Viggo Mortensen’s Eastern Promise Tattoos Have Been Seriously Researched


Mortensen goes on to name one of the most comprehensive collections of Russian prison tattoos, which served as further inspiration for Nikolai’s look which he classifies as “a kind of passport”.

“[T]here are also some books. Which you may have seen, or some of your viewers may have seen “Russian Criminal Tattoo”. There are two, three volumes. And they have a lot of these tattoos, and we took some and some I found, and that’s where we ended up covering my body with them. Stephen Knight then wrote a scene where I am interrogated. I have to take a test in front of the gangsters and they look at the tattoos and read me, read my body and ask me about it. Question my loyalty, they want to see if I’m genuine or if I’m not ready, you know, which could be the end of my life.”

The scene in question can be seen here:

Mortensen, who refers to the scene as an “interview with the vampires,” spent hours in the makeup trailer each day with Oscar-winning makeup artist Stephen Dupuis (who won for Cronenberg’s “The Fly” in 1986) and the makeup fx team. There, they applied tattoo transfers (with a damp washcloth, like the temporary tattoos you had as a kid) and touched them up with various methods, including illustrator inks. Dupuis would then top it all off with a spritz of flesh-colored makeup to age the overall look as if Nikolai had worn the marks for decades.


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