Critically acclaimed actor Viggo Mortensen made his feature-film debut playing Alexander Godunov's Amish brother in Witness (1985). The suave, handsome actor has subsequently portrayed a wide variety of characters, often unapologetic bad boys, opposite some of Hollywood's most popular actors, including Sylvester Stallone, Demi Moore, and Nicole Kidman.
Born in New York City, on October 20, 1958, to an American mother and a Danish father, Mortensen spent his first years in Manhattan and the rest of his youth living in Argentina, Venezuela, and Denmark. Returning to Manhattan in the early '80s, he studied acting at Warren Robertson's Theatre Workshop and then embarked upon a stage career before moving to Los Angeles. There, he earned a Dramalogue Critics Award for his performance in a Coast Playhouse production of Bent and became a familiar figure on the L.A. punk scene (something that was aided by his brief marriage to Exene Cervenka, lead singer of the punk band X). Following his debut in Witness, Mortensen began working steadily in a number of diverse films, becoming a familiar but not instantly recognizable face to filmgoers. He did some of his more memorable work as a series of louts and villains, in such films as The Indian Runner (1991, written and directed by Sean Penn), which cast him as David Morse's morally questionable brother; Carlito's Way (1993), in which he played a paraplegic ex-con who tries to snitch on Al Pacino; and The Prophecy (aka God's Army) (1995), which required the actor, in the role of Lucifer, to rip out Christopher Walken's heart and then eat it.
Mortensen finally attained a greater measure of recognition with his smoldering portrayal of one of Isabel Archer's (Nicole Kidman) suitors in Jane Campion's 1996 adaptation of The Portrait of a Lady. He then made another strong impression as Demi Moore's rough, tough, and buff training instructor in G.I. Jane (1997) and, the following year, he was one of the few redeeming features of A Perfect Murder, in which he supplied sexy menace (as well as his own art work) as Gwyneth Paltrow's murderous artist lover. He allowed his softer side to come through in Tony Goldwyn's acclaimed A Walk on the Moon (1999), which cast him as the hippie lover of a dissatisfied housewife (Diane Lane) in Woodstock-era upstate New York. His more romantic side was again in evidence in the romantic drama 28 Days (2000), in which he played recovering party girl Sandra Bullock's rehab honey.
Replacing Irish actor Stuart Townsend in the role of Aragorn shortly after production had begun on director Peter Jackson's eagerly anticipated film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Mortensen secured a strong screen presence through 2003, with the release of the trilogy's final installment, The Return of the King. In 2004, he proved that he could carry a film on his own when he starred as Wild West adventurer Frank T. Hopkins in the horse-racing period film Hidalgo. In 2005, the actor won critical raves when he headlined the visceral David Cronenberg crime thriller A History of Violence, vis-a-vis Ed Harris and William Hurt; as Tom Stall, a seemingly open-faced small-town Hoosier whose dark and brutal past comes to light during a diner robbery, Mortensen lent the film a great deal of momentum and held audiences rapt. History received two Academy Award nominations, though Mortensen failed to net one for Best Actor.
Mortensen returned to period adventures in 2006 when he played the titular solider-turned-mercenary in Agustín Díaz Yanes' Spanish-language film Alatriste, set during Spain's 16th century imperial wars.
In 2007 Mortensen teamed up for a second time with David Cornenberg, playing a Russian mob enforcer in Eastern Promises. His impressive work in the film garnered him strong reviews as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Unfortunately for Mortensen, that year brought some stiff competition in the form of Daniel Day Lewis, who ultimately took home the award for his powerful performance in Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood. A grim trek through a post-apocalyptic wasteland followed when Mortensen took the lead in John Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road (2009), and in 2011 the actor continued his collaboration with Canadian auteur Cronenberg by playing none other than legendary psychologist Sigmund Freud (opposite Michael Fassbender's Carl Jung) in A Dangerous Method.
~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi