Viggo Mortensen isn’t like most actors. He primarily lives in Spain, far from the intrusive telephoto lenses of Hollywood, where he tends to horses, sips wine, and paints. He also refuses to compromise his artistic integrity, eschewing bloated, lucrative studio roles for passion pieces like Far from Men, a Camus adaptation about a French teacher and Algerian prisoner who form a unique bond with one another at the onset of the Algerian War.
Just before landing the role of Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Mortensen even turned down the opportunity to play Logan—aka Wolverine—in Bryan Singer’s 2000 film X-Men.
“I was offered Wolverine for the first movie—I guess it would have been for the franchise then,” Mortensen tells The Daily Beast. “That was before I got Lord of the Rings. I remember going to the meeting with the director, Bryan Singer, with my son who was a total comic book expert. He was about 10 at the time. Henry came, and Bryan showed us all these models and storyboards, and Henry was instructing the director, saying, ‘Oh, you’re going to change this thing right here.’”Mortensen adds, “I believe it coincided with another project, and I couldn’t do it.”
Hugh Jackman eventually landed the role, which catapulted him to stardom. He’s starred in four X-Men films and two Wolverine spin-off flicks, and Mortensen chuckles when I mention how different his career may have been had he committed to the X-Men franchise instead of Lord of the Rings.
Another superhero opportunity for Mortensen came more recently, for Zack Snyder’s 2013 film Man of Steel—a Superman reboot starring Henry Cavill and Russell Crowe.
“Every once in a while, I get an offer like that. I was offered two different parts in the last Superman movie they made, but I wasn’t available to do that either,” says Mortensen.
One big-budget film he came very close to doing was Snow White and the Huntsman, a gothic take on the Snow White fairy tale starring Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, and Chris Hemsworth. It ended up grossing close to $400 million worldwide, and Mortensen was offered the role of the Huntsman. The spin-off The Huntsman, starring Hemsworth, Theron, Emily Blunt, and Jessica Chastain, is currently filming and scheduled for an April 2016 release.
When I ask him if the Huntsman role was too similar to Aragorn, he says, “It might’ve been,” before explaining that the original script was a far cry from the final product—a grim, mirthless dark fantasy.
“Snow White and the Huntsman isn’t a comic, but it’s almost like a comic. They changed it a lot,” Mortensen says. “When they offered it to me, it was a different story and seemed more justified to be called Snow White and the Huntsman. The movie they ended up making should have been called Snow White and the Wicked Witch. The original script was a lot funnier and there was a longer apprenticeship. It was almost like The African Queen a little bit.”
This is a taste of a longer interview with Viggo Mortensen that will run next week on The Daily Beast. Far from Men will make its U.S. premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and open in U.S. theaters on May 1.