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Interview: Matthew Fox for "Speed Racer"

By Paul Fischer Sunday May 4th 2008 11:15AM
Matthew Fox for "Speed Racer"

From the recent action thriller "Vantage Point" to true modern television classic "Lost", 41-year-old and still hunky Matthew Fox is on a roll. Nothing however can compare to what he went through on the set of the Wachowski's Speed Racer, playing the mysterious Racer X in the live-action adaptation of the classic anime. Our Los Angeles correspondent Paul Fischer sat down with 'Foxy':

Question: What's the attraction of this for you?

Fox: The Wachowski brothers, that was the first way into the project was meeting them and hearing their thoughts on what they wanted to try to accomplish in the movie, and one of the first things that they said was that they wanted to make a movie that their nieces and nephews could see, and they had never really done anything like that. And they wanted to make a family movie, and they really hit a chord with me, I have kids and I haven't done anything that I would feel comfortable for them really watching. And then, you know, I went and did some research on the original source material, and I had definitely seen those images, I recognized those images, I recognized them, they were familiar to me but I don't think I'd really seen an episode, so I went out and got a bunch of those and watched a bunch of episodes and got a feel for what made that series in the 1960's so catchy, and then the script, Larry and Andy wrote a script that I thought was just absolutely amazing, just all those elements. It was really the only project that I wanted to be - I was looking at a few things last spring, but the minute I met with Larry and Andy and started going down the Racer X route, and Speed Racer, I didn't want to do anything else. And I pretty much said, 'If I don't get this role, I'm not going to work this hiatus.

Question: Why do you think Rex leaves home, it's not like his father is that nasty, why is he so rebellious?

Fox: I think it's more than just rebellion, I do think that my experience of my brothers and I and my father, and our relationships with father-son things, that ultimately that's the way that you leave the house, there has to be that sort of - and it can be anything, it could be something large or it could be something small. But I think it was also the realization that the system was corrupt, and I think he was recruited out of the house on some level as well. So it was a combination of feeling like he wasn't being understood or being supported at home, which is what every young guy goes through with his father pretty much, and has to to make that break, in conjunction with a feeling that this system that he loved and lived for was flawed and corrupt and fixed, and sent him down this road of trying to do something to fix it and to be a part of the solution.

Question: So you're sitting in a gimbaled racecar in front of a green screen with the leather mask and goggles, obviously there is some part of it where you trust the Wachowskis because you've seen their work, but on set what is it that they're saying to you that makes you comfortable in that moment where you're able to do your job right?

Fox: Well, you hit it. I did through the entire process have complete and utter faith in the Wachowskis making me look good (he laughs) and I really did. So, yeah, there were moments where you're like, wow, this is pretty intense. I honestly going into it, this is one of the most terrifying experiences I've ever done, there are so many ways that you wrapped in a leather suit can be very bad (everyone laughs)

Question: Did you have to take breaks because it was so hot?

Fox: Well, the comfort level is one thing, yes it was incredibly hot, and doing the fight sequences in the suit was incredibly difficult and I was very dehydrated, and all those logistics, but I'm talking like on a creative level there's a lot of ways that can go terribly wrong. But I did have complete faith in them and also had my own - I really had a really strong idea immediately after the conversations with them of what they were going for tonally and what this world would look like and what I wanted to try to do within that leather suit that would be really cool, trying to create this mysterious thing with a voice that was sort of anime that went along with it, and I felt the way that Larry and Andy wrote the way that X talks, and the rhythm of his speech was starting to give me all these hints, you're just gathering hints as much as you possibly can, and they did an amazing job of bringing a lot of artist renderings and even digital imagery that they'd been sending out these satellite images all over the world, collecting these images and building these bubbles of imagery that would then be put into the computer, so that when you're standing on a green screen you can actually walk around and look at these big plasma monitors that would already have the world that you're existing in laid in behind you, and you would be like, 'Whoa, okay, that's what that place looks like.' They did an amazing job of bringing all of that help to you.

Question: When you don't have the eyes and you just have this part of your face, does that make you have to adjust the way that you're acting?

