Viggo Mortensen on working with Robert Duvall in ‘The Road’

Posted by · 3:56 pm · September 10th, 2009

Robert Duvall in The RoadI spoke briefly with Viggo Mortensen at the Telluride film fest over the weekend, fresh off a tribute at the Palm Theater the night before and being gracious as ever with his time.  The last time we spoke was four years ago for “A History of Violence” and as ever, he’s a soft spoken guy who can fill a digital recorder with wall-to-wall perspective.  Sometimes you just feel guilty interjecting with a question.

But something I had to ask Mortensen concerned my favorite scene from “The Road,” a back-and-forth with Robert Duvall that could have been more but nevertheless comes close to representing the best a story like this has to offer, I feel.

The scene is in the book so it’s nothing much in the way of a spoiler.  The Man, The Child and the Old Man (the actual character names, for those unaware) sit by a campfire discussing, briefly, their lives before whatever calamity has struck their world.  Mortensen spoke with clear reverence for the opportunity to work with Duvall, as well as real joy for living and free-wheeling in the moment as a pair of actors working through a key scene.

What was interesting about that was it was going fine as scripted and Duvall was such a great actor that it was really good.  But there was time for one more before we lost the light.  We looked at John [Hillcoat] and he says, ‘Yeah, we can do one more.’

We were just sort of sitting talking as they were setting up the camera and getting the fire ready for another take.  We talked about, ‘Well let’s forget everything, let’s just do one for ourselves.  Let’s just let things happen.’  There was nothing calculated.  It was just like, ‘Let’s just open our hearts,’ I guess, without saying it that way as much as we can and see where it goes.

Suddenly he said — it was not scripted and added that other layer — he just threw me that line: ‘I had a boy once.’  And I suddenly realized, ‘Wow, okay.’  And I just went with him, you know?  And what happened to him.  All of a sudden it was just magic.  It was beautiful to watch him.

Mortensen talked at length about the work of cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe’s work in the film.  Being a photographer himself, the actor appreciated watching the lenser work and was captivated by how he “painted” the film with the light available to him.  He also spoke about working with Charlize Theron, which he enjoyed quite a bit and said he felt elevated the character from her depiction in Cormac McCarthy’s novel quite a bit.

It was a brief discussion so I figured I’d upload it here.  Give it a listen if you’re so inclined.  Mortensen, as I said, is a bit soft spoken, so you might need to crank the volume a bit.  “The Road” will screen this weekend at the Toronto film fest.

→ 4 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

4 responses so far

  • 1 9-10-2009 at 4:14 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    Viggo for best actor in 2010, i think so

  • 2 9-10-2009 at 6:51 pm

    Simone said...

    I’ll see The Road Sunday night at tiff. I’m rooting for Viggo too.

  • 3 9-11-2009 at 4:46 am

    John H. Foote said...

    I spent some time with Duvall during the shooting of John Q. in Toronto, and have had the chance to interview him many times over the last decade. Not ever have I heard another actor say a negative thing about him…NOT ONCE. He is revered by his fellow actors, and it is great to see after all these years his joy in the art has never diminished — he loves going off the script, to improvise, and when he finds another actor who is willing to take that journey with him, magic happens on the screen. Sanford Meisner, the great acting guru of the sixtioes stated once that “There are two great American actors…the first is Brando but his best work is behind him. The other is Robert Duvall.” This was said before Duvall broke through with “The Godfather” and during Brando’s hellish sixties…how true, and in my opinion Duvall went past Brando a long time ago. Along with Jack Nicholson, he may be the greatest male actor working in film.

  • 4 9-11-2009 at 5:45 pm

    JR said...

    Do you mean older actor??? I think Day-Lewis and Bardem give anybody – male or female – a run for their money. In fact, of all of them, I’d say Bardem – despite being the youngest of the bunch – has displayed the greatest range.