Finally, an Oscar for Viggo? Mortensen shines a light on 1960s-era racism in ‘Green Book’

Oscar for Viggo

LOS ANGELES – It was the third course, really, that did him in.

Viggo Mortensen was prepping for “Green Book” (in major markets Friday), in which he packs on the pounds to play a working class Italian-American, Tony Lip (real name: Frank Anthony Vallelonga). In the film, Lip checks his racism in 1962 New York to earn an income chauffeuring a world-class black pianist, Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), in the Deep South.

Mortensen, 60, who is Danish-American, recalls flying in from his home in Spain to meet Tony’s descendants at a New Jersey red-sauce joint still owned by the family.

And the Italian food just kept coming. “Oh my God,” he says. “The first thing was, ‘Let’s go to the kitchen and have (Tony’s wife) Dolores’ meatballs.’ But I was already full. I hadn’t gained all that weight or expanded my stomach (yet).” Then came the antipasti, and a second course, and a third. Mortensen struggled to finish his plate. “And then they’re looking at me like, ‘He doesn’t like it.’ … ‘No, no! It’s great!’ ”

Afterward, “I made a good show of going out to my rental car and getting in it, and I just drove around the corner and parked, cranked the seat back, undid my belt and laid there for an hour,” he says with a grin.

“Green Book,” a flip on “Driving Miss Daisy,” is based on a true story and doesn’t cut corners: The film shows the blue-collar Tony hurling epithets common to the period – a contrast to the reserved, regal pianist he drives – and touches on police brutality. (While discussing the era at a recent Q&A for the film, Mortensen invoked a racial slur in describing what’s no longer permissible, for which he has since apologized.)

But the movie, which is largely a road comedy, also is based on a real travel guide. The Green Book, which began publication in the 1930s, was a pamphlet that mapped where African-Americans could find safe lodging across the country. Before filming, the cast thumbed through old copies.

Many Hollywood insiders also believe it’s Mortensen’s turn to win a gold statue, after two best-actor nods for “Captain Fantastic” and “Eastern Promises.” On the awards prediction site GoldDerby.com, he has 4-to-1 odds of edging out Bradley Cooper (“A Star is Born”) and Christian Bale (“Vice”).

Oscar for Viggo

GoldDerby founder Tom O’Neil calls “Green Book” a “sleeping giant” at the Oscars this year that could trigger “lots of upsets.” And despite a tight race for best actor, “Viggo has some strong pluses,” he says, citing the actor’s radical physical transformation and the respect he holds inside Hollywood. “Voters love to catch up with beloved industry veterans who are ridiculously overdue to win.”

Away from the red carpet, Mortensen lives by his own rules. He’s still the proud owner of a flip phone, his one Luddite pleasure (well, aside from sending postcards to friends), and is in the midst of a self-made avalanche of responsibilities: an upcoming film he’s directing, a publishing house he runs, a new book of Spanish poetry he’s releasing.

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Ex-USA Gymnastics national team member Alyssa Baumann alleges that Larry Nassar abused her

USA Gymnastics

Another former USA Gymnastics national team member has added her name to the growing list of girls and women sexually abused by Larry Nassar.

Alyssa Baumann, 20, a Plano, Texas, resident now attending the University of Florida, told IndyStar she is the Jane Doe who filed a lawsuit in August in Cook County Circuit Court in Illinois.

The lawsuit claims USA Gymnastics investigated Nassar in 2015 after a coach overheard Baumann talking about the former team doctor’s treatments, but that she was not contacted about it until 30 months later.

Baumann is among nearly 500 survivors now suing the embattled national governing body for failing to protect them from the sexual predator. Her attorney, Michelle Simpson Tuegel, said the lawsuit is being amended this week to replace the Jane Doe designation with Baumann’s name.

The lawsuit says Baumann was sexually assaulted by Nassar on more than 40 occasions and seeks unspecified damages from USA Gymnastics, the International Federation of Gymnastics and Nassar.

Baumann was a member of the U.S. National Team from 2013-16, which won a team gold medal at the 2014 World Championship in China.

The lawsuit alleges she was sexually abused by Nassar “at every national team camp” she attended at the Karolyi Ranch from 2013 through 2015, as well as three major events in 2014: The World Championship in China, the U.S. National Championship in Pittsburgh and the Secret Classic Championship in Chicago.

“The worst was the World Championships, because it was a month-long thing. We were at the ranch for more than a week and a half. Then we went straight to China, and we had a hotel room just for treatment,” Baumann told IndyStar. “A lot of times we would be left alone in that room with him. I think (the sexual abuse) happened every single day when I was there because we were forced, when we were there — we were all really run down, and tired, from training every single day. They told us ‘you have to go to treatment every single day.’ “

During that time in China, Nassar gave her pills prior to the treatments, and now she isn’t “sure about what he was giving me,” Baumann said.

“He told me that they were muscle relaxers that I needed to take before treatment, so that he could — so that my muscles would be more relaxed, and it would be easier for him to work on me,” she said. “But I don’t know exactly that they were muscle relaxers, because he would hand me pills and tell me to take them.”

Baumann’s lawsuit alleges she was one of the gymnasts overheard by a coach as they discussed concerns about Nassar’s treatments during a camp at the Karolyi Ranch in the summer of 2015. That discussion prompted the coach to report Nassar to USA Gymnastics officials, who conducted a five-week investigation before reporting Nassar to the FBI.

But Baumann said no one from USA Gymnastics followed up or interviewed her until November 2017, nearly 30 months later. And then, according to the lawsuit, the official who visited her in Florida asked Baumann about the abuse in front of other people.

Tuegel, Baumann’s attorney, said that inquiry came around the same time USA Gymnastics was in settlement talks with other Nassar survivors.

“It’s interesting, right before the first mediation, one of (former-USA Gymnastics president) Steve Penny’s people is casually ‘poking around’ with gymnasts to see who else may pop up,” Tuegel said.

USA Gymnastics

Later, Baumann said, USA Gymnastics sent an email about the matter to Baumann’s parents, whom she had not yet told about being sexually abused by Nassar.

A USA Gymnastics spokeswoman said the organization does not comment on pending litigation.

Baumann’s revelation comes as the U.S. Olympic Committee is moving forward with action to strip Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics — which is facing lawsuits from hundreds of Nassar survivors — of its recognition as the sport’s national governing body.

Tuegel said that move factored into Baumann’s decision to reveal that she is a Nassar survivor, too.

“They’re tired of seeing what keeps happening. They really want to see something be different at a deeper level, and it not just be on the surface — ‘we’re going to stamp a new name on this, and things are going to continue as usual.’ That’s what resulted in all of these women being in this situation. I know that’s important to Alyssa.”

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