The Lord of the Rings / Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn
Photo via New Line Cinema

Who was originally cast as Aragorn in ‘Lord of the Rings’?

Some extraordinary, last-minute casting changes preceded filming for the 'Lord of the Rings' saga.

As heir of Isildur, Aragorn is one of the most important characters in The Lord of the Rings. His return gives the final volume of the fantasy epic its name: The Return of the King. From Ranger to King, J.R.R. Tolkien’s saga is as much about Aragorn’s journey as Frodo Baggins’ incredible quest to destroy the One Ring.

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Aragorn was a career-changing role for Viggo Mortensen. He brought dark intensity and a believable ruggedness to the role that required as much action as mystery. It was as if he was made for the part of the sword-wielding Strider, but he wasn’t the first choice for it. Mortensen only joined the production as it started filming. 

Who was originally cast as Aragorn?

Stuart Townsend
Image via IMDb

Stuart Townsend was cast as Aragorn before the groundbreaking production started filming. The Irish actor won the pivotal role after several other actors turned down the offers from the film’s mastermind Peter Jackson. Daniel Day-Lewis was Jackson’s first choice but declined the role during pre-production. We’ll have to rely on our imaginations to dream up Nicolas Cage as the one and only Strider, because he, too, passed on the part. 

At only 27 years old, Townsend was a youthful choice for the role, but he likely would have delivered a good performance. Aragorn was nearly 90 years old at the time of The Lord of the Rings — as a noble Númenórean, he enjoyed a longer life than other men. While he shouldn’t look anywhere near that old, mid-to-late 20s would surely have been a stretch. Questions over Townsend’s age dogged his casting from the start, and allegedly caused concern at the studio level and doubts for Townsend himself.

Peter Jackson resisted calls to replace the actor in pre-production, however, and had Townsend travel to New Zealand ahead of his cast mates to screen test, complete with slightly grayed hair. That screen test was the only time Townsend played Aragorn, as — one day before production started — he was ultimately let go.

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in 2002, Townsend stated that he had been having a rough time before he was fired and wasn’t impressed when he found out he wouldn’t be paid for his time due to a breach of his contract. “I have no good feelings for those people in charge, I really don’t,” he said.

It was a risky decision on an already close set. The cast formed a famous bond, and news of Townsend’s recasting shocked those ramping up for production. Some years later, Dominic Monaghan, who played the hobbit Merry, remembered the incident.  “We were all stunned,” he said, before explaining that there was little time to reflect on the casting change in the notoriously ambitious production. 

“Obviously it was a big blow for him,” Monaghan continued. “But it was ruthless, we were working all the time, we had one day off a week. Our hours were ridiculous. We didn’t have time to mourn anything you were desperately trying to learn lines and stay on top of it all.”

A quick flight to New Zealand

aragorn lord of the rings
Image via New Line Cinema

Townsend’s departure didn’t mean Viggo Mortensen landed the role straightaway. His casting was as close to the wire as it could get, because other actors were considered first. Russell Crowe was among those who declined setting foot on Middle-earth before executive producer Mark Ordesky suggested Mortensen. 

Persuaded to take the role by his son, a huge fan of the book, Mortensen set off for New Zealand with a copy to read on the plane. After a quick course in fencing, he jumped straight into filming the epic fight between Strider, his merry band of Hobbits, and the Ringwraiths on Weathertop. 

The rest, as they say, is history. It’s hard to imagine Aragorn played by any other actor. Viggo Mortensen perfectly encapsulates Aragorn II, son of Arathorn II and Gilraen, sometimes known as Strider, Ranger, last Chieftain of the Dúnedain, the 26th King of Arnor, 35th King of Gondor, and first High King of Gondor and Arnor, and wielder of Andúril, the Blade that was Broken. The actor delivered a truly unmatched performance in the end, and we couldn’t be happier over the infamously messy recasting.


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Nahila Bonfiglio
Nahila carefully obsesses over all things geekdom and gaming, bringing her embarrassingly expansive expertise to the team at We Got This Covered. She is a Staff Writer and occasional Editor with a focus on comics, video games, and most importantly 'Lord of the Rings,' putting her Bachelors from the University of Texas at Austin to good use. Her work has been featured alongside the greats at NPR, the Daily Dot, and Nautilus Magazine.
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Matt enjoys casting Jack Kirby color, Zack Snyder slow-mo, and J.J. Abrams lens flare on every facet of pop culture. Since graduating with a degree in English from the University of York, his writing on film, TV, games, and more has appeared on WGTC, Mirror Online and the Guardian.