Viggo Mortensen brought Lord Of The Rings (LOTR) fans’ Aragorn to life in Peter Jackson’s trilogy. But recent years have seen the Oscar-nominated actor admit that filming the project was far from the fantastical production presented to moviegoers.
Mortensen’s roles in movies such as Eastern Promises, Captain Fantastic, and The Green Book might stand out in his filmography, but the 64-year-old’s action-adventure turn in The Lord Of The Rings remains his lingering legacy.
Viggo Mortensen almost turned down Aragorn role
If there’s one thing that Ringers can all agree on, it’s the casting for Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings. The central characters were perfectly suited to their roles, a star-making turn for the likes of Orlando Bloom and Viggo Mortensen. But the filmmakers were close to treading an alternate path given that Mortensen was not initially cast in the role.
Irish actor Stuart Townsend (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) was originally cast as Aragorn. He even made it a few weeks into filming in New Zealand. But despite getting on well with both cast and crew, there were some doubts if Townsend was the right choice for the role. Peter Jackson arranged a call offering Viggo Mortensen the role. But the actor was given just hours to make the choice. He was also requested to fly out to New Zealand to start filming the following day.
Such a huge request out of the blue made Mortensen doubtful if he would agree. In fact, the actor was leaning towards rejecting the offer before his son, Henry, caught wind. As a fan of JRR Tolkien’s novels, Henry encouraged his dad to take on Aragorn. Viggo Mortensen signed up having never met Jackson or even read the story.
Viggo Mortensen called filming LOTR a ‘mess’
Nine years ago, Viggo Mortensen made some candid revelations about filming LOTR to The Telegraph. While promoting his film The Two Faces Of January, Mortensen opened up on the “mess” LOTR initially was.
“Officially, [Peter Jackson] could say that he was finished in December 2000—he’d shot all three films in the trilogy—but really the second and third ones were a mess,” Mortensen admitted in hindsight.
“It was very sloppy—it just wasn’t done at all. It needed massive reshoots, which we did, year after year. But he would have never been given the extra money to do those if the first one hadn’t been a huge success. The second and third ones would have been straight to video.”
LOTR transformed from ‘sloppy mess’ to major hit
Butchering the beloved Lord Of The Rings franchise with a Hollywood adaptation would’ve gone down terribly with the legions of JRR Tolkien fans. Fortunately, Peter Jackson and the crew managed to turn the project around. With the critical and commercial success of the first film, Fellowship Of The Ring (2001), Jackson had the financial backing and incentive to reshoot the second and third.
Given that all three films were nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, it’s safe to say that Viggo Mortensen’s “mess” comments never materialized in the finished project.
The final film, The Return Of The King (2003), won all 11 Academy Awards it was nominated for. It joins Ben-Hur (1959) and Titanic (1997) as the movie with the most Oscar wins.