Examiner Dorri Olds sat down with Viggo Mortensen on Wed. 17, 2014 to discuss his latest film, “The Two Faces of January.” It’s a thriller based on a book of the same name by Patricia Highsmith. The screenplay was written by Hossein Amini (“Drive”) who also directed.
The story opens following a couple that looks like very Great-Gatsby-ish. Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst) seem in love and care free on vacation in Greece. It’s 1962 and they’re sightseeing at the Acropolis. They meet Rydal (Oscar Isaac), a young American working as a tour guide in Greece.
We see him using his looks to dazzle gullible tourists out of their dough. He spots Colette and Chester. Being the opportunist, he is drawn to Collette for her good looks but also because he smells wealth. What Rydal doesn’t know is that Chester has sized him up by watching him swindling people.
It’s an intriguing beginning and the movie has many pluses: postcard-worthy travel views, a triangle of deeply flawed characters you’ll be drawn in by and, sigh… Viggo Mortensen… swoon, swoon. The plot loses fuel in the second half, which keeps it from being as successful as say, “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” another book by Highsmith. In all fairness, that book had a plot that was easier to translate into a movie. “The Two Faces of January” was a courageous adaption and a great directorial debut for Amini.
Dorri Olds: How did you prepare for the role of Chester?
Viggo Mortensen: We watched movies from the time and some film noir, too. It helps that Hoss [Hossein Amini] is a fan of that genre. He collects film noir posters. He knew what he wanted to avoid in terms of clichés. He wanted to borrow — like you always do — from the best of them but still make his own thing. So he got a good fusion with this movie. It all looks and feels really right in terms of period and our dialogue and behavior but it’s not some slick imitation. He was not trying to do a retro exercise. He really tried to make his own movie and the way it was shot in a subtle way there is a certain formal quality to the cinematography. It kept it classy and old-fashioned but there’s an energy to it. It was pretty ambitious.
What do you think makes Patricia Highsmith unique?
I think the characters are more layered. They’re more interesting. You tend to see in a really credible way the sort of seamier or uglier side to them. I think that’s what really drew Hoss and why he stuck with it for like 20 years until he got this movie made. From the time he read it and thought, “Someday I want to make this movie,” to when we shot it was 20 years. He was in college when he first decided to do it. It was the characters that drew him because they’re complicated and sometimes weak.
There’s a certain vulnerability. Highsmith is really good at that, showing the ugly side, the embarrassing-to-look-at moments in terms of behavior and even appearance in some places and Hoss didn’t shy away from that. He went for it in telling the story. It’s interesting as an actor when you’re not just playing a bad person or a good person or someone trying to rescue someone or anything like that.
“The Two Faces of January” opens Friday Sept 26, 2014. Rated PG-13. 98 min.