Viggo's Most Violent Scenes
A peacenik in real life, Mortensen plays violent men as well as anyone, and so we were curious: What went into creating some of the most savage scenes in recent memory? Before obliging, though, he wanted to make something clear: "Getting the horrible moments of staged violence done properly can be exhilarating, but no more so than the satisfaction I get from being part of any scene in which there is a lot at stake dramatically or emotionally. I am not a fan of directors who use scenes that depict violence to show off their camera moves and display their callous immaturity. I find their work unrealistic and generally a waste of time and talent."
A History of Violence (2005)
SCENE: Front-yard mayhem. Ed Harris and his two goons show up at Viggo's house to force his return to Philly.
OUTCOME: Two dead and another left twitching on the ground, noseless.
VIGGO'S TAKE: "David Cronenberg built a viscerally engaging, perfectly escalated psychological minefield of a scene. Although my character hasn't handled a handgun for 15 years, he's still comfortable with it, with no hesitation about defending himself and his family. This does not keep him from being disturbed about regressing in this way, especially when he comes face-to-face with his son, who is in shock over what he has witnessed and participated in."
Eastern Promises (2007)
SCENE: Bathhouse bloodbath. Two Chechen hit men attack a stark-naked Viggo with wicked, curved carpet knives.
OUTCOME: Knife, meet Chechen eye socket.
VIGGO'S TAKE: "Again, we are in the hands of Cronenberg, a master. There is no compromising, no showing off, and no way for the audience to avoid confronting their own feelings, however mixed, about brutality and the savage, primeval instinct for survival. Like a great original painting, this scene may well be imitated and eventually improved upon, but he did it first. It probably was, on some level, as scary and uncomfortable for everyone involved in creating it as it was for people viewing it."
SCENE: Shoot-out with the Shelton brothers. Harris and Viggo face off against rival hired guns.
OUTCOME: Bullet holes in everyone, but more in the other guys.
VIGGO'S TAKE: "Very raw. Very authentic. As Ed's character replies to my character's observation that the shoot-out had not taken very long: 'Everybody could shoot.' The choreography was loose and somewhat improvised, but Ed's direction was clear: We were going to go for it recklessly. In this scene, as with other gunplay in this movie, I appreciated that Ed did not want to show off, that we would sometimes miss, and that, as in most really deadly fights, it would be over shockingly fast."
The Road (2009)
SCENE: Forest standoff. A member of a postapocalyptic road gang holds Viggo's son at knifepoint.
OUTCOME: Don't bring a knife to a gunfight.
VIGGO'S TAKE: "My feeling is that my character has shot at threatening individuals before to keep them at bay – it is clear in a flashback that there were more bullets in the gun – but he has never shot someone up close. As you can see in the scene, he is not that sure of his ability to carry it off. I am, in reality, comfortable handling guns, but my job here was not to seem so and yet to have my need to protect my son override any nervousness or fear. The killing is an instinctual, protective act."