It’s a mid-week evening at the Freud Museum just off Finchley Road in London, and the institute is hosting a screening of David Cronenberg’s very apt A DANGEROUS METHOD; before all that, Viggo Mortensen spends a few minutes talking about his portrayal of Sigmund Freud within the film, and the process of making it all happen. THN was there to listen in.

A DANGEROUS METHOD is Cronenberg’s latest feature film, and is based on the blustery relationship between the two godfathers of psychoanalysis, Carl Jung (played by Michael Fassbender), Mortensen’s Sigmund Freud, as well as with Sabina Spielrein, Jung’s patient and romantic complication (played by Keira Knightley). The film marks Cronenberg’s first foray into historical filmmaking, ever widening to gap between the director’s more recent high-minded entertainments and the body-horror that made him famous.

“If someone else other than David Cronenberg had offered me the role, I would have most likely turned it down. For a moment I thought he was even crazier than I knew him to be, because I don’t look like Sigmund Freud, at any age. I thought it was an odd idea but I trust him and his instinct; I’ve had a good time working with him twice before and I knew he didn’t take casting his movies lightly. Then the fear set in, obviously: ‘How do I do this, exactly?’ The first obvious fear was the exterior aspect of the character, how do I come to look like him; so once I got some help, some make-up experts […] in order to resemble Freud at fifty, when he was a lot more robust than many people think he was.”

“Then the problem was how to deal with all this dialogue; I had to speak as this character. I’m not given that much to say in movies, usually! [laughs] Once I started learning about him, I did what I usually do to find out for myself, to form an idea of what happened between the cradle and the first page of the script. So I went to Vienna, I went to his birthplace in what is now the Czech Republic, and I went to lots of antiquarian bookshops to find the kind of books he would have had in his house. Not just academic material but, you know, Oscar Wilde, Nestroy, the people that he seemed to be interested in. The more I read about him the more I realised he was funny, he had a great sense of humour. […] And that helped me a lot, as an actor, technically, it was a way in, it was a way to make him human.”

Still reaping the ample rewards of his star turn in Peter Jackson’s epic LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, Viggo Mortensen has found himself able to take on sensitive, less-than-mainstream roles whilst still managing to retain a bankable public image. Most recently he has been seen in 2009’s THE ROAD, an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer-winning novel; and 2008’s GOOD, a drama about the effects of the rise of National Socialism in Germany.

A DANGEROUS METHOD also marks his third film in a row featuring Viggo Mortensen in a lead role, after 2005’s A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and 2007’s EASTERN PROMISES. Mortensen said:

“I have a good time working with [Cronenberg]. He makes it fun, he never seems to lose sight of the fact that [the film’s storyline is] really a game, a refined version of a childish activity that’s universal, and that we can believe. When you go into it with that approach on a daily basis, it doesn’t look impossible, and if it doesn’t work it’s not the end of the world. He creates an atmosphere that’s relaxed, […] where you have the feeling that there’s all the time in the world and there’s no pressure.”

“Actually, the more I tried to infuse the dialogue and the behaviour of the character with a certain amount of humour, the more I started looking at David and thinking ‘You know, I have the model, to some degree, in front of me!’ [laughs] He is the kind of person who would say something funny without cracking a smile; he’s just keep going, and if you got it then there’s some complicity, you’re there, and if you didn’t he just goes on anyway. And from my reading of Freud, I think he was kinda that way.”

Viggo Mortensen and Lisa Appagnanesi in the Freud Museum, London

The Q&A was conducted by Lisa Appignanesi, who serves as the Chair of the Freud Museum, as well as President of English PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organisation. She commended Mortensen’s portrayal of Freud, saying: “In fact, I now have to do a little shift in my imagination every time I think of the professor!” The Freud Museum is located within the Freud family home from 1938 to 1982, when Anna Freud, the youngest daughter of Sigmund, died. The museum was a useful tool for Mortensen’s research process, getting into the history of his illustrious character.

“Yesterday I came in and I did a couple of interviews, and they said ‘Well, come on in,’ and I said, ‘You know, I’ve been here before,’ so they said, “We’re going to go into his office.’ So we go in and suddenly there’s no rope [laughs]. They said I should go on in, and I though ‘No! This is wrong.’ It felt very transgressive; but then again Freud was pretty transgressive himself, he might have been amused by this whole thing of a movie and the actors and everything, just ridiculous really. So I took advantage, I asked if we could do it walking around, and they said, ‘Sure,’ so I took a chance to get up close and look at all the things that I’d only seen from behind the rope.”

It would have been nice to hear more (or indeed anything) about working with Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley, but unfortunately the Q&A session was not opened up to questions from those gathered. Regardless, for an insight into Mortensen’s approach to the role, it was certainly revealing. The actor received his audience with grace and good humour, cracking a joke when someone dropped a wine glass to the floor and never missing a beat.

A DANGEROUS METHOD is released in UK cinemas on 10th February 2012