Since debuting in 1985's Witness, Viggo Mortensen's charisma in smaller roles from villain in GI Jane to sexy other man in A Perfect Murder have led to him being dubbed the "next big thing". But with a 20-year Hollywood career and over three dozen films under his belt, the Lord Of The Rings hero has learned to take Tinseltown buzz with a grain of salt.
"I've arrived so many times, I don't know where I went," he quips.
Born October 20, 1958, in New York City to a Danish dad and American mum, Viggo and his three brothers became world travellers at an early age, living in Argentina, Venezuela, Denmark and the US. After his parents divorced when he was 11, he eventually settled in Manhattan, and, after finishing high school, went on to study Spanish and government at St Lawrence University in New York State.
The future movie star, who fell into acting because he was "curious", made few outings on the big screen after his break in Witness. "I suppose if I'd known how long it would take to be able to earn a more-or-less steady living (with acting)," he says, "I wouldn"t have done it." While his professional life remained low profile, on the personal front he wed punk singer Exene Cervenka of X after meeting her on the shoot of the low-budget Salvation!. The two were married in 1987 and welcomed a son, Henry, the following year. A decade later the relationship ended in divorce, however.
Viggo's profile began to rise as he passed on indie flicks in favour of more commercial pieces. "I needed to support my family," he explains. The Nineties found him taking part films such as Crimson Tide and Portrait Of A Lady, opposite Nicole Kidman, and, in 1991, after Sean Penn cast him in his directing debut, The Indian Runner, one major US magazine predicted Viggo would become "an overnight sensation in the bad boy tradition of Marlon Brando".
Contrary to the flattering prediction, he didn't skyrocket onto the A-list. In the late Nineties, he again seemed on the verge of stardom this time as a heart-throb, playing the other man in both the Gwyneth Paltrow-Michael Douglas remake of Dial M For Murder and the well-received A Walk On The Moon with Diane Lane. Once again, however, he remained on the cusp of fame.
Though Viggo made "a steady living", his career ups and downs often forced him to consider a career change. He admits: "Many times I've just sat and thought, 'I've tried it for a while, and that's enough... I should move on and try something else a bit more realistic'."
Had he decided to quit acting, Viggo would have plenty to fall back on. Fluent in Spanish, Danish and English, the star is also an artist his paintings, exhibited from LA to New York, were used in A Perfect Murder as well as a poet, composer, publishing house founder and keen equestrian. "He's a Renaissance man," opines pal and producer Mark Ordesky. "He paints, he acts, he writes poetry, you could bounce a quarter off of him, and he cooks the way our mothers cook from scratch."
The multifaceted star's "sudden" rise to stardom in Lord Of The Rings as Strider/Aragorn almost didn't happen his first instinct was to turn down the role with its 18-month shoot because it "didn't seem like a good idea".
"I had one major consideration: it would have been a lengthy period of absence from my son," says Viggo, who had never read the JRR Tolkien series of books. However, it was Henry whose arrival years ago led his father to take on bigger Hollywood parts who changed his mind. "Henry said Strider was the coolest character in the book," he remembers, "and told me I had to do it."
Now that his fame has finally gone global, the 40-something bachelor, who was known on set as "No ego Viggo", seems to be looking forward to the hype dying down. "The illusion of having a feeling of things being open-ended," he says, "where if I want to, I can just stare at a painting or watch my son do things or listen to people without any other thoughts being in my head I'd like to get back to a more balanced way of functioning."