Normally when an Oscar-nominated actor like Viggo Mortensen stars in a movie, it’s going to get a lot of attention at all stages of production, but that wasn’t really the case with Everybody Has a Plan, a lower-budget film from Argentina that played at the Toronto International Film Festival last September which is another showcase for one of the more underrated dramatic actors working today.
Written and directed by Ana Piterbarg, Mortensen plays the dual role of Augustin and Pedro, twin brothers living in different parts of the country – Augustin is a doctor in Buenos Aires, who is unsatisfied with his life, and Pedro dwells in the remote area of the Tigre delta. When Pedro dies, Augustin decides to take over his brother’s identity not realizing how far his brother has gotten involved with a local criminal and a significantly younger woman named Rosa.
ComingSoon.net got on the phone with Mortensen earlier this week and after talking about his return to his roots in Argentina, we of course had to try and ask him if we might see him working with filmmakers David Cronenberg or Peter Jackson sometime soon.
ComingSoon.net: It’s a very cool movie. I’m a big fan of Argentine cinema in general, but this movie had a bit of a low-key presence at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, where I only heard about it because I saw posters around the hotel where you were doing interviews. It’s definitely more low-key than some of the other movies you’ve done.
Viggo Mortensen: Yeah, I don’t know, it’s hard to say. Toronto Film Festival is one of those festivals where there are 400 movies and unless you have a distributor who is super-confident and puts a lot of money into it, sometimes movies can go unwatched or unnoticed. I have to say that was one of the best screenings and best Q n’ As I’ve ever been to for any movie and I’ve participated with movies at the Toronto Film Festival I think six or seven times. That theater was packed with standing ovations. It was the first time we’d shown the movie to a non-Spanish speaking audience or 99% Anglo audience, and the reaction was tremendous. It was probably one of the best screenings we’ve ever had for that movie, which was unusual. They stayed almost all of them to the end of the Q n’ A, which is unheard of at any time, but especially during a festival where people have other movies and parties to run off to. Everybody stayed and they even extended the Q n’ A for us, and it was a very good experience. I think they could have released last fall if they wanted to and if they felt confident enough, but certainly now, hindsight is of course 20/20, but now, the reactions from the screenings and journalists have been overwhelmingly positive. I mean, it’s a thriller, a film noir movie, but it has a unique pace and it’s a very original take on that genre I think, so it took a while to reach its audience maybe and may take a little push but fortunately, you and others seem to react positively to it, and I hope it can find its audience, not just the English-speaking audience but also the Spanish speaking audience in the U.S., I hope they get a chance to see it if it gets to go into some more theaters than just New York and L.A.
CS: Oh, absolutely. There have been lots of great Argentine filmmakers and I know you have a background in Argentina, so how did Ana get in touch with you? Had you been actively looking for something to shoot down there?
Mortensen: Like you, I’m a fan of Argentine cinema. They have a long, rich tradition of making good movies and producing really good actors and directors. Frequently, we’ll run into them in European movies and American movies, people in the camera department or the film crew will be Argentine – there’s a really good formation of crews from down there. Theater is huge there. It’s probably the most fertile of the Spanish speaking countries in the world, as far as theater. There is so much theater going on every week, all the time, there. There’s just lots of really good people who know what they’re doing and really good acting teachers. In fact, in Spain, most of the best acting teachers are all Argentine. They have a rich tradition and obviously, since I speak the language and was raised there I was hoping to someday be able to be part of the Argentine movie history. I’d done three movies in Spanish before this one, but they were all in Spain. The things that I had been offered from Argentina–as you know, I was raised there until I was 11–either I wasn’t available or the ones I was available for I didn’t want to do. Anywhere in the world they make very few good movies and you just have to be lucky. In this case, I ran into Ana Piterbarg by chance. I was in Argentina on one of my regular visits and I was actually at the San Lorenzo football team club, which is also just a big sports club where you can watch sports and she was there. She’s not a member or a fan of the team but she takes one of her kids to swim at that club, and she was picking up her kid and she saw me and said, “Oh, you’re Viggo aren’t you? I’m Ana and I have a script to a movie I want to film. Can I send it to you?” I said, “Sure” and gave her an address to send it to. I didn’t think much more of it because most of the scripts I get, they’re not genuine and movies that are not very original takes or not very original stories and in this case, when I finally got back home after my travels, I found this package and I read it right away because I was curious since I saw it was from her and she’s an Argentine woman, and I was very surprised. A few pages into it, you really get hooked and I just couldn’t put it down. I really read it fast and I read it all over again from the start because I thought it was an unusually good thriller, a very good film noir movie. It’s hard to have an original take on that genre but she did, and I thought if she’s at all a good director and she can get any kind of decent crew, I thought this could be an interesting movie, so I said “Yes.” As is often the case with movies that are unique and certainly with first time directors, it sometimes takes a while to get the financing together even for a low-budget movie like this one. It took us two to three years, but we spent the time until we got it together and we were able to shoot, getting to know each other, working on the script so that when Day 1 of the shoot came along, we were more then ready. She had assembled a great team and as you saw, it doesn’t seem at all like a first time director’s movie.
