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Shooting The Lord of the Rings required a nearly two-year commitment from the cast. Director Peter Jackson and crew landed Viggo Mortensen for the part of Aragorn after letting another actor go. As the valiant warrior who protected the Shire and battled Orcs, Mortensen carried a sword and rode a horse in the film. However, he had a moment during filming that involved swordplay and the local police.

Viggo Mortensen at press junket for ‘Lord of the Rings: Return of the King’ in 2003
Viggo Mortensen at press junket for ‘Lord of the Rings: Return of the King’ in 2003 in Los Angeles, California | Munawar Hosain/Getty Images

Viggo Mortensen attracted police attention with his Aragorn sword

Filming for Lord of the Rings trilogy took place in New Zealand, and the cast and crew settled into their new digs. Mortensen, hired at the last minute, arrived just two days before shooting scenes for The Fellowship of the Ring. As Aragon, he immediately dedicated himself to the role.

For the book, Anything You Can Imagine: Peter Jackson and the Making of Middle-earth, Ian Nathan interviewed Jackson and several cast and crew members. They recalled how Mortensen spent Sunday mornings at a gym in Wellington — with his prop sword.

In one instance, he wanted to practice his sequence, “spinning and thrusting with the lengthy blade on the sidewalk outside.” Locals called the police to report “a wild man swinging a sword around his head. Cars were dispatched, and Aragorn was surrounded by a swarm of flashing lights and shrieking sirens. He was led off with a mild caution as long as he signed a few autographs and posed for some pictures,” wrote Nathan.

Mortensen went all in as Aragorn for ‘Lord of the Rings’

Mortensen immersed himself into his role to the point that he walked, talked, and breathed Aragorn. Jackson told Nathan, “I have never witnessed an actor enter in the spirit of a role the way he did.” The sword event was one example of his passion. Apparently, he took his king-to-be role so seriously that he never touched the sacred Ring props.

“I walked and dressed like Aragorn as Pete always encouraged us to look for the realism in the story. It was a very real performance. At least, I felt like it was true,” said Mortensen.

Nathan wrote that if they had an early morning call time, he insisted the camp set up the night before. Once, Mortensen roasted a rabbit that he hit with his car. It was all part of staying in his Middle-earth character. And of course, he kept his sword by his side, even for jaunts to local restaurants. Co-star Sean Bean joked, “I don’t think I saw him in street clothes during filming.” Orlando Bloom called him an inspiration.


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Mortensen preferred character over special effects after ‘LOTR’ films

While reflecting on the LOTR trilogy in 2019, Mortensen told Entertainment Weekly that The Fellowship of the Ring was his favorite out of the three. He appreciated how the special effects were subtle and the movie relied on the actors.

“In the first movie, yes, there’s Rivendell, and Mordor, but there’s sort of an organic quality to it, actors acting with each other, and real landscapes; it’s grittier,” he said.

After those films helped spur his career, he sought roles that focused more on characters rather than CGI. As with Aragorn, Mortensen preferred to go deep within the character to convey the realism in the story.