I asked for an autograph this week, thus breaking a self-imposed rule that I’ve abided by for more than 10 years.
It was Barry Norman in his memoirs who recounted an incident that added to his growing disquiet about changes in the film industry and how he and others (like me) might fit in.
Norman was at one of the industrial-style junkets at which the talent associated with the latest blockbuster are offered up to a seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of journalists.
I used the term advisedly. These days pukka journalists are seen as calcified relics. Most of the big distributors favour enthusiastic bloggers who gleefully turn out to previews and press conferences in the hope of meeting and greeting the stars.
Of course autographs, selfies and station idents – “Hi, this is Harrison Ford with Charlie Farnesbarnes for Junk TV” – are increasingly de rigueur as the studios court coverage from over-eager film buffs who cannot (or will not) differentiate wheat from chaff.
But I digress. I was at MediaCity, the BBC’s northern hub, for an edition of its morning Breakfast show to talk about classic films. The night before, having confirmed my involvement, I was told that the final derriere to grace the studio couch would belong to Viggo Mortensen.
Now Mortensen has long been considered one of the best and most underrated of the new breed of serious, quietly intense and eminently watchable stars. He’s like a Stateside version of Alec Guinness – a chameleon who never plays the same role twice.
And like the venerable Sir Alec (aka Obi-Wan Kenobi) he labours under the weight of an iconic role: that of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings.
I am an unabashed devotee of Peter Jackson’s films. And in learning that I would be sharing green room space with Mortensen I found myself struggling with the notion of how I might deal with him.
The practicalities of sharing air with a celebrity boil down to a common notion of respect. Conducting an interview is impossible if one party is being overly deferential to the other. At the end of the day there needs to be equality; one is conducting an interview, the other is responding. Quid pro quo.
But being in close proximity to Mortensen is different to sitting down to talk. Interview time demands professional detachment and an acceptance that a request for a scribbled signature detracts from the delivery of the job in hand. On this occasion I wasn’t working with him.
Thus I found myself sliding a chunky volume of Tolkien’s tales into my bag. And when the time came I approached Mortensen and asked him in measured tones if he would deign to sign it. He did, with grace and generosity.
Sometimes one has to give in to being a fan. It’s not a bad thing – we all do it. And I will forever remember meeting the gentlemanly Viggo Mortensen whenever I open that book.