‘The Thin Red Line’: Viggo Mortensen Explains Why He Had To Turn Down A Major Role In Terrence Malick’s War Film

The list of actors cut out of Terrence Malick’s classic 1998 “The Thin Red Line” war movie is long and legendary (we’ve dedicated entire features to digging up nuggets of stories over the years). And actor Viggo Mortensen—cut out of early roles in films like Woody Allen’sThe Purple Rose of Cairo,” and Jonathan Demme‘s “Swing Shift”—knows a thing or two about being left on the cutting room floor. The two stories converge in a recent edition of the Happy Sad Confused podcast where Mortensen was promoting his new drama and directorial debut, “Falling,” which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival last year and is now finding itself an award contender this season.

READ MORE: 10 Actors Cut From Terrence Malick Films & How They Reacted

The nearly one-hour long chat covers a lot of what you might expect: fun stories about “The Lord of the Rings“—some interesting anecdotes about how ‘The Fellowship Of The Rings’ was “pretty tight,” but some of the crew was “very inexperienced” and the following two films that were all shot at once, needed a lot more work so it’s a good thing the first one was a hit and they got the necessary money for much-needed reshoots—and his collaborations with David Cronenberg) (“we’re working on it,” he says about a fourth collaboration that hopes to shoot later this year).

READ MORE: Edward Norton Shares How Close He Came To Starring In ‘The Thin Red Line’

But there’s an interesting bit about Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” and Mortensen is on the long list of actors that were “cut out” of the movie that includes Bill Pullman, Lukas Haas, and Mickey Rourke (actually shot scenes that didn’t make the final movie) and, Ed Norton, Billy Bob Thornton, Gary Oldman, Jason Patric, and Martin Sheen (many of whom were in various states of discussion, but most of which seemingly were not eventually cast and did not actually film scenes).

READ MORE: The 25 Best War Movies Of All Time

Mortensen is in the latter camp, had discussions with Malick, but never shot scenes, but most of the details of these stories are unrevealed. Mortensen’s is particularly interesting, and he’s thanked in the credits of the movie—something the actor didn’t even know until this podcast talk.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Films Of 1998

Mortensen said he was one of the first of two actors to be offered roles, he and Sean Penn, which sort of suggests he could have had Jim Caviezel’s major role since his and Penn’s are the biggest in the movie (then again, Adrien Brody was thought to be one of the lead’s of the movie and his role was reduced to almost nothing in the final version and he was gutted).

READ MORE: The 15 Best Shots In Terrence Malick’s Movies

“I was offered—he actually came to me, and he said, ‘The first two people I want to cast are you and Sean Penn, what part would you like to play,’ Mortensen recalled. “And I said which part, and let’s talk about it. And we had some wonderful conversations with Terrence Malick, but the way it worked out, I couldn’t do that movie.”

Mortensen suggests that he couldn’t participate in the film because he had already been offered “A Walk On The Moon” with Diane Lane, which he starred in and came out not much later in 1999. “I wish I had been in it, but we did talk about it a lot,” he continued. “We did talk about story, so maybe—I didn’t realize that—and maybe I’m thanked [in the credits] because we had some good conversations. There were some things I mentioned to him that he might have used for one character, I won’t tell you what, but maybe that’s why.”

READ MORE: 16 Things You Need To Know About Terrence Malick’s ‘The Thin Red Line’

Viggo Mortensen, uncredited ‘Thin Red Line’ character writer? Well, the rest is not part of history, but you have the DVD, and you can imagine things, right? Listen to the entire conversation below.