CS: Not at all. It’s interesting because this isn’t your typical story of a city doctor going to the country or outlands and finding people to save. It’s mainly different because Augustin is quite damaged and selfish, and actually more like his brother than you might expect considering their different backgrounds.
Mortensen: Yeah, what I like about the story generally was that there’s a lot of grey area. It’s not all paint by numbers and it respects the audience and lets the audience fill in the gaps and think a little bit. It’s kind of movie that when it finishes you have something to talk about, which isn’t always the case with movies.
CS: As far as playing the two roles, you only have about ten minutes when there are the two characters together, just you and yourself. I don’t know if you’ve ever had to play a dual role before, but did you wonder how Ana was going to pull that off?
Mortensen: No, I never had to do that. I was a little worried about it because most movies that involve one actor playing twins, at least the ones that I’ve seen, it rarely works that you can look at it as more than a stunt or just a distraction or as a unique sort of thing. You don’t really get involved as it’s two separate entities or personalities and I was worried about that happening. I didn’t want that to happen, but in this case, “Dead Ringers” would have been one movie that I would say definitely works, but there’s not many that really work, and I was worried as an actor at first, like “How am I going to do this? It needs to seem like two different people.” By the time we got around to shooting those scenes where we’re face to face and interacting–where I need to act with myself basically–we had shot most of the movie and I had worked out all the stuff that doesn’t involve the two of them together. I had worked as the separate brothers with other characters and by that time, I knew these characters very well and the difference in the way they walk and talk, their vocabulary and their tone of voice, their attitude. So it wasn’t that hard and it ended up being a lot of fun to do at the end of the shoot.
CS: And how often do you get to kill yourself in a movie? I assume that’s not very often.
Mortensen: (laughs) No, it was fun. What I like doing is to create that grey area of why do each of them do what they do? Why do they react in the way that they do? It’s not all explained to you. I think it’s a believable way to behave, but it leaves you with some questions. I like movies that leave you with something to think about, to discuss, to debate, you know? I like directors like Ana or David Cronenberg, for example, who ask lots of questions but don’t give you many answers. I think that’s a way of respecting the audience and respecting the story.
CS: Speaking of locations, had you ever been to the Tigre section of Argentina before?
Mortensen: Oh, yeah. As a kid. I was raised in Argentina until I was 11 so I knew that area, yeah. I hadn’t been as far into the interior. I didn’t know that area very well, but I got to know it in pre-production and I actually lived in Tigre for the shoot so I got to be quite familiar with it and that was helpful definitely to have a better understanding of it when we started.
CS: It’s funny you mention David who just had a birthday a couple days ago. Have you been in touch with him about doing a fourth movie together? You guys have had a pretty good run together so far.
Mortensen: Yeah, no, I’d love to work with him again. He’s one of the handful of great directors in world cinema today and has been for quite some time. I feel like he’ll go down in history as such even if he’s not been recognized by the American Academy certainly ever, but that day will probably come and whether it does or not, I’ve done three with him and three such different characters in different stories and it’s been such an honor that you really hope we will be able to do another one. Unfortunately, like Ana and others who make unique movies, David always has a hard time raising the money for his projects even though he’s proven time and time again that he comes in on budget or under budget and is very efficient and always produces good work. For some reason, it’s hard for him to raise the money. It should be easier for him than anybody else. If Woody Allen can make a movie every year, David Cronenberg should be able to if he wants to, you know?
CS: Oh, absolutely. Obviously, Woody does work on a lower budget and can get actors to work at lower pay to make his movies happen.
Mortensen: Well, actually if you’re Woody Allen and somebody says, “Well we’ll be funding your movie if you shoot in Italy,” then he’ll come up with a story and tailor it around it, and maybe he’ll make something that’s not maybe the most profound movie. It might be entertaining, but he’ll tailor it to where he gets the money and David just tries to tell a good story. He’s pragmatic and flexible with the way he shoots things and where he shoots them, but he’s true to what guides him, which is challenging himself and challenging audiences, so he doesn’t tell the same story over and over like a lot of directors do, and that’s probably one of the reasons why it’s hard for him to raise money. Eventually he does and eventually he makes another good movie to put on his resume. Hopefully he’ll make another one soon, and if I’m lucky I’ll be a part of it.
CS: Another director you’ve worked with is Peter Jackson and now that he’s extending “The Hobbit” and doing more shooting, do you think there’s a better chance of them bringing Aragorn and Liv Tyler’s Arwen back? I’m surprised we haven’t heard anything to that effect.
Mortensen: I haven’t heard anything, so I guess not. You never know. They sometimes do things last minute, script rewrites and casting stuff, but I hadn’t heard anything about it so I have to assume I’m not going to be part of it, but with reshoots you never know. I’m looking forward to seeing it like everybody else and that’s all I know about it.
CS: Viggo, thanks for taking the time to talk to me about this movie.
Mortensen: Thanks for being interested in it. I think it’s a sleeper, a little movie that might have a chance to reach a larger audience than what’s expected so thanks for taking the time to talk about it.
Everybody Has a Plan opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, March 22.