The versatile Viggo Mortensen has played a Ranger of the North, an undercover agent in the Russian mafia, and a small-town father with a secret past in the Irish mob. But it’s his role in “Captain Fantastic” that is earning him some of the best reviews of his career, along with Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations for his performance. And now the actor is being honored with the Variety Creative Impact in Acting Award at the Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival.

In the film, Mortensen plays Ben Cash, a father of six who chooses to live off the grid in the wilderness of Washington, learning survival skills and studying philosophy. When his wife passes away, he embarks with his offbeat family on a road trip in the family bus to her funeral.

Written and directed by Matt Ross, the film is a seamless blend of humor and drama, heartfelt and intelligent without ever feeling esoteric. It’s a part that seems tailormade for the actor, who is also a poet and musician. In fact, when Ross first sent his star books to prepare for the role, he learned that Mortensen already owned most of them. The actor even journeyed to the set weeks in advance to live on the land and plant the garden seen in the movie.

Mortensen admits he admired the script and character a great deal. “I always look at the story first, and it was a great blueprint. Along with that, it was a character I liked,” he says. “I also have to ask myself if I’m honestly the best actor for it. There have been cases where I didn’t think I was the best choice, and I’ve said so.”

Which is not to say he is always on the same page as the character. “There are aspects of Ben I don’t’ see eye to eye with. But I like looking at the world through his point of view.” But he adds that part of the appeal of the script was the questions is raises and how “it doesn’t look for an easy way out.”

Though the indie film was made on a small budget, the response from audiences and word-of-mouth have been strong. “The reactions have been amazing. The hype that gets generated is usually in a more mechanical way, where you have to try and convince people to see it. This has happened in a natural way. Which is great; we don’t have the kind of PR budget to try and brainwash people into loving it.”