Matt Ross didn’t have to look past his own life to find the inspiration for “Captain Fantastic.” He considered the methods he and his friends use to raise their children.
He asked: What kind of legacy are we giving out children? How can we keep them safe?
“We began discussing our parenting. I tend to be a glass half empty kind of person and my wife is more that it is half full,” Ross says.
That examination sparked his new film, which looks at what happens when a recently widowed father of six must re-examine the way he is raising his children off the grid. His family has been living away from civilization in the forest so the children focus on their studies. The death of his wife forces him to look at other options.
This is the second feature film written and directed by Ross, a Connecticut native. He’s better known as an actor after appearing in projects such as “Big Love,” “Magic City,” “American Horror Story” and “Silicon Valley.” He understood his film needed to present various viewpoints.
“The balance between the opposing views was intentional,” Ross says. “I wanted a script where there was no villain. Both sides have good intentions. Real life is like that.”
There has been some public concern that the film casts a negative light on home schooling. Ross says the film isn’t about home schooling or communal living. It’s not an indictment of either; it’s about how this family deals with life and death.
The writer/director is proud of the way the movie ends, which he says gives credence to both sides of the discussion. When he was writing it, he didn’t know if the finale would be happy or sad. All he knew was it had to come across as truthful.
There’s a lot of Ross in “Captain Fantastic,” from his own parenting philosophies to the way he guides his players. Having been an actor the majority of his life also gave Ross a personal perspective as a director in how to deal with actors, especially the six young actors.
Just finding the kids was a tough task. They had to be well spoken, play a musical instrument and have the spirit to match that of their character. The casting had Ross looking around the globe. His search paid off with actors from England, Australia and the United States.
“I spend as much time with the actors as possible. Everyone needs a third eye,” Ross says. “The most iconic moments are acing moments. We may me wowed by beautiful effects. But when you show human beings revealing something about themselves, those are the moments I’m looking for.”