Friday, January 27, 2017


The always down-to-earth Viggo Mortensen (who received an Oscar nomination for a Best Actor in a Leading Role on January 24th) appeared in person at the Aero Theatre on January 12, 2017 with Cannes Film Festival Un Certain Regard winner, Captain Fantastic, an emotionally charged drama about an iconoclastic widowed father trying to live off the grid with his brood of six lively kids – his goal, to turn them into responsible human beings who can think for themselves.

Photo by Andrea Macias-Jimenez

Moderated by film journalist and filmmaker Jim Hemphill, the discussion opened with the question, “What drew you to this role?” Mortensen responded by saying that it was “well written” and he was especially interested in the fact that there was an assortment of “complex characters with inconsistencies.” Reading it, he realized that it is “perfect for this time,” as his character is a man dealing with trying to live a left wing utopian lifestyle in the modern world. “It strikes a chord all over the world - searching to find a new balance. It addresses the polarization in societies.” His assessment was that he did get something deep out of it. “It moved me and I laughed and it made me think about country, nature, and what my dad did with me.”

Recalling his initial meeting with director Matt Ross, Mortensen said, “We met over coffee in Venice in a coffee shop that has since burned down, and sat for 5 ½ hours and talked about his and my family, then about how to make it as real as possible in the woods, to contrast with the discovery of real life today on the road trip. Also how to find six genius kids who can do what the roles require in the final stages of the script - which worried me.”

Photograph by Andrea Macias-Jimenez
To prepare the actors (which included six child actors ranging from 8 years old to teens) for shooting, Mortensen recalled, “Matt had us do a reading together, after which I realized that I needed to start worrying about my own preparation, as Jean McCartney had done an extraordinary job casting.” He went on to say, “Then we just worked as a team, getting together for a couple of weeks and doing some climbing, jiu jitsu, music, spending time on a farm butchering and skinning - working together and getting to know one another. After that we didn’t need to do a lot to be together, we learned to listen to each other’s rhythms as a family, as a team. My honorary name was ‘Summer Dad.’”

When asked if there was a specific scene that resonated most with him, Mortensen shared that it was the mother’s funeral with the family all around the campfire. He wrote a song for it himself, and used it to tell the story, and then the director allowed the instrumental performance to be full of improvisation.

The thing Mortensen didn’t like? Rock climbing! “Life’s too short,” Mortensen said referring to the dangers of the sport.

Speaking about director Matt Ross who is also an actor (known recently for his role on “Silicon Valley”), Mortensen noted that Ross’ experience as an actor probably helped him as a filmmaker and that he is a good listener. He also related that he likes working with “Directors who prepare meticulously and then let actors do their own thing - seeing what happens, allowing for flexibility especially with kids.” On the set of Captain Fantastic, Mortensen said, “Everybody had a mindset of being ready to play.”

Hemphill asked, “In what way did you relate to the father character?” “I was not exactly like him,” said Mortensen, however, he does subscribe to his character’s basic approach, “to encourage curiosity and independent thinking, and not lie - to have equal discourse. “Ben was totally honest on all subjects using the same words for all ages, which is not what I would do. He was more headstrong, inflexible and contradictory at times - almost trying too hard.”

The audience was delighted to find out that Mortensen’s co-star in David Cronenberg’s 2005 film, A History of Violence, Maria Bello was in the audience. She joined Mortensen onstage to introduce the second film in the double feature. They talked about Cronenberg’s intelligence, ability to listen, ability to get the most out of every actor and his extensive technical expertise. Bello shared memories of the infamous stair scene, saying that she didn’t know that Cronenberg was shooting their rehearsal on carpetless stairs. When they shot again they had to keep the stairs uncovered. They both remembered being covered in bruises. Bello went on to say that she was ”inspired by Viggo,” noting what a strong effect he has on other actors, and what this must have meant to the kids he worked with in Captain Fanastic. She went on to say that she admired all of his work, but that Viggo’s performance in Captain Fantastic was the “Best performance you have ever given.” The critics agree, in addition to his Academy Award nomination, Mortensen is also nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead and was a Golden Globe nominee as well.

Reporting by Kathleen Holland and Margot Gerber.