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HIDALGO

Casting The Film
The role Frank T. Hopkins required an actor who could portray a complex emotional range while also tackling serious athletic feats. As this would not be an ordinary film role, the film required an extraordinary actor, one who could carry a film that would take on epic proportions. Johnston and Silver turned to Viggo Mortensen, an actor who is a veteran of more than 30 feature films and most recently shot to stardom as Aragorn in the "Lord of the Rings” trilogy. With rave reviews and extensive riding experience from those films, Mortensen was one of the few actors who had both the acting and the riding expertise needed for the role.

"I knew Viggo had proven himself a great actor before I ever met him. And I knew he could carry the film. What I didn't know was the subtlety he'd be able to give the character of Frank Hopkins,” says Johnston. "Viggo had studied the evolution of his character and where he was emotionally in every scene before we ever started shooting. He was incredibly well-prepared; when we were editing the film, I was amazed to see how well Viggo's scenes -- shot months apart -- flow together with astounding emotional continuity. He has excellent instincts about each scene and he has them on his feet, meaning when things change or something unexpected happens while the camera's rolling, he does the right thing.

"But the best thing about Viggo is how much he cares about the project,” Johnston continues. "He's always there, always ready, and doesn't walk away from the movie at wrap every day. The bottom line is, he makes the filmmakers look good.”

"Viggo has that indescribable quality called ‘presence,'” notes Silver. "Even when he was first starting out, when he had a very small role in ‘Witness,' he stood out in the crowd. I find his role in ‘Carlito's Way' particularly memorable. But maybe this is all a result of his being less interested in being a ‘movie star' than focused on story and character and his private interests, his photography and his art; he's a social activist and a father.”

"Frank is an outsider,” says Mortensen. "This is a man, a cowboy, who's probably never even seen the ocean, and now he's got to hack it in a 3,000- mile race in the Arabian desert. He doesn't know if he can cut it. And he's at a point in his life when whatever arrogance or confidence he had is pretty much gone, and all he has is his experience with his horse.”

Mortensen was fascinated with the Davidversus- Goliath nature of the story. "The odds are stacked against Frank,” he continues. "Compared to the Arabian horses, the mustang Hidalgo looks like a little dog. A pony, next to their steeds. But though the race is his redemption, it's not winning the race that's important – it's that Frank is there at all.

"By the end of the story, I think you really appreciate the fact that as human beings, no matter how diverse the culture is and how farflung the places you go to might be, we have a lot more in common than not with people,” explains Mortensen.

Another attraction for Mortensen was the opportunity to work with screen legend Omar Sharif, who plays Sheikh Riyadh. "We were filming in some of the same locations that he was in forty years ago, filming ‘Lawrence of Arabia' with Peter O'Toole,” notes Mortensen. "And he's got a really good memory and a lot of good stories. Wherever we went, he'd have some story of what it was like to film that movie. He's a fine actor.”

"When we were filming ‘Lawrence,' we were the first to go to Ouarzazate (Morocco), where we shot the big part of ‘Hidalgo,'” notes Sharif. "There were no hotels then. We just pitched tents. Now, there's a big film industry. It's almost like Hollywood over there now.”

Sharif is an Academy Award®-nominee and three-time Golden Globe-winner whose most recent film, "Monsieur Ibrahim,” was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language film. That film and "Hidalgo” brou

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