'I wasn't living in a teepee'
Like his character in Captain Fantastic, star Viggo Mortensen used to live in the forest - but in a house
As one of the most un-Hollywood of movie stars, you won't find Viggo Mortensen in superhero movies or rom-coms.
Instead, after his breakout role as warrior protagonist Aragorn in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, he stuck to serious fare, his intense on-screen persona often stealing the scene in movies like A History Of Violence (2005), Eastern Promises (2007) and A Dangerous Method (2011).
The somewhat reclusive and multilingual 57-year-old Danish-American actor (he also speaks Danish, Spanish, French and Italian) currently lives in Madrid. He is a published author, photographer and poet, as well as a recognised artist whose paintings were featured in A Perfect Murder (1998), in which he co-starred with Gwyneth Paltrow.
Mortensen describes his latest role in indie drama Captain Fantastic as one of the best in his career.
We are at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills and, as usual, he is a thoughtful and interesting interview subject whose world view is not limited by Hollywood's boundaries.
In Captain Fantastic, which opens here tomorrow, he plays a father of six who lives with his kids in a compound in the forests of the Pacific North-west, isolated from the world. He dedicates his life to ensuring that they have superlative survival skills in the wilderness, as well as a rigorous intellectual education.
Then matters take a turn and the unconventional family has to come to grips with the outside world. Mortensen's character is forced to face the reality that his parenting skills, however well-intentioned, may not be the best for his children.
On whether his own life experiences informed his choosing of this role, he tells M: "There were certain aspects I was familiar with and when I read it, I was like, 'Oh yeah'.
"I used to live in northern Idaho in a house literally in the middle of the forest. But in a house. I wasn't living in a teepee, and I did have electricity and even a phone."
Viggo Mortensen plays a father of six in Captain Fantastic. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION
But Captain Fantastic's script instantly appealed to him, and he flew through the first read without making any of his customary notes.
"I was just reading, turning one page after another and sometimes laughing out loud. At first I thought, 'Okay, it seems to be a liberal utopian fantasy'.
"And then it became something else entirely, where I went from thinking this guy is amazing in how he is raising his kids, to thinking he is crazy. The very rigidity and authoritarianism he is against, he is practising.
"I realised by the end of it that it's not an ideological movie at all. This is a really profound story and I just sat there and went: 'Wow, this script never fell apart and I can't wait to meet the director' (Matt Ross)."
His young co-stars had a great time during filming and dubbed Mortensen their "summer dad" - something he considers "a huge honour".
On how he brought up his own son Henry, now 28, Mortensen says: "We didn't live in a teepee, but we did spend time regularly going out in the woods and getting to know what trees were called and different changes of seasons and animals, like my father did with me.
"We went camping and fishing. I didn't take him hunting like my dad did as that is not something that he is into."
(From left) Australian actor Nicholas Hamilton, US actress Samantha Isler, US actor Viggo Mortensen, US actor Charlie Shotwell, US actress Shree Crooks and US actress Annalise Basso pose on May 17, 2016 during a photocall for Captain Fantastic at the 69th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes. PHOTO: AFP / ALBERTO PIZZOLI
Mortensen adds that overcoming his own shyness was something he grappled with while growing up.
"I liked being on my own, and it took a lot for me to talk to someone I didn't know," he recalls.
"I remember being 12, 13, and trying out for the school play. Each kid had to go up on stage and just read something as they wanted to see if you could project or if you were just going to fall apart completely.
"Standing on stage, I read the first paragraph of (Charles Dickens novel) David Copperfield. And they kept saying louder, louder! And finally I just closed the book and ran. So at that point, to be an actor and speak in front of anybody publicly was inconceivable."