Viggo Mortensen has a simple rule for attending the Academy Awards: He'll goes if he's nominated

By Adam Carlson
February 26, 2017 07:25 PM

Viggo Mortensen has a simple rule for attending the Academy Awards: He’ll go if he’s nominated.

Otherwise “it’d seem weird,” the Captain Fantastic star explained to PEOPLE Deputy Editor JD Heyman at the red carpet before Sunday’s show.

That’s not to say he isn’t grateful: Mortensen, 58, told Heyman he understands what had to go right for him to earn a surprise Best Actor nomination for the indie film, which first debuted on the festival circuit last winter.

“We first showed the movie to the public a long time ago — Sundance last year, over a year ago — and if you said to me then, ‘This movie is going to get an Oscar nomination,’ I would’ve said, ‘Not likely, not likely,’ ” Mortensen said.

He continued, “It is very rare that little movies like this — by ‘little’ I mean independent movies that don’t make a big budget to promote and run ads on TV and so forth — it doesn’t happen very often. Every once in a while one sneaks through, and I’m very glad it was ours. We got lucky.”

• Check out PEOPLE’s full 2017 Academy Awards coverage and complete winners list!

89th Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals
Credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty

And even though this is Mortensen’s second nomination, he said he’s “particularly proud” for the nod “because it was a wonderful collective effort.”

“I know I’m representing not only the six great young actors who play my kids in the movie, but [writer-director] Matt Ross and everybody who helped to tell what is a really beautiful story,” he said.

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The Academy Awards kicks off live on ABC on Sunday, Feb. 26, with a 7 p.m. ET pre-show and 8:30 p.m. ceremony. See all the Oscar nominees and get your own ballot here!