You’d think winning Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali at last year’s Oscars would be enough for Green Book, but now the film’s co-lead, Viggo Mortensen, is here to defend it against your criticisms, two years on. “It’s become a cliché to say, ‘Is this movie going to be the Green Book of this year?,’” the actor told the Independent in an interview published this weekend, in which he called criticism of the film “hurtful and destructive.”“Green Book has become a pejorative,” said Mortensen.
The 2018 Peter Farrelly film might have won big at the Academy Awards, but some critics disparaged Green Book as a prototypical white savior narrative, especially after living family members of Don Shirley, the famous Black pianist portrayed by Ali and driven across segregated 1960s America by Mortensen’s Italian chauffeur, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, voiced their objections to the movie.
“Much of the criticism that was leveled at that movie was not only unreasonable, but it was inaccurate, mendacious, and irresponsible,” Mortensen, who received a Best Actor nom for the film, says now. “It’s based on a load of bullshit and an axe to grind and little else. Does it affect what I’m doing, or how people perceive me as an actor? Maybe it does. But I can’t really do anything about that.”
While the actor doesn’t go into detail about what he thinks is “inaccurate, mendacious, and irresponsible” about critics’ qualms with the film, in which his character teaches Ali’s worldly Black musician about Little Richard and fried chicken. Following the movie’s release, Shirley’s brother and nephew, Maurice and Edwin Shirley III, took issue with a number of elements in the movie, which they allege Shirley did not want to be made, with Maurice calling Green Book’s depiction of his brother “a symphony of lies.”
Mahershala Ali later reportedly apologized to the Shirley family. Both Ali and director Farrelly said they were unaware there were living close relatives of Don Shirley with whom they could consult about the screenplay, written by Vallelonga’s real-life son, Nick Vallelonga, who said Shirley asked him not to speak to his family.
As the Independent points out, Mortensen will likely receive raised eyebrows for his next role, a gay man grappling with his homophobic father’s struggle with dementia, in his upcoming directorial debut Falling. “He wouldn’t think of asking someone what their sexual orientation or identification was,” Mortensen said. “Neither do I assume that actors who identify as being homosexual only want to play homosexual roles. I wasn’t intending to play [the gay son] John, but I ended up playing him, because I had a high enough profile, and I also didn’t have to pay the actor.”