Aragorn Could’ve Been Very Different

Winford Hunter

It’s almost been 20 years since the gallant swordsman graced our screens. Viggo Mortensen‘s portrayal of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings franchise captivated many, stole the hearts of some, but ultimately instated his claim as the most famous warrior in film history. Whereas It’s hard to imagine another actor playing the beloved Ranger of the North, partly due to the rugged gentility, and partly because of Mortensen’s boundless brilliance, it was indeed a miracle that it was eventually offered to Mortensen. The director of the franchise, Peter Jackson, had other actors in his sights and the same can be said of the studio. In truth, the casting of Aragorn was somewhat of a mess — with one unfortunate actor being ejected the day before filming commenced. Nonetheless, the story of how Mortensen came to play Aragorn is one of intrigue and the actors that nearly did will bring surprise, interest, and for some, acrimoniousness.


Peter Jackson Wanted Daniel Day-Lewis as Aragorn

Daniel Day-Lewis in 'There Will Be Blood'

The actor at the top of Jackson’s list was none other than Daniel Day-Lewis. Already a renowned actor by the time of casting, and a proven success in the realm of fantasy and war — thanks to his performance in The Last of the Mohicans — it seemed casting Day-Lewis was a no-brainer. However, he apparently felt different as he passed up on Jackson’s numerous offers. The defining reason for his decision remains unknown, but there has been much speculation that the three-time Oscar winner wasn’t interested in big-budget franchises. It’s unlikely the actor will harness any regret judging by the success of his career and the projects he meticulously selects. In addition, it’s equally unlikely that the cast of LOTR will have regrets about his decision to decline.

Albeit a superlative great, Day-Lewis doesn’t come without his difficulties. As an intense method actor, It’s hard to imagine the grueling back-to-back shoots for all three installments occurring without complications. Let’s not forget this is an actor who famously spent three days in solitary confinement without water for In The Name of the Father, and insisted on being continuously wheeled around the set whilst playing a cerebral palsy patient in My Left Foot. In retrospect, the actors’ declination may have been a blessing in disguise.

RELATED: Viggo Mortensen on Directorial Debut ‘Falling,’ Learning From Cronenberg, & Thoughts on Returning to ‘LOTR’

Russell Crowe Was Also an Aragorn Candidate

russell crowe in gladiator prepared for battle in armor

It appears Daniel Day-Lewis wasn’t the only juggernaut to pass up on the offer of Aragorn. A globally cherished Kiwi native named Russell Crowe was very much in the running. Having just led Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning epic Gladiator, we were assured of this: Crowe’s ability to wield a sword was just as convincing as his ability to electrify a crowd for battle — both essential when playing the future King of Gondor. Crowe’s appearance on the Howard Stern Show in 2019 confirmed the interest the studio had in him but also confirmed that Jackson himself didn’t share the same enthusiasm. After a phone call with the director, Crowe felt he could sense that Jackson had others in mind, which in hindsight was true, and this subsequently led to Crowe declining. He was so convinced of Jackson’s dubiety that once the studio offered 10% of the film’s gross earnings, the actor still passed up the offer. Crowe has since expressed he has no regrets over his decision.

One Actor Was Cast in the Role — And Later Fired

Stuart Townsend is shown in a still from Queen of the Damned.

Now, before the role was eventually bestowed upon Mortensen, one actor had already begun preparations for the part having spent two months in New Zealand with the cast. The Irishman Stuart Townsend had somewhat successfully landed the role of Aragorn but was later fired. Back in 2002, when speaking to Entertainment Weekly, the actor stated, “I was there rehearsing and training for two months, then was fired the day before filming began.” Peter Jackson had brought the actor on board but New Line Cinema wasn’t particularly convinced. The young Irishman was requested to do a screen test in New Zealand and concerns grew due to his age (27) and his youthful appearance. The character presented in the books is that of a seasoned warrior. Jackson had begun to have doubts himself and Townsend was very much aware of this. The comradery on set between the actors was not in question, as mentioned by the cast, particularly Dominic Monaghan, who played the character of Merry. Tensions grew and eventually Townsend made way for Mortensen, who wasn’t initially keen himself.

When speaking to the Irish Times about the incident, Mortensen stated, “When I was told that I would be replacing someone I felt awkward about it … I wondered if I would meet the actor, but he was gone when I got there. I was just thrown into it and had to do the best I could.”

‘The Lord of the Rings’ Fans Have One Unsung Hero

Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) looking for the kidnapped hobbits in 'The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers' (2002)
Collider database

In some ways, fans of the LOTR franchise and Mortensen have one man in particular to thank. The unlikely hero of this story is in fact Viggo Mortensen’s own son, Henry. When Mortensen received a last-minute call to take the reins it was his son who convinced him to do so. Mortensen wasn’t familiar with J. R. R. Tolkien‘s fantasy works, but his son certainly was — Henry knew the significance of playing Aragorn. Intriguingly, a young Henry was adequately rewarded for his efforts as he went on to feature in two out of three films. Mortensen’s son can be spotted playing a Rohan boy in The Two Towers but remains enshrouded in Orc guise in The Return of the King. So, to all Aragorn fanatics out there thank the son of Viggo Mortensen for saving The Lord of the Rings, and Gondor for that matter.

In truth, the actors in the running to play the King of Arnor and Gondor would have brought their own unique magnetism and mastery. Perhaps an actor not mentioned, like Nicolas Cage, would’ve provided the most divergent performance, but even die-hard Cage fans can understand that the casting of Viggo Mortensen was truly a phenomenon. Mortensen is as essential to the films as Aragorn is to the story, and securing him was a just reward that sealed the fate of one endless search.

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