Since his screen debut as a young Amish Farmer in Peter Weir's Witness (1985), Viggo Mortensen's career has been marked by a steady string of well-rounded performances.
Mortensen was born in New York City, to Grace Gamble (Atkinson) and Viggo Peter Mortensen, Sr. His father was Danish, his mother was American, and his maternal grandfather was Canadian. His parents met in Norway. They wed and moved to New York, where Viggo, Jr. was born, before moving to South America, where Viggo, Sr. managed chicken farms and ranches in Venezuela and Argentina. Two more sons were born, Charles and Walter, before the marriage grew increasingly unhappy. When Viggo was seven, his parents sent him to a a strict boarding school, isolated in the foothills of the mountains of Argentina. Then, at age eleven, his parents divorced. His mother moved herself and the children back to her home state of New York.
Viggo attended Watertown High School, and became a very good student and athlete. He graduated in 1976 and went on to St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. After graduation, he moved to Denmark - driven by the need for a defining purpose in life. He began writing poetry and short stories while working many odd jobs, from dock worker to flower seller. In 1982, he fell in love and followed his girlfriend back to New York City, hoping for a long romance and a writing career. He got neither. In New York, Viggo found work waiting tables and bar tending and began taking acting classes, studying with Warren Robertson. He appeared in several plays and movies, and eventually moved to Los Angeles, where his performance in "Bent" at the Coast Playhouse earned him a Drama-logue Critic's Award.
He made his film debut with a small part in Witness (1985). He appeared in Salvation!: Have You Said Your Prayers Today? (1987) and married his co-star, Exene Cervenka. The two had a son, Henry Mortensen. But after nearly eleven years of marriage, the couple divorced.
In 1999, Viggo got a phone call about a movie he did not know anything about: The Lord of the Rings. At first, he didn't want to do it, because it would mean time away from his son. But Henry, a big fan of the books, told his father he shouldn't turn down the role. Viggo accepted the part and immediately began work on the project, which was already underway. Eventually, the success of Lord of the Rings made him a household name - a difficult consequence for the ever private and introspective Viggo.
Critics have continually recognized his work in over thirty movies, including such diverse projects as Jane Campion's The Portrait of a Lady (1996), Sean Penn's The Indian Runner (1991), Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way (1993), Ridley Scott's G.I. Jane (1997), Tony Scott's Crimson Tide (1995), Andrew Davis's A Perfect Murder (1998), Ray Loriga's La pistola de mi hermano (1997), and Tony Goldwyn's A Walk on the Moon (1999).
Mortensen is also an accomplished poet, photographer and painter.