The New York Film Academy was proud to welcome director and actor, Matt Ross, to the Los Angeles campus for a screening of his latest film, “Captain Fantastic.” Director of the Q and A Series Tova Laiter, a producer known for her work on “Glory,” hosted the evening. Student packed the theater to standing room only.
Matt Ross is a standout character actor in Hollywood. In the film world, he’s known for such hits as “American Psycho,” “The Aviator,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” and “Twelve Monkeys.” He’s no stranger to television either, having appeared in “Six Feet Under,” “Big Love,” “Magic City,” “Revolution,” “American Horror Story,” and, most recently, on HBO’s “Silicon Valley” as Gavin Belson.
Ross is also a writer and director. His latest work, “Captain Fantastic” stars Viggo Mortensen as Ben Cash, a man who raises his six children in the wilderness with his wife. The family has shunned all technology, but when Ben’s wife dies, he has to take his children out into the world.
Laiter asked Ross about navigating the tension between the time one needs to immerse oneself in his/her profession, and the time one needs for parenting.
“We live in a culture where you have to navigate work and parenting,” Ross said. He felt that it was easier for him to do this than many of the women he’s met that try to do the same thing. Society is ok with him being a father and a working creator. There’s a lot of societal pressure to be the perfect mom first.
Laiter then turned the conversation to Ross’ beginnings. Ross grew up in rural California to similar circumstances as depicted in the movie, not knowing anyone in the entertainment business, but he applied and was accepted to Juilliard’s acting program. “I made films before I acted. I didn’t think I wanted to act. I just wanted to tell stories and that’s all acting is.”
But Ross was not satisfied with acting alone, revealing, “I taught myself to write.”
His film “28 Hotel Rooms,” which portrays discovering marriage after romance, was inspired by director Mike Leigh, who workshops intensively with his actors. The short film received notice at Sundance and led to him writing and directing “Captain Fantastic,” which won him directing kudos in Cannes and a SAG nomination for Viggo Mortensen.
Students were eager to speak with Ross about his acting career. One student asked, “How does the on-set dynamic and environment change as an actor as you’re working on sets like ‘American Psycho’ with actors like Christian Bale, as opposed to working on ‘Silicone Valley’ with comedians like T.J. Miller and Kumail Nanjiani?”
“I don’t think there’s any difference,” Ross responded. “I don’t come from comedy, improvisation or stand-up. But, I think it’s all problem-solving. For comedy, you have the added difficulty of identifying and illuminating what’s humorous, whereas with drama you’re more focused on illuminating the perceived truth. It’s the same goal.”
One student asked Ross if having so many children on set of “Captain Fantastic” was an exceptional challenge for him as a director.
Ross replied, “They’re not difficult in the ways that people think they’ll be difficult. The difficulty was that they were having too good a time and so they’re playing around too much. I was worried about losing the light.”
Ross advised the students, “Everyone has a process. My job is to create an environment in which their process can flourish. Kids need more time to get in character. Charlie was really young. Sometimes I’d have to break things down. Sometimes Viggo would push Charlie. Sometimes I would give him things to try. We’d play until we got it right.”
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Matt Ross for taking the time to speak with our students. “Captain Fantastic” is now available for download on Amazon.