquoted. In a 2012 interview, he denied that he ever said he was retiring, only that he didn't have "plans to do another movie" at the time and that he was "taking a little break now. I don't have anything lined up." In 2009 he joined the cast of The Road, a film adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, and collaborated with David Cronenberg for a third time on A Dangerous Method.

2010s–present: Critical acclaim

After two years, Mortensen returned to theater in 2011, starring in Ariel Dorfman's Purgatorio ("Purgatory") in Madrid. Purgatorio is Mortensen's first play in Spanish. The play is about a man and woman confined either a psychiatric hospital or prison together. During production, Mortensen's mother became ill and he pulled out of the initial premiere date, the first time he had ever done so for a project. The play premiered from November 4 to December 18.

During production for the 2012 film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Mortensen was offered to reprise his role as Aragorn, but he declined because the character does not appear in the novel the film is based on.

Mortensen starred in the 2016 film Captain Fantastic, for which he received his second Academy Award nomination. Alonso Duralde of TheWrap praised Mortensen's performance, saying, "The movie really belongs to Mortensen, who allows Ben to be exasperating, arrogant, and impatient but also warm, loving, and caring. He's a tough but adoring father, a grieving widower and a passionate defender of his wife's final wishes, and Mortensen plays all these notes, and more with subtlety and grace".

In 2018, he starred in the film Green Book. Mortensen portrayed Tony Lip, an Italian-American bouncer hired to drive and protect pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on a tour through the Jim Crow South from 1962 to 1963. Reflecting on the character, Mortensen stated, "I was attracted to playing Tony in part because it was a different kind of character, but the main thing I liked about him was his heart". Mortensen received his third Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Lip.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mortensen together with Sean Astin, Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom, Billy Boyd, Ian McKellen, Dominic Monaghan, Miranda Otto, John Rhys-Davies, Andy Serkis, Liv Tyler, Karl Urban, and Elijah Wood, plus writer Philippa Boyens and director Peter Jackson from The Lord of the Rings in May 2020 joined actor Josh Gad's YouTube series Reunited Apart, which reunites the cast of popular movies through video-conferencing, and promotes donations to non-profit charities.

In 2020 he released his directorial debut Falling which he also wrote, produced, composed the score for and starred in alongside Lance Henriksen. Mortensen had based the story on his own family's history, including his parents suffering from dementia. The film is dedicated to his brothers, Charles and Walter Mortensen.

Mortensen was cast as British cave diver Rick Stanton in the biographical film Thirteen Lives directed by Ron Howard which was released in July 2022. Mortensen was taught cave diving by Stanton personally to prepare for the role.

He reunited with David Cronenberg in the horror sci-fi film Crimes of the Future alongside Kristen Stewart with filming beginning in August 2021. Mortensen will also reunite with Lisandro Alonso on the film Eureka. Mortensen and Caleb Landry Jones will star together in the Vietnam War thriller Two Wolves which will be directed by documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney.

He wrote, directed, and stars in a Western film titled The Dead Don't Hurt. It also stars Vicky Krieps and it was shot in Mexico.

Literary and arts career

Mortensen in 2010

Perceval Press

With part of his earnings from The Lord of the Rings, Mortensen founded the Perceval Press publishing house—named after the knight from the legend of King Arthur—to help other artists by publishing works that might not find a home in more traditional publishing venues. Perceval Press is also the home of Mortensen's many personal artistic projects in the area of fine arts, photography, poetry, song, and literature.

Visual arts and discography

Mortensen is a painter and photographer. His paintings are frequently abstract and often contain fragments of his poetry therein. His paintings have been featured in galleries worldwide, and many of the paintings of the artist he portrayed in A Perfect Murder are his own.

Mortensen experiments with his poetry and music by mixing the two art forms. He has collaborated with guitarist Buckethead on several albums, mostly released on his own label (Perceval Press) or TDRS Music. Viggo was first introduced to Buckethead's work while working on sounds for an educational CD on Greek mythology. The finished product included a guitar part by Buckethead, which caught Viggo's ear and led him to initiate contact with the guitarist. The collaboration grew from there.

