Magazine article Variety

A Different Role for a Familiar Face

Magazine article Variety

A Different Role for a Familiar Face

Article excerpt

When Viggo Mortensen stepped into a Los Angeles coffee shop in 2013 to meet Matt Ross, the writer and director of "Captain Fantastic," he didn't realize he would be seeing someone he recognized. "I think I was told he was an actor as well," Mortensen recalls. "But I didn't put two and two together until I saw him and said, 'Oh, I know you!'"

It's a response to which Ross is accustomed. He's a character actor who people recognize from countless movies and TV shows, often playing what Mortensen politely refers to as "somewhat nasty kinds of characters." Ross had small parts in films like "Face/Off,''"American Psycho,''"The Aviator," and "Good Night, and Good Luck," before breaking through as the closeted Mormon leader Alby Grant in HBO's "Big Love." And he's enjoying the highest-profile role of his career on HBO's "Silicon Valley? as the power-hungry Gavin Belson, a tech CEO as arrogant as he is insecure.

Now, after years of steady work as an actor, Ross, 46, is looking to make his mark as a serious movie director with "Captain Fantastic? his second feature film, which Bleecker Street is releasing July 8. His feature debut, 2012's "28 Hotel Rooms" was inauspicious, opening in just five theaters and grossing less than $20,000.

The new film has been drawing raves. After debuting to a lengthy standing ovation at this year's Sundance Film Festival, "Captain Fantastic" went on to play in Cannes, where it received a similarly positive response, and landed Ross the Un Certain Regard director prize.

On a recent Wednesday, Ross, who is based in Berkeley with his wife, writer Phyllis Grant, and their two children, is seated in the courtyard of his second residence, in Venice - he commutes to L.A. every week - reflecting on the trajectory of his career.

"I'm not a famous actor; I'm a semi-recognizable actor who's sometimes on a television show? he muses. "I've been writing and directing at the same time I've been acting, and it's a wonderful coincidence that I happen to be on a hit TV show at the same time I have my largest-profile film to date."

On paper, "Captain Fantastic" is not an easy seU. It tells the story of Ben Cash (Mortensen), a father of six who chooses to live off the grid in the Pacific Northwest. There, he raises his children to grow their own food, read voraciously, and celebrate Noam Chomsky Day instead of Christmas. But he's not some crazed survivalist; in fact, the film makes a strong case for his style of parenting. When his bipolar wife commits suicide, Ben and his family journey into the outside world to attend her funeral.

Opening amid a wave of sequels and spectacles, the R-rated movie represents classic counterprogramming. "We chose to release in the summer, as there is a long history of audiences looking for an alternative to the summer blockbuster? explains Andrew Karpen, CEO of Bleecker Street. "We believe playing through July and August will allow moviegoers to find this beautiful, heartfelt film."

The script has roots in Ross' own life; he was raised by a single parent - his mother - in "alternative" living situations, including some places without electricity.

"We always had a roof over our head, even if it was a tepee? he notes. In Oregon, his mother started a Waldorf School, based on the educational philosophy of Austrian theologian Rudolf Steiner.

But Ross hesitates to call "Captain Fantastic" autobiographical. "There are elements of my life, but it has so much less to do with me; it's more about the kind of father I want to be? …

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