Matt Ross On His Double Life As Acclaimed Director Of ‘Captain Fantastic’ And Playing Gavin Belson

Getty Image / Bleecker Street

On Friday afternoon, publicist Peggy Siegal held a banquet for the film Captain Fantastic at Manhattan’s Explorers’ Club. After the lunch and a panel discussion, I spoke to Matt Ross, Captain Fantastic‘s writer and director. Ross is kind of living a double life right now: He’s a celebrated filmmaker whose film – which premiered back at Sundance, then played at Cannes before making its way through arthouses this past summer – is now getting serious awards buzz. (It’s also now out on Blu-ray and available on streaming platforms.) But, yes, he’s also Gavin Belson on Silicon Valley. He’s known for both, but even Ross admits a lot of people don’t realize that he’s the same person.

Captain Fantastic stars Viggo Mortensen (who I also spoke with and we will run that interview next week) as Ben, a father of six who’s raising his family off the grid in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. After his wife’s suicide, he brings his family back to civilization to attend the funeral. What follows is alternately funny and heartbreaking. It’s one of the most unusual films of 2016 and it’s great that Bleecker Street is giving it an awards push.

During the panel, Ross mentioned that his vision for the star of the film was a “40-something Harrison Ford.” Which of course led me to think of The Mosquito Coast, but Ross swears it wasn’t an inspiration. Ahead, Ross talks about his little film that’s making so much noise, his “double life” also playing Gavin Belson. And how he’s now almost “retroactively” (because we all recognize him now) in a lot of big movies, like The Aviator and American Psycho. (But first I couldn’t resist to ask about the time Uproxx got a mention on Silicon Valley.)

Uproxx got a specific mention on Silicon Valley this season.

Oh, right! Cool.

We enjoyed that, even though it wasn’t the most flattering mention.

So in the context you didn’t think it was flattering?

Well, it seems like one of Erlich’s favorite sites, so…

[Laughs.] Right.

You mentioned your original idea for Ben was Harrison Ford in his 40s. The first movie I thought of was Allie Fox in The Mosquito Coast.



Nope. I didn’t have any specific film in mind. He was in Witness. Of course he was Han Solo. Then The Mosquito Coast. There was a selection of films that he was in. The Mosquito Coast reference I wasn’t cognizant of until my brother read the script and said, “This character reminds me of The Mosquito Coast.” But I didn’t really make that connection, no.

They are very different movies. But it is about a father who makes his kids live off the grid.

Well, I think for all of us, at some point, all of this has been poured into our brains and we absorb things and then how we reinterpret them. So I wasn’t thinking about that character, but I don’t think it’s an inaccurate reference.

A lot of movies get a good reception at Sundance, then they just kind of disappear. It must be nice this movie has the legs it does.

Absolutely. Someone told be that between September and Christmas day 85 films days are coming out. So every Friday night there are 5 to 30 films being released.

And more than a few big studio films.

So, not only is the way films released not help each individual film find an audience. It speaks to the sheer volume of narratives that are out there. And so for all of us, when you find a particular movie, or how you find it, it’s complicated. I’m very happy this particular movie has found an audience over time.

I feel you live this double life as the guy who plays Gavin Belson and the acclaimed director of Captain Fantastic.

No, it’s true.

I feel a lot of people haven’t put those two together…

[Laughs.] It’s true. It’s “coincidental,” I think. I started making short films when I was 12 years old. And I also acted in theater. And I went to both acting school and film school. So I’ve had these dual things happening in my life. So it’s sort of a coincidence I happen to have the largest film I’ve written and directed to date also happening at the same time to be on the most successful television show I’ve been in. And as an actor, Silicon Valley has its own cultural relevance and voice.

And a very dedicated viewership.

It’s an amazing show. But it’s just sort of coincidental.

On Halloween, American Psycho was on television. I’ve seen it many times before, but this time I was like, “Oh, it’s Matt Ross!” This has happened with a bunch of movies you were in. Retroactively, you’re in a lot of older movies.

[Laughs.] No, it’s true.

Like The Aviator.

The Aviator is one I reference a lot.

And PCU.

Yeah, my God, that was my first movie. I mention The Aviator because a famous actor was cast in that part and couldn’t do it, so I ended up getting the part. That was a movie where it’s just chock-full of stars. So most people’s reactions when they see that movie is, “Oh there’s Leo, there’s John C. Reilly, there’s Kate Beckinsale, there’s Cate Blanchett – and there’s the guy who plays the guy who fixes the airplanes. Because I’m not a famous actor, they just think I’m that guy. I kind of just blended in.

But that’s changed now.

Okay, I’ll take it. But I think if myself more of a “semi-recognizable television actor from a particular show at any given time.” Which is fine.

Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.