Mortensen's discography includes:

  • 1994: Don't Tell Me What to Do
  • 1997: One Less Thing to Worry About
  • 1998: Recent Forgeries
  • 1999: The Other Parade
  • 1999: One Man's Meat
  • 1999: Live at Beyond Baroque
  • 2003: Pandemoniumfromamerica
  • 2004: Live at Beyond Baroque II
  • 2004: Please Tomorrow
  • 2004: This, That, and the Other
  • 2005: Intelligence Failure
  • 2006: 3 Fools 4 April
  • 2007: Time Waits for Everyone
  • 2008: At All
  • 2010: Canciones de Invierno
  • 2011: Reunion
  • 2013: Acá
  • 2015: Under the Weather
  • 2016: Seventeen Odd Songs
  • 2017: Preguntas Desde la Orilla
  • 2018: Godzilla Sleeps Alone

Mortensen is featured on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King soundtrack, singing "Aragorn's Coronation" (the name of the extended version of this song in the 3rd original sound track is "The Return of the King"), the words by Tolkien and the music composed by Mortensen. In the extended DVD edition of the first Lord of the Rings movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, he sings the song "The Lay of Beren and Lúthien".

Personal life

Family and relationships

Mortensen holds dual American and Danish citizenship. He has stated that he was raised speaking English and Spanish, and sometimes feels that, when speaking Spanish, he "can get to the heart of the matter better".

Mortensen met singer Exene Cervenka in 1986 on the set of the comedy Salvation! The couple married on July 8, 1987. On January 28, 1988, Cervenka gave birth to their son, who later played his on-screen son in the film Crimson Tide in 1995. His son graduated from Columbia University in 2010 with a B.A. in archaeology and has been working at Perceval Press, which was founded by his father. Mortensen and Cervenka lived in Idaho for three years. They separated in 1992 and divorced in 1997. Since 2009, he has been in a relationship with Spanish actress Ariadna Gil. Though the couple reside in Madrid, Mortensen spends much of his time in the United States, and has stated, "I am a citizen and longtime resident of the United States and am attached to its landscapes, history, and people." He has owned property in Sandpoint, Idaho, and spends time there when not filming movies.

Mortensen has talked about his family's struggles with dementia, seeing both of his parents, three of his four grandparents, aunts, uncles, and his stepfather battle the condition. In 2016, Mortensen traveled to New York to take care of his father, who died a year later. Two years earlier, Mortensen's mother had also died from complications of the condition.

Mortensen was a close friend of Icelandic painter Georg Guðni Hauksson until the latter's death in 2011. He had long been an admirer of Georg Guðni's work as a landscape artist, and the two published books together as well as maintaining a close friendship.


Mortensen has expressed a liking for association football, ice hockey and baseball. His favorite teams include Argentine club San Lorenzo de Almagro, English team Fulham, Spanish team Real Madrid, Turkish team Beşiktaş, and both the Argentine and Danish national teams. His favorite soccer players are Diego Maradona and Héctor "Bambino" Veira. He is a fan of the Montreal Canadiens and wore a Canadiens shirt underneath his costume throughout the filming of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. During the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Montreal Canadiens, Mortensen introduced one of his idols, Guy Lafleur, to the crowd at the Bell Centre in Montreal. He is also a fan of the New York Mets and, in an interview promoting 2009 film The Road, was seen wearing apparel indicating his support for the Australian Football League's Collingwood Magpies. While appearing on the Late Show with David Letterman, he held a sign supporting the New York Giants of the NFL.

Political activities

Mortensen was one of the signers of the "Toronto Declaration" protesting against spotlighting Tel Aviv at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009.

In 2015 Mortensen donated $1,000 to Irish political party Sinn Fein.

