Viggo Mortensen, the Hollywood star who calls Spain home

The film icon is married to Spanish actress Ariadna Gil, lives in downtown Madrid and is a member of the pro-Catalan independence association Òmnium Cultural

Viggo Mortensen with his wife, Spanish actress Ariadna Gil, and his son Henry at the Oscars.
Viggo Mortensen with his wife, Spanish actress Ariadna Gil, and his son Henry at the Oscars.Jordan Strauss / GTRES

Viggo Mortensen is an exotic mix of all the countries he has lived in: the United States, Denmark, Venezuela, Argentina and Spain. At 60 years of age, the actor knows what he likes and what he doesn’t, and among the things that don’t interest him are simple, underdeveloped characters and constant self-promotion.

Although being an actor is programmed into his DNA, his success is also due to third parties who pushed him to accept certain roles. Mortensen had decided to refuse the part of Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy but his son Henry Blake, who was 11 years old at the time, convinced him to accept the role, a decision that catapulted the actor into the international limelight. At the Academy Awards on Sunday, Mortensen appeared alongside Henry, now aged 31, and his wife, Spanish actress Ariadna Gil.

Mortensen and Gil live together in Madrid, the two met in 2006 while filming the Spanish war movie Alatriste. After meeting Mortensen, Gil left her husband, Spanish director David Trueba, with whom she has two children, Violeta and Leo. Mortensen, who had Henry with his former partner Exene Cervenka, the founder of punk rock band X, then moved to the Spanish capital.

These days, the two can be seen walking around Madrid's popular Chueca neighborhood, acting more like a normal couple than Hollywood stars. Indeed, they are so low-key, the paparazzi no longer bother hanging around outside their door. “I don’t give them much, they don’t find what I do interesting,” he told EL PAÍS Semanal in 2015. “I go out to buy bread, I go to the vets. It’s annoying that they intrude in your life, but if you make it obvious that it doesn’t bother you or if you don’t put on a show for them, they’ll get tired and leave you in peace.”

This attitude allows Mortensen to live life in the city like any other person, even if he does turn a few heads. From Madrid, the Hollywood star travels across the world for the cinematic projects that interest him (he is more committed to independent films than large studio ones). This year, Mortensen was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role as Tony Lip in Green Book, a movie about a white chauffeur and his African-American client in the United States. Although Mortensen returned to Spain without the gold trophy, he had Gil by his side for support. The pair appeared on the Oscar red carpet together for the first time in their 13-year relationship.

Awards and nominations aren’t a priority for Mortensen. Given a choice, he would probably prefer for his favorite soccer team, the San Lorenzo de Almagro club from Buenos Aires to win, than to take home an Oscar. Indeed Mortensen displayed his love for the team at the Academy Awards on Sunday, wearing their crest on the vest underneath his suit jacket.

In addition to film, the actor is also passionate about photography, painting and poetry, both as a writer and an editor. This year, Mortensen will debut as a director and screenwriter for the film Falling, a  personal project centered on a man who needs to take care of his ailing father despite their conflicting ideologies.

Mortensen was nominated for Best Actor for his role as Tony Lip in Green Book

Ideological differences have been the only issue Mortensen has come up against while living in Spain. Last year, the actor became a member of Òmnium Cultural, a civic association founded to preserve the Catalan language and culture, and that has played an active role in the Catalan independence movement. Some believe Mortensen joined as a show of support for Gil’s family, who have historic ties to Catalan politics and culture. Others say the decision is more to do with the actor’s free spirit.

Speaking to El País Semanal in 2015, Mortensen made his position clear: “I worry about the ideological calcification that is emerging from the current political conversation […] Both journalists and people with their computers look for the easy way, they look for point of views that reinforce their own.”  Mortensen explained he avoids this by “reading everything. I listen and read and look up what I need, but I also take in small doses of what I don’t like so that I am aware.”

English version by Asia London Palomba.

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