‘Lord of the Rings’: How Viggo Mortensen Impressed the Studio and Saved the Movies

It’s impossible to imagine The Lord of the Rings without Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn now, but he was actually the last member of the Fellowship of the Ring cast. Stuart Townsend originally had the role but it didn’t work out. After that, the film really was all riding on Mortensen.

Lord of the Rings: Viggo Mortensen
Viggo Mortensen | L. Cohen/WireImage

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Josh Gad reunited the cast of the Lord of the Rings trilogy along with director Peter Jackson on his YouTube show Reunited Apart. The 50-minute conversation raised money for No Kid Hungry, and Mortensen and Jackson told the story of how Mortensen saved the trilogy.

Viggo Mortensen on joining ‘The Lord of the Rings’ late

Mortensen was replacing another actor literally the day before he was to begin filming, according to Independent.ie. He literally had the flight to New Zealand to prepare. He says his son Henry convinced him to do the Lord of the Rings trilogy. 

Viggo Mortensen
Viggo Mortensen | J. Vespa/WireImage

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“Well, I am grateful to Henry although he is kind of a pain in the ass,” Mortensen joked. “I was worried a bit. You want to contribute so I wa sa little nervous. Then I started reading the book. I really liked it and I found some things that I could connect with. I was familiar with Nordic sagas and fairy tales. I’ve also read Celtic material and stuff so it wasn’t that unfamiliar.”

Peter Jackson threw Viggo Mortensen into the deep end of ‘The Lord of the Rings’

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy gave Mortensen some comfort. Jackson got him started with the scene where Aragorn fights the wraiths. 

“I relaxed a bit as I started reading the book but then once I landed I got very nervous all over again,” Mortensen said. “I didn’t know what would be expected and how soon. Fortunately for me, the first things I had to do were physical, were nonverbal. There was swordfighting.”

Viggo Mortensen | Gregg DeGuire/WireImage

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No one mentioned Townsend by name, but Jackson conveyed how desperate he was to cast Aragorn, having already started filming Lord of the Rings

“For a moment, you are totally at sea,” Jackson said. “You have no one playing this character. Then fate steps in and says, ‘God, you stuffed this up but there’s one guy who’s going to be the perfect person to play this. Just follow me.’ We were very lucky.”

Viggo Mortensen saved the trilogy with this scene

New Line Cinema took a big risk greenlighting three Lord of the Rings films at once. Jackson said the studio was rightfully breathing down his neck over the recasting.

“New Line were understandably nervous ,not because of Viggo but because this drama had happened,” Jackson said. “We didn’t have anybody and then we had Viggo. So we were under strict orders that the seconde the first day’s filming with Viggo was over, we had to dispatch the rushes to America. They were withholding the permission to decide whether we got the right guy or not. Luckily it was fire, wraiths, flames and it blew them away.”

This seemed to be the first Mortensen heard about that. Good thing he didn’t feel the pressure in 2001.

“So I could’ve sunk the trilogy on my first day of work,” Mortensen joked.

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Jackson again called Mortensen’s casting fate.

“Well, yeah, but fate was saying, ‘For God’s sake, don’t do a boring dialogue scene. Do something cool that the studio are going to get excited about,’” Jackson said.