A History of Violence


Up next: The Spanish-language film “Alatriste,” written and directed by Goya Award winner Agustin Diaz Yanes.

After director David Cronenberg met Viggo Mortensen at a party at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, they agreed they should work together. After another meeting in Los Angeles to discuss a crime thriller called “A History of Violence,” Cronenberg became even more convinced.

“Viggo’s my kind of actor,” says the helmer of such provocative fare as “Dead Ringers” and “Videodrome,” explaining he prefers character actors who can double as leading men. “First of all, they tend not to be afraid because they’re not trying to protect some image they see of themselves as traditional leading men. But it also gives them a much bigger palette to paint from because they have all kinds of edges.”

Mortensen’s character, Tom Stall, reveals his edges suddenly in a violent outburst when he thwarts a robbery (and potentially multiple homicides) inside the coffee shop he manages in a peaceful Midwestern town. From that moment on, his life and those of his wife and kids are never the same.

“Obviously, the tricky part was to find an actor who could be believable as an innocent, small-town family man,” explains producer Chris Bender, “but when that turn takes place, he can be convincing as a killer. We discussed some actors we felt could be one, but not the other. David believed that Viggo had those qualities, the rugged good lucks of a likable guy, but also someone who could kill.”

Mortensen is known for his meticulous preparation when approaching a character, and “Violence” was no exception. When he would travel the countryside near the film’s location, in Ontario, Canada, he would collect knickknacks, such as a piggybank or animal sculptures, that he felt would enhance his character’s existence.

“He flew himself to Philadelphia and hung out with (co-star Maria Bello’s) uncle to get the accent and see what life is like there,” Bender explains. “He brought back tapes of her relatives reading lines, to get into the spirit of things.”

Of course, there was also the violence, for which Mortensen prepared himself as well.

“He and David worked on killing techniques you don’t see in action films,” says Bender. “David found an old video explaining how to kill in two or three moves. Some guy in his basement explaining how to kill without wasting any energy. If you watch his moves in the film, the choreographed action is minimal.”

Says Cronenberg of Mortensen: “He is a maniac for detail, which I love. He is very focused and obsessed with details of how his character would move, speak and dress. It’s really quite spectacular to watch him work and to interact with him.”

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