Mortensen endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders for U.S. president during the primaries for the 2016 election. After Sanders failed to win the Democratic Party nomination, Mortensen endorsed Green Party candidate Jill Stein. He wrote an open letter just before Election Day 2016 in which he listed the reasons he disagreed with Hillary Clinton’s policies and could not support her in the race against Donald Trump, though he thought that Clinton would be elected president. He went on to narrate a documentary, The Revolution Televised, about the 2016 presidential election and the protests in the aftermath of the Democratic National Convention.

Since 2018 Mortensen has been a member of the Catalan NGO Òmnium Cultural, a pro-independence organization dedicated to promoting Catalan culture and language in the arts and the public sphere. His longtime partner and her extended family were supporters of the 2017 Catalan independence referendum. In 2019, he publicly criticized the use of his character Aragorn by the far-right Spanish party Vox during the campaign for the 2019 Spanish general election.



Films that have not yet been released Denotes films that have not yet been released
Year Title Role Notes
1985 Witness Moses Hochleitner
1987 Salvation! Jerome Stample
Prison Burke / Forsythe Electrocution
1988 Fresh Horses Green
1990 Tripwire Hans
Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III Edward "Tex" Sawyer
Young Guns II John W. Poe
The Reflecting Skin Cameron Dove
1991 The Indian Runner Frank Roberts
1993 Boiling Point Ronnie
Ruby Cairo John E. "Johnny" Faro
Carlito's Way Lalin Miasso
The Young Americans Carl Frazer
1994 The Crew Phillip
Floundering Homeless Man
Gospel According to Harry Wes
American Yakuza Nick Davis / David Brandt
1995 Gimlet Hombre
Crimson Tide Lieutenant Peter "Weps" Ince
The Passion of Darkly Noon Clay
Black Velvet Pantsuit Junkie
The Prophecy Lucifer
1996 Albino Alligator Guy Foucard
Daylight Roy Nord
The Portrait of a Lady Caspar Goodwood
1997 Vanishing Point Jimmy Kowalski
G.I. Jane Master Chief John James "Jack" Urgayle
My Brother's Gun Juanito
1998 A Perfect Murder David Shaw
Psycho Samuel "Sam" Loomis
1999 A Walk on the Moon Walker Jerome
2000 28 Days Eddie Boone
2001 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Aragorn/Elessar
2002 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2004 Hidalgo Frank Hopkins
2005 A History of Violence Tom Stall / Joey Cusack
2006 Alatriste Diego Alatriste y Tenorio
2007 Eastern Promises Nikolai Luzhin
2008 Appaloosa Everett Hitch
Good John Halder
2009 The Road The Man
2011 A Dangerous Method Sigmund Freud
2012 On the Road Old Bull Lee
Everybody Has a Plan Agustín / Pedro Also producer
2014 The Two Faces of January Chester MacFarland
Jauja Gunnar Dinesen Also producer and composer
Far from Men Daru Also co-producer
2016 Captain Fantastic Ben Cash
2018 Green Book Tony Lip
2020 Falling John Petersen Also director, producer, writer and music composer
2022 Crimes of the Future Saul Tenser
Thirteen Lives Richard Stanton
2023 Eureka Murphy
The Dead Don't Hurt Holger Olsen Also director, producer, writer and music composer


Year Title Role Notes
1987 Miami Vice Eddie Episode: "Red Tape"
2020 Cosmos: Possible Worlds Nikolai Vavilov Episode: "Vavilov"

Video games

Year Title Voice role
2002 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Aragorn

Awards and nominations

Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Joe Penhall, John Hillcoat, Steve Schwartz
Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee, screenwriter Joe Penhall, director John Hillcoat and producer Steve Schwartz at the 2009 Venice Film Festival for The Road

Following his appearance in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, in 2006 he was granted an honorary doctorate by his alma mater, St. Lawrence University.

On October 13, 2006, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Province and the City of León, Spain.

On April 16, 2010, he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Order of the Dannebrog.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Viggo Mortensen para niños

  • List of actors with Academy Award nominations
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