MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Viggo Mortensen had to deflect an actual knife that was accidentally thrown at him during the filming of “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.”
The filming of the three “The Lord of the Rings” films were famously difficult, in part because of the schedule (all three films were filmed at once to save money) and in part because it was just a difficult shoot period, with a lot of stunts and action sequences. Director Peter Jackson also went for as much verisimilitude as he could get for a film that was, at its heart, a fantasy film. This meant particular care taken with the design of the swords for the film.
For each sword in the movie, there were typically two “hero” versions of the sword that were made with real metal as if they were an actual sword (the sort of thing that you would make for a reenactor) and a “stunt” sword that would be made out of aluminum for a lot of the stunt scenes. Basically, if there was a scene where lots of people were waving a bunch of swords around, the odds were that those swords were stunt swords.
Due to the amount of real weapons in the movie, there would occasionally be accidents as a result of the real items being used. Famously, Viggo Mortensen actually broke his toe while kicking a real metal helmet in a scene (Jackson used his real cries of pain in the film).
The lore of the film has extended to a cool story also involving Viggo Mortensen about a fight scene late in “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” where Aragorn (one of the heroic Fellowship of the Ring) fights the evil Lurtz of the Uruk-hai Scouts, Sauron’s agents in trying to find the Ring.
During the battle, Aragorn stabs Lurtz, who then takes the knife out of his leg, licks it, and then throws it at Aragorn, who deflects it with his sword.
As the story goes, the actor who played Lurtz was supposed to throw the real metal knife that they were using in the scene far away from Mortensen and that they would then use digital effects later to add the knife hitting a tree right by Aragorn’s head. However, the actor was distracted by the heavy prosthetic makeup and accidentally threw the knife directly at Mortensen! Mortensen then luckily used the real sword he had in his hands to deflect the knife away, saving himself from an awful stabbing! The sequence looked so cool that they decided to keep it in the movie!
That’s how the story goes, and just do a quick internet search for “Viggo Mortensen real knife throw” and you’ll get a lot of results on the topic telling basically that story.
However, I tend to disbelieve the tale. First off, I’ve yet to see a credible source used for the story. No quotes from anyone. Secondly, here is Peter Jackson and his wife and collaborator Fran Walsh talking about the sequence for the director’s commentary for the film:
Peter: Having created our villain in Lúrtz, we obviously have to finish him off; and we were actually shooting two things at once, because whilst I was filming Boromir’s last stand, Barrie Osborne was just on the other side of the hill: we were only about thirty or forty feet away – he was just over the hill on the other side of the slope filming the fight between Lúrtz and Aragorn, so this was largely shot by Barrie. Viggo did this incredibly well. There’s a shot coming up where he had to hit the knife that gets thrown at him with his sword, and he did it first take. That was a real knife that was being thrown, and he literally did bat it away with his sword for real: it wasn’t anything fake about it. Do a little bit of computer-enhancement here to take Lúrtz’s arm off.
Fran: We weren’t allowed to have it spurting, though.
Peter: No spurting blood was allowed. (beat) I’m sure people are going to blame me for Lúrtz licking his dagger, but that was actually filmed by Barrie Osborne, and I have no responsibility for it at all. [laughs] I can distance myself from it, although I do actually quite like it!
Now, does that sound like the knife was accidentally thrown at Mortensen? Similarly, he noted that it was done “first take.” That seems to dismiss an alternate version of the story which was that they tried it a bunch of times and were going to give it up and just do it digitally but then the actor accidentally threw the knife again, but this time Mortensen was able to hit it.
From the way that the scene is set up, it sure as heck looks like the original intent was for Mortensen to bat the knife away with his sword. That matches Jackson’s commentary perfectly.
Viggo Mortensen is certainly a badass, I’m surely not disputing that, I just don’t think he used a sword to bat away a knife that was accidentally thrown at him while filming “The Lord of the Rings.”
So I’m going with the legend as…
Be sure to check out my archive of Movie Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of film.
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