01/12/2012 05:21 pm ET

Viggo Mortensen Talks 'A Dangerous Method,' David Cronenberg

When you think of Sigmund Freud, you immediately think of hunky actor Viggo Mortensen, right? Well, that's whom director David Cronenberg wanted for his kinky psychoanalytic drama, "A Dangerous Method." Even then, if it weren't for a circus elephant, Mortensen might never have played the part.

Here, the 53-year-old actor discusses tackling the role and learning some odd facts about the father of psychoanalysis.

Did you get this role because you'd worked with David Cronenberg before?
He offered me the part the year before we shot it, which was flattering but somewhat surprising. But I couldn't do it. He ended up casting Christoph Waltz, and, I guess fortunately for me, Christoph decided to drop out and do a studio movie ["Water for Elephants"]. So David contacted me again and told me he always thought I should do this part. I had a little window so I said yeah. I mean I had some trepidation. Obviously, physically, there's not many directors who would have thought I was right for the part without knowing me.

Did you learn anything about Freud that was surprising?
He was very engaging and very funny, also sometimes quite self-deprecating. He was the sort of person who tells you a joke, and it might be quite subtle and not everyone would get he was telling a joke.

So a Bill Murray type.
Yeah, maybe.

Wouldn't it have been funny if he told dick jokes?
It would be funny. He did enjoy silly humor. He was also an admirer of Mark Twain. The two met, and they smoked cigars and cracked jokes.

Have you ever been to a shrink?
I only had one experience when I was about 24. I went for a short time. For me, it was helpful. I think it's a great idea -- the idea that you can go and confess everything, your deepest fears, your insecurities, your strangest thoughts to someone and know that it won't go any farther than that room. If you don't find some way to discuss or recognize what's going on inside you, it can come out in other ways that are self-destructive.

Your most famous role is Aragorn in "Lord of the Rings."
That series was a stroke of luck for everyone involved. Anyone who says they knew it would be the hit it became is not being honest. The fact that it did so well helped everyone involved to get more opportunities for work. Obviously I wouldn't have gotten to do "A History of Violence" if I hadn't been someone that was bankable and somewhat of a name. You do need to get lucky, no matter how talented you are. It's really what you do with it, which, for me, was looking for good scripts.

Is your name popular in Denmark?
It's a really old name. You find it in some of the sagas. You know how names go through phases of popularity? In my generation, it was pretty odd. It'd be like being called Oswald.