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Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2003

The fellowship vs. the empire


Why is it that we should listen when actors speak out on political issues? Perhaps it's because these days, in some cases, they have a better grasp of the difference between fantasy and reality than many of our politicians do.

News photo
Karl Urban and Viggo Mortensen make a statement at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.

Take Viggo Mortensen and Karl Urban, stars of "The Two Towers." As the noble warriors Aragorn and Eomer, they spend much of the film lopping off the heads of the Uruk-hai orcs, and both counsel war to the bewitched King Theoden, who dreams of appeasement. Yet when it comes to real-world events, these action heroes deride simplistic talk of "good vs. evil": At a recent press conference, Mortensen appeared in a T-shirt reading "No More Blood For Oil," while Urban's jacket sported a peace symbol.

When asked about their fashion statement (by a Shukan Kinyobi journalist, naturally), Mortensen softly but adamantly made his views clear.

"It's not something I've done before, in connection to working on a movie," said the actor. "For me, it was more or less a reaction to comparisons that have been made repeatedly, for the first movie and a lot now for the second one. I don't think it should be compared to current events anyway, and neither did Tolkien: It's not allegorical, is what he said. But if the comparisons are made, and they are, comparing the people who are defending the various races at Helm's Deep against this 10,000-strong army [to] the United States against [laughs incredulously] the world, or against the supposed 'bad' people in the world, that's an incorrect comparison."

Indeed so. Try this line from the film: "A new order will arise. . . . We have only to remove those who oppose us." This may have the ring of George the Younger, but it's mouthed by Saruman the White, the evil wizard besieging the free people of Rohan.

Mortensen definitely has a problem with the current U.S. administration's rush to war, though he stresses this is a personal position. "Many people in Iraq and Afghanistan have already died, innocent people, and not for a very good reason. And this war that we're about to go on -- no matter what anybody says, we just keep going ahead, without any dialogue. The U.S. was founded on the principles of openness and discussion, and that's definitely what we need. To just go ahead without discussions is dangerous and, I feel, morally wrong."

While he is a pacifist regarding wars for oil, Mortensen certainly engaged in a lot of simulated combat on set. Which, in the case of the 14-week shoot of the battle of Helm's Deep, was particularly grueling. Mortensen broke a few teeth doing some stunts, but notes that "everybody that was involved in the fighting, from the actors to the stunt men, at some point -- more than once, usually -- got hurt.

"In order to do those scenes, yes, there were some great special effects, but most of that work for us was very real, involving many hours. And to make it that real, you have to become very familiar with each other as a group, how we moved, like dance partners.

"So we took more and more chances, and we also became more tired as the shoot went on. Mistakes happen, and you slip and fall. You know, you pull some muscles, or break things, cuts, bruises. It was normal. That's the price you pay when you want it to look the way it does, which is what it needs to be, brutal and hard."

Karl Urban received extensive training in swordsmanship from a veteran coach, Bob Anderson. The 30-year-old Urban was mildly impressed to learn that Anderson was the man who taught Errol Flynn how to sword-fight, but his jaw dropped when he learned that Anderson had done Darth Vader's light-saber work in the original "Star Wars" series. Urban, who Jackson knew from his role in the indie film "The Price of Milk," enjoyed the shoot despite the hard pace.

"The opportunity gave me a chance to see more of my own country than I had living there my entire life," he said. Viggo and people from overseas were showing me aspects of my own country I didn't even know existed."

Mortensen was equally wistful about the shoot: "We knew as we were doing it that it was a unique experience that we would never even come close to having again."



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