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A shoe-in for the role

'Crimson' costar Viggo Mortensen

Talk about a double life. Viggo Mortensen, who plays Weps, the conflicted weapons officer in Crimson Tide, is currently shuttling between sets in Rome, Florence, and London as he shoots two wildly dissimilar movies simultaneously. In the genteel Portrait of a Lady, directed by The Piano's Jane Campion, he plays one of Nicole Kidman's suitors; in Daylight, with Sylvester Stallone, he's a survivor of an explosion that seals off New York City's Holland Tunnel. ''One of the advantages of working on two movies at once is that I don't have the opportunity to get nervous or second-guess myself,'' the steely-eyed, square-jawed Mortensen says. As for exhaustion: ''You get past the point of being tired.''

Since landing his first major-movie role, as an Amish man in 1985's Witness, the New York-born actor has lent his quiet intensity to a wide range of parts in such films as Fresh Horses, The Indian Runner, and Boiling Point, most recently portraying the devil himself in The Prophecy. ''I took the part the day before shooting began, and thought, 'S -- -, how am I going to prepare for this?''' Mortensen, 37, says. ''But then I figured, there is no way to prepare for playing Satan.''

How did an actor like Mortensen — who says he ''likes to get as deeply into his characters as possible'' — thrive in the world of Tide director Tony Scott, whose quick-cutting style wouldn't seem to allow a performer to do much but build up an aggregate of reaction shots? ''I knew that I had a bare minimum to work with,'' he says, ''but Tony encouraged the supporting cast to come up with things to make the characters distinctive.''

In his off time, Mortensen writes poetry and takes photos, some of which appear on the booklet of buddy John Doe's album Kissingsohard. (Mortensen has a 7-year-old son, Henry, by ex-wife Exene Cervenka — who is also Doe's former wife and band mate in the rock group X.) ''I got into photography early in my career to pass the time when I wasn't working, which was a lot,'' he says. These days, his camera must be spending much more time in its case.

Originally posted Nov 03, 1995 Published in issue #299 Nov 03, 1995 Order article reprints