Viggo Mortensen, Matt Ross on 'Captain Fantastic', Fatherhood and Soccer

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Viggo Mortensen (left) and Matt Ross

The family dramedy, written and directed by Ross ('Silicon Valley'), stars Mortensen as a father raising his kids off-the-grid in the forest of the Pacific Northwest.

When Viggo Mortensen and Matt Ross sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to talk about their latest film, Captain Fantastic, the star and the director were watching Iceland play England in the 2016 Euro Championship.

Mortenson, who is partial to Argentinean soccer clubs, gave background on the game, informing the room that Iceland was a country of 300,000 and this was the first time their team was playing in a major soccer tournament, whereas England is a tournament mainstay and global powerhouse. While watching the unusual matchup, he was reminded of a day on set where cast and crew huddled around a small screen in the forests of Washington state to watch a game. 

“Argentina was playing, and someone had a phone that got some reception, and that game had gone into overtime," the actor related. "I turned to Matt and said, ‘I know we gotta get this shot, but can we at least watch the penalty kicks?”

Captain Fantastic follows the story of social underdog Ben Cash and the six kids he is raising in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, far away from all of the accouterments of modern living like television, cellphones and Big Pharma, celebrating Noam Chomsky Day in lieu of Christmas.

The film, which hit theaters this weekend in a limited release with plans to expand in the coming weeks, had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. The quirky family dramedy went on to Cannes, where it received standing ovations and earned Ross a best director award in the Un Certain Regard competition. 

Much of Captain Fantastic was shot in the middle of the woods, with six adolescents, on a tight budget. A decrepit bus also was involved. “I was like, ‘How are we going to get this done?’” said Mortensen of the shoot.

The cast and crew were brought to location in western Washington a couple of weeks before production began to partake in what Ross called “wilderness training camp.” 

Mortensen was the first to arrive, taking the time to practice Ben’s musical instrument of choice — the bagpipes — and plant the garden that is seen in the film. During this time, the kids participated in music class, martial-arts tutorials and butchering and rock-climbing lessons.

“By the time we shot on the first day, we were all very comfortable around each other,” said Mortensen of the rehearsal. “The time we spent together was practical because when Matt said, ‘OK, it’s time to shoot,’ no one was shy about it.”

Ross added: “[The kids] call Viggo their ‘summer dad.’”

When asked where the inspiration for his second feature directorial effort came from, Ross, who currently plays Galvin Belson on HBO’s techie satire Silicon Valley, replied, “Being a dad.”

He explained: “I was watching my friends have kids and being inspired or appealed by their choices and then arguing with my wife and thinking about what I wanted to pass on to my kids. Everything from the books they read to the food they eat to deciding if it’s safe for our 7-year-old to walk by himself down the street to get an ice cream — I had so many questions and I just put it all into a narrative.”

While writing the script, Ross thought of Ben as an “aspirational” parent, but most closely identified with the eldest Cash child, Bo, played by George MacKay, who must make the decision as to whether he goes to college or remains with his family.  

“A lot of my life I lived in the middle of nowhere in Oregon, where my mom was a part of starting some alternative living collectives,” said Ross, who spent his summers in teepees. “I got to a certain age, and I decided I needed to leave to be around kids my own age.”

Mortensen, who is best known for his exploits in Middle-earth in the Lord of the Rings franchise, was attracted to the script for Captain Fantastic because it was “an exercise in ‘what if?’” he said. “It is a story about parents who gave everything in the forming of their children, which is impossible. But, why not try?” 

Added Mortensen, “It’s like saying, ‘Hey, let’s make a perfect movie!’ Or have a perfect marriage or a perfect democracy. It’s impossible, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.”

Iceland, a team where one of its two managers is also a part-time dentist, pulled off the seemingly impossible, and ended up beating England, 2-1.