BY CHARIS JOY JACKSON
*** Warning!!! Contains spoilers!!! ***
Welcome beautiful creatives, actors and independent filmmakers to another installment of Ugly Actors. I’m pleased to add the handsome and dashing Viggo Mortensen to the ranks of Ugly Actors and even more pleased to focus specifically on his fantastically ugly performance in Captain Fantastic.
First of all, if you haven’t seen this incredible film yet, please go watch it.
Why focus on only one film for this fantastic ugly actor? Namely, because his portrayal in this film has landed him several nominations this year for Best Actor for the 2017 Academy Awards, the BAFTA Awards and The Golden Globes. Oh and SIXTEEN other award platforms!
I’ve been a huge fan of Viggo’s since he first appeared as Strider in The Fellowship of the Ring. I mean let’s be honest, he was every girl’s dream. Aside from his hunky good looks, I was fascinated by his acting style and I still am.
What makes Captain Fantastic stand out from the rest, is how immersed you feel watching Viggo become Ben Cash. At first glance, he’s exactly what the title says, fantastic. As you get to know him though that changes ever so subtly.
I wouldn’t normally look at this first scene and think “now that’s some ugly acting” because to me it gets put in the “incredibly awesome moment every actor dreams of” category. BUT I wanted to add it here, because there are actually some amazing ugly moments.
In the scene, Viggo and the rest of the cast are covered in mud and dirt. The oldest son has just killed a deer and Ben (Viggo) cuts open the animal and removes the heart.
He then raises his muddy and bloodied hand to his son’s face and says, “Today the boy is dead, and in his place… (here he takes his bloody fingers and smears one long line down his son’s face leaving a trail of dark crimson) …is a man.”
Then he hands the heart to his son, who takes a bite and Ben raises his hands and presents the new man to the rest of the children.
It’s a wonderfully slow moment, and when you think about what he’s really doing here – asking a young man to eat a still warm heart as they’re both covered in muck – it makes it ugly and awkward.
The temptation of an actor when faced with a moment like this is to rush it, but Viggo is content to sit in the dirt, making it utterly fantastic.
I found myself sitting a bit straighter as I watched, because I knew this was a significant moment in the story of these characters. As a result of Viggo’s unwavering focus, you feel that importance even more.
CAPTAIN NOT SO FANTASTIC
The first instance I noticed him becoming truly ugly, was when he reveals to his children that their mother has passed away. There’s no softness about delivering the message. In fact, it was blunt and mean.
His exact words were, “Last night, mommy killed herself. She finally did it. Your mother is dead. Nothing is going to change, we’ll go on living in exactly the same way. We’re a family.”
It’s a downright ugly moment. One in which I found myself wondering why he would say such a thing to children, especially little ones!
When I try to imagine myself in a similar scene, it’s hard to say those words, especially knowing I would be saying them to children. This is such a huge concept for little minds to comprehend, but to be so blunt about it, so final, really made me cringe to watch him.
Viggo plays this moment with conviction.
There’s not even a flicker in his eyes that tells you he’s uncomfortable with saying this, he’s just a guy named Ben telling his kids about their mother’s death in the only way he knows how.
Again, what I really noticed about this moment, is how Viggo sat in the silence. There’s a feeling that actors have to fight against and that’s the feeling that we need to start talking as soon as a scene starts. Viggo doesn’t do this. In fact, there are several pauses throughout this bit of dialogue. Which help give weight to the scene and make it that much more wonderfully ugly.
Another fantastically ugly moment happens when Ben and his kids are having dinner with his sister and her family. The scene becomes ugly as their parenting styles start to clash at the table.
What makes this scene ugly is that Ben’s sister and family are trying to respect Ben’s parenting style, but Ben doesn’t really bother to respect theirs. He’s swearing at the table, telling his nephews exactly how his wife died, and allows all his kids to drink wine even after his sister has asked him not to do that in their home.
It becomes too much for his sister and she and her husband leave the table.
Again, this is a hard moment to play for an actor, because most of the eyes in the room are “against” you. There could be a tendency to overplay this moment or rush it, but Viggo again shows his willingness to sit in the moment. To be one hundred percent present for every ugly moment.
Perhaps the ugliest and most awkward moment in this scene is after his sister and brother-in-law have left the room and he lets his kids drink wine. After filling glasses and saluting his wife, he lifts a finger to his mouth motioning for his nephews to not tell their parents. It’s an incredibly manipulative moment, but Viggo needed to portray it with truth.
Somehow, not only does he play it with truth, but he makes you almost cheer for the division he’s creating within the family.
This was an important moment for the story and if Viggo hadn’t played it truthfully, I wouldn’t have remembered the lesson of the moment.
Perhaps my favourite ugly moment comes when Ben and his kids show up late for his wife’s funeral. They walk in, dressed bright and bizarre, and cause a bit of awkward tension as they find seats in several different rows. When the pastor mentions Ben in his speech, Ben gets up, interrupting the service and starts to talk about his wife.
Again, there’s no softness to the moment, in fact at one point he even hits the coffin, causing most of the people gathered to jump in their seats. Ultimately, he’s removed from the building and his father-in-law threatens to have him arrested if he comes to the graveyard.
He refuses to listen and drives to the graveyard, only to have his children start crying and protesting his decision. He refuses to listen to them, even telling them to “Shut up and sit down.” He’s completely lost it until his oldest son says, “We can’t lose you too.”
It’s a fantastically ugly scene. From the moment he storms into the church demanding his wife’s last wishes to be respected to the realisation that his kids are watching and afraid of losing him too.
Viggo’s not just playing the emotion of the scene, he’s gone deeper than that. He’s living the scene and there’s not even a hint of falseness to it. Every decision he makes for the character comes from a real place.
There are so many scenes in this film that are wonderfully ugly. These are just a few I especially loved.
I highly recommend that if you want to be an ugly actor, that you study this film and study Viggo’s choices. Every time I watch this film, it makes me want to lay aside the insecurities of looking pretty for film.
It makes me want to be an ugly actress.