In his new movie, "Appaloosa" Mortensen plays a loyal deputy of a marshal, portrayed by Ed Harris, brought in to clean up a town in New Mexico and rid it of a corrupt rancher (Jeremy Irons) who's kept himself above the law.
On The Early Show Tuesday, Harris, who produced, directed and co-wrote the movie,a "character-driven piece."
And on the show Wednesday, Mortensen told co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez he thinks most westerns are terrible -- but this one's an exception.
"There were a lot more westerns (films) when I was a little boy," Mortensen said. "And there were western TV series. And there isn't so much of that anymore. But people still like them, I think. I grew up riding horses and liking that genre. You know, every year, there's one or two. ... I think this year, 'Appaloosa' is the one people will go see. I can't lie to you, I had a lot of fun riding around on horseback, and (with) those really good actors that were working with us."
More to the point, Mortensen continued, "Whether you're a kid or a grown-up, I think you gravitate toward people, whether your parents or teachers or friends, who are honest with you, who look you in the eye and, even if it's something you don't want to hear, they're honest with you. Those are the people you stay friends with. ... And the relationship with Ed Harris is not only funny but, in a way, there's these awkward moments that are kind of funny. You know, we have each others' backs, really. We've been friends for over a dozen years, worked together as law men."
Renee Zellweger makes things interesting as the object of the males' desire.
"She comes into the mix," Mortensen says, "a very interesting woman's character. Not what you usually see in westerns. She comes in and kind of drives a wedge between us in a way. And it changes the dynamic of our friendship. That also -- there's a lot of humor that comes out of it, too."
Mortensen carries a gun in most scenes and admitted to Rodriguez, "The first day, I said, 'I know it's in the book, I know it's an important part of the character. But it's a big gun.' And I thought, 'It's going to be a long couple of month if I have to do this every day.' But by the second day, I liked it. And I said, 'Actually, I want to have it everywhere, have it when I'm in bed, when I'm having dinner, when I'm walking down the street.' And it is kind of intimidating. It was like my -- my scary friend, you know? But it had a psychological effect. It's like that thing you fight sometimes, the obstacle becomes your friend, you know? So, it was alright."
Shot on location in New Mexico, "Appaloosa" feels like a real Western. It hits theaters next month.