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How Viggo Mortensen’s child saved ‘Lord of The Rings’

It’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role of Aragorn other than Viggo Mortensen. The actor bought a stoic elegance to the part, helping cement the true king of Gondor as one of the most iconic heroes in cinema history. There was a time, however, when Peter Jackson and the rest of the Lord of The Rings team thought the role might never be filled. Mortensen eventually accepted Jackson’s last-minute offer, but only thanks to the actor’s son, Henry. Without him, we may well have had Russell Crowe in the role.

It all started when Peter Jackson came to the sad realisation that he’d cast Aragorn too young. The role was originally given to British actor Stuart Townsend, who flew out to New Zealand with the rest of the cast and spent two months preparing for the character. Jackson had been a fan of Townsend’s previous work and felt the simmering intensity he’d showcased in his audition would be perfect for the kind of hero he wanted to depict.

Unfortunately for Townsend, New Line Cinema felt that the character arc designed by Jackson didn’t suit the 27-year-old actor. It’s easy to see why they were nervous. Aragorn is described as a grizzled wanderer in J.R.R Tolkien’s original books. Being in his 20s, Townsend wasn’t scruffy enough, nor did he have the necessary gravitas.

New Line was so worried about Stuart that they forced him to do a screen test alongside stand-in actors. It soon dawned on him that the crew thought he couldn’t take on the role, a realisation which significantly affected his mood on set. Everyone could tell he was struggling, including Jackson, who felt Townsend was unwilling to participate in the preparation work.

All of this led to his eventual dismissal. But even after Stuart was given the push, Jackson still faced the problem of who would take over the role. He had three options: Russell Crowe, Jason Patrick and Viggo Mortensen. After Crowe and Patrick turned down the role, Mortensen received the phone call that would change his life, although Mortensen, having not read the books, had no idea if he should accept.

In a behind-the-scenes interview for LOTR, Mortensen recalled: “I got a phone call at home saying ‘do you want to get on a plane tomorrow to go to New Zealand.’ And I said ‘for what?’ and they said, ‘you know, Lord Of The Rings.’ I just said, ‘well can I think about it for a minute?’ and they said, ‘well, not for very long; you have ’till this afternoon.’ Then I hung up the phone, and my son was with me, and he says, ‘what was that about, Lord of The Rings?‘ and I said, ‘yeah, they’re making a movie out of it.’ And he knew the story, you know. I didn’t.”

Peter Jackson noted, “Henry was 12 or 11 at that time, and he was a huge fan of Lord of The Rings and was absolutely beside himself when he thought his dad could get to play Aragorn.” His son’s enthusiasm convinced Mortensen to accept the offer. Jackson likely breathed a deep sigh of relief, content in the knowledge that this decision had secured the success of his movie.

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