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At the same time, I also knew that Aragorn was not my first and probably wouldn't be my last role.
I believe that helped me relax, helped me understand that it was always 'only a movie'." And typically of the man, he's profited not with an ascent to A-list Hollywood projects, but an eclectic range of roles that includes the father in the devastating post-apocalypse drama The Road, a 17th-century soldier-turned-mercenary in Spanish swashbuckler Alatriste, identical twins in his first Argentine film, thriller Everybody Has A Plan, and the conman in the Patricia Highsmith adaptation Two Faces Of January.
With piercing blue eyes, well-groomed hair and in crisply ironed shirt and slacks, the handsome 56-year-old seems surprisingly formal.
But when he sits down he starts drinking mate - the "national infusion" of Argentina - properly, from a gourd and through a metal straw, giving the first image a little jolt.
Set in Patagonia in the 1880s, it centres on Mortensen's Danish soldier and engineer, working for the Argentine army during the "conquest of the desert", the genocide of the region's indigenous Indians.
When the captain's teenage daughter runs off with a soldier, he gives chase into the desert, and an already strange film launches itself into an existential rabbit hole. He goes, 'I didn't understand a thing you were saying.' And I said, 'Well, we were speaking in Danish.' I couldn't help laughing.
Mortensen thinks of his captain as "a Danish Don Quixote" and the film as a "hybrid fairytale" with echoes of Hans Christian Andersen and Borges. On the one hand he's this consummate artist, on the other he's humble and open.
Few stars of his stature would consider such a low-budget arthouse film in a foreign language - let alone co-produce it, be able to act in both Spanish and Danish, and be prepared to sport such spectacularly awful whiskers. He will say something like that without even thinking, which I love about him." The anecdote is a reminder of the different temperaments, the Latin and the Scandinavian, that infuse the film and might be contained simultaneously within Mortensen himself.
Directed by the maverick Argentine director Lisandro Alonso, whose minimalist masterpieces have earned him an ardent following, Jauja is near-impossible to categorise.
"It's usually much easier to help others see the proverbial creative forest for the trees, than it is to edit oneself," he laughs.