Viggo Mortensen Talks Fitness and His New Flick Captain Fantastic

Speak softly and carry a heavy sword – it’s an axiom that describes Viggo Mortensen to a tee.

The heavy sword metaphor comes into play in some of his most famous film roles – as Aragorn, heroic Ranger of the North in the Lord of the Rings films; as a killer who runs with the Russian mafia in Eastern Promises (a role that earned him an Oscar nomination); as a father navigating the apocalypse with his young son in The Road or a family man with a deadly past in A History of Violence.

In real life, though, Mortensen speaks softly and thoughtfully when we discuss his latest project, Captain Fantastic, about a family that lives in the remote wilderness, raising and educating their children far from the distractions of modern society.

It sounds like a peaceful enough premise but don’t be fooled – though he may not be bashing in the heads of Tolkien bad guys, Captain Fantastic has the 57-year-old climbing rock cliffs, running for miles through dense forest and besting much younger opponents in hand-to-hand combat.

“I have to admit, I’m much lazier. I’m nothing like this character,” Mortensen laughs as he tells me about the physical preparation he underwent to play family patriarch Ben Cash. “I worked really hard and swam and ran and played soccer and watched what I was eating a lot more than I normally do. I had to make a concerted effort to get in shape for this role.”

The result is a trim, athletic frame that looks like it’d belong to a movie hero, while putting some actors half his age to shame. In reality, though he’s not as intense about fitness as his Captain Fantastic persona, Mortensen does stress his belief in the importance in staying continually active all year around.

“I think that you’re putting yourself at risk for damage to your heart and your joints and your muscles by having these sporadic on-off again fitness [routines],” he says. “If you say, ‘I’m going to really go for broke now and really do a lot of exercise, you’re going to be shocking your body by suddenly trying to get a middle-aged body to try to perform like it was 20-years-old.”

Mortensen suggests working physical activity into your daily life whenever you can, even if that simply means leaving the car at home and walking or biking to get where you need to go. At home, Mortensen keeps in shape by playing soccer and basketball, hiking and walking. “[Walking] gets your mind going too because you’re seeing things – not just watching a screen and eating a bunch of crap food. It all adds up.”

And though Mortensen showed up in peak physical shape for the role, his Captain Fantastic character has one hobby for which the actor definitely does not share an affinity.

“One of the physical skills that I had to work on, which I wasn’t happy about, was rock climbing,” Mortensen chuckles. “It doesn’t always happen but I can get a bit of vertigo. I’m very conscious of what would happen if I fell. So, given a choice, I would never engage in rock climbing. I didn’t like that at all.”

Mortensen also keeps active by travelling, noting, “I’ve crossed Canada almost as many times as I have the United States, by car and part of it by train.” The actor’s maternal grandfather hailed from Nova Scotia and, having spent part of his youth in   upstate New York living near the St. Lawrence River, Mortensen not only developed a love for the Montreal Canadiens hockey team but also for the Great White North as a whole.

“What I think of when I think of Canada, is nature – forests, rivers, lakes. I enjoy the outdoors,” he says. “I suppose I have a North America affinity in terms of kinds of climate and natural environments I enjoy. And there’s no place that’s more beautiful than Canada in that regard.”

Captain Fantastic is playing now in Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa. It opens in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Calgary, Victoria and Halifax Friday, July 29th.