We all need a muse


If you’re a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander then I suspect you can’t get enough of Sam Heughan playing Jamie Fraser in Starz’s mini series production. For there is a lot to love about Jamie. As women we need our heartthrobs. And as writers we need our muses.

 We all need a muse

I’ve long been a fan of Viggo Mortensen who played Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. Can you blame me? I was living in New Zealand when LOTR was filmed. The premiere of the Return of the King in 2001 was a three-day celebration that climaxed in a red-carpet procession broadcast prime time on national television.

It was an exciting time. The long white clouds of Aotearoa lifted and the planes of middle earth flew low and slow up the length of New Zealand. Aragorn was larger than life. Gollum crawled atop of Wellington airport. Trolls and nazguls menaced pedestrians in the main street. Everyone got into the spirit – including Viggo himself who wanted to give back to Peter Jackson and New Zealand for the incredible opportunity that had made his career.


I dragged my partner across Cook Strait to hear Viggo’s poetry reading (I scored tickets!) and to see his photography exhibition. I drank copious amounts of champagne. Mark didn’t complain. He is a bit of Renaissance man after all. Like Chandler and Monica of Friends we have an understanding 😉 Viggo would be my leave pass. Penelope Cruz would be his.

Around this time I discovered the Outlander series (Cross Stitch in our part of the world) with the dashing young Scot, James Alexander Malcolm McKenzie Fraser. And then came two more notable historical figures, Nathanial Bonner (Into the Wilderness) and Alexander Barrington (The Bronze Horseman). If you haven’t heard of these characters then you haven’t lived read! You are missing out on some of the best epic love stories ever written.

I’ve long pondered what makes these men so appealing. I say men rather than characters for they truly feel real, nothing fictitious about them – except…they are unattainable.

Passion and adventure have a lot to do with it. But more than that, for me it has to do with them being men of honour, sacrifice and resilience. These are defining qualities that I sought to bring to my characters, Samuel and Sonny, in Seldom Come By and Come What May. (And maybe I physically described the character of Silas in such a way that Viggo Mortensen could play him in the movie if ever there was one…but I digress)

Ironically the resilience goes much deeper than what is on the page or screen. Earlier this year I saw The Two Faces of January set in Greece in the 1960s. On the week-end just past I came across an interview with Viggo about this film and his rise as a leading man. It came at a good time for I was feeling particularly despondent. Here’s a snippet of the interview.

It took a long time for you to really break into the industry. I read that early on you were cut from Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo?

I was cut from that… and I was cut from Swing Shift, the Jonathan Demme film with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. Unfortunately, I was never told that I wasn’t going to be in it, so my family and me went to the movie theater expecting to see me and I wasn’t in it. I think the director or someone in the production should at least let the actor know that he’s not going to be in it…

After I read that I just wanted to give him the biggest hug. How upsetting that must have been! 🙁 But wait, there’s more:

…another one I had the role but lost it. It was the part that Willem Dafoe wound up playing in Platoon. Oliver Stone cast me in that role back when it was going to be a much lower-budget movie, but he was having trouble getting the financing together. Then, he cast Willem Dafoe and I read about it in the news…

“I read about it in the news”!! What? No phone call even?

And stupid me, I had spent the past year reading every possible book on Vietnam, looking at it from every angle possible, and doing my own, self-motivated boot camp. I got ahold of Oliver Stone’s number and called him and said, “What are you doing? The role was mine! Let me show you I’m the right guy for the part.” Willem Dafoe had just been in To Live and Die in L.A. and he was more “on the map” in terms of industry consciousness, even though I felt I was the person more knowledgeable about the character. I learned a lot there, too, and I don’t regret it. And Willem Dafoe did a great job in that film.

There you go, still my muse in other ways. Such a great lesson in resilience and letting go.

Are you a writer? Who serves as your muse? If you’re a reader, what do you love about these leading men?