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'The Road'

Bonding off-screen paved the way to believability

The stars of "The Road" discuss their relationship and their feelings about Oscar nominations during an interview at the Toronto Film Festival.
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 22, 2009

Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee have eaten bugs together. They've shivered through frigid winter air, fought off desperately hungry cannibals and walked side by side on the empty and dusty roads of some future, dystopian America.

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So when the two actors, separated in age by nearly four decades, recently settled into a decidedly non-dystopian hotel suite at the Toronto International Film Festival to recall these challenging film experiences -- which they faced while playing a father and son fighting to survive, in "The Road" -- they did exactly what you might expect.

They got really, really sarcastic.

Reporter: I sense there is still a father-son bond that exists between the two of you. Can you talk about that?

Mortensen: [Gestures to Smit-McPhee.] You start.

Smit-McPhee: Okay. [He gestures to Mortensen.] He sucks.

Mortensen bursts out laughing.

Reporter: You both had to go to some tough emotional places in this movie. How did you turn that off once the take was done?

Mortensen: He'd tell me I sucked.

Smit-McPhee: Then he went back to his room and had a cry.

Even in their smart-alecky moments -- actually, especially in those moments -- it's clear how much Mortensen, 51, and Smit-McPhee, 13, genuinely like each other. And that connection helps to elevate "The Road," the long-awaited adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, above Hollywood's parade of world-turned-hellish-nightmare movies. The two actors -- one an Academy Award nominee (for "Eastern Promises") and star of one of the most successful franchises in film history ("The Lord of the Rings"), the other a young Hollywood newcomer from Australia -- manage to convince the audience that they really do share the same bloodline.

"Everything depended on that relationship," says "Road" director John Hillcoat when asked his goal in casting his two leads. "It's a love story between a father and son, and they're in every scene and go through every kind of emotion, so that was quite daunting."

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