Fox: There's no question, again that was one of the first things - the first meeting that I had with Larry and Andy was like a bunch of warnings on their part, they were like, this is why this is going to be very difficult, this green screen, this technology that we're doing, the way we're shooting it is going to be tough, are you comfortable playing a role where the audience isn't going see your eyes for a majority of the [film], and I was like, I was really intrigued and challenged by it. It was an incredible experience, it really was, it was just a lot of fun, and the wardrobe is always like a really important part for me of getting into something and finding my way into it, and it informs it in so many ways but never anything like this. I got two weeks into it, and when I would put the suit on and drop that helmet on, man, it was just like bam, I was right there, it was so cool, and watching the way people would deal around you when you put that on was pretty cool.

Question: What did your kids think? Did they see you in the costume?

Fox: Yeah, it was the day that they came to set, they spent the summer in Italy with Margherita's family, and I was traveling back and forth between Berlin and Italy, and they came up to visit and we really wanted them to see the thing in its full - so they were sitting on the set, this huge room, green screens everywhere, and all this technology, computers and stuff, and I'll never forget, I walked in and I had the full gear on and they both turned and did like this double-take and went like, 'Daddy?' And I'm pretty convinced that if I'd done my voice they would have both just like - so I just went down to them, and I'm like (whispers), 'Yeah it's me, it's me, don't worry, it's just me.' And I walked on set to do a scene, and my little boy watched me walk off and he turned to my wife, and he goes, 'I want to be Racer X on Halloween next year.'

Question: You didn't grow up with the show, at what point did someone tell you that Racer X was actually the coolest character in the whole thing? Bands have named records after the guy.

Fox: Really? That's really cool. My best friend, one of my closest friends, who was the hugest Speed Racer fan in the world, and we were having dinner together with some people that I work with when we heard that Larry and Andy wanted to meet me on this project, and he just flipped, and he's pretty discerning in the kind of things that he would like, and so I knew watching him get that excited that there had to be something really, really cool.

Question: Did you enjoy having the chance to use your martial arts training?

Fox: I did, very much. That part of the shooting was really rewarding to me. I did all the stunts in the movie myself which I'm proud of. I worked really hard to do that. There was also a question earlier on where they wanted to know, Dave and Chad, the guys who did all the stunt work and did all the stuff for The Matrix as well, sort of put me through kind of a test thing. They wanted to see how athletic I was and what I could do and what I couldn't and they felt that I could do it all and did I want to and I was like, "Of course I do," to the degree that I can make it look good and they're were like, "Trust us. We'll tell you if it doesn't look good." They told me that if I could do it all, Larry and Andy would be able to shoot it in a much cooler way which was the case.

Question: I heard you suffered the worst injuries on the gimbal. Can you tell us about working with the gimbal?

Fox: The gimbal was really intense. Thank god for that gimbal. It needed to be something that was going to be creating...basically as an actor you just got in there and hung on for dear life because that's what would happen. These cars doing what they're doing, obviously the driver would be giving the input to the car that would create that, but once the car did it, your body would be just reacting to the forces that were happening. As an actor, you didn't have to do anything other than create the input, but then react to what the gimbal was doing. It was amazing. It made everything a lot easier. On X's part, he has to be like the harbinger of boom. He has to be kicking some hard butt. He's got to be doing big moves so I was getting thrown up against the door really intensely to the point where my shoulder was pretty sore and bruised and that kind of thing, but I really had a good time doing it. It was fun.

Question: Some of your cast mates in Lost have gotten in trouble for speeding a little bit. Were you ever a speeder?

Fox: Yeah, I enjoy driving fast. I've been lucky to not have...you know that's the running joke over there, is if you get pulled over by the cops, you're pretty much killed off the show. [Laughs]

Question: What do you drive?

Fox: I just have a driver, like a little Acura that I zip around the island on.

Question: What kind of car would you pick if you could have anything? What's your dream car?

Fox: I build hot rods so I'm taking a 1950 Mercury coupe and turning it into a hot rod. I enjoy the 50's styling which I thought was really cool and then putting all the new, sort of modern technology into it is really fun.

Question: Have you seen your action figure and have your kids seen it and what do you think of it?

Fox: Yes, I think my little boy might...aside from maybe Joel... might have been the first little boy to have a Racer X action figure. I did the Mattel Toy thing in New York and did a little piece while I was there promoting Vantage Point and they gave me one and I took it home. It was the first thing that he got. Then like a week later or 10 days later a whole box of stuff came. He's just been completely...he is so excited about this movie opening up, he cannot wait. He can't wait. He's so into it. I'm pretty cool in his eyes right now which is pretty great.

Question: Where do you think your character draws the line between breaking a few laws for the sake of the greater good versus complete corruption?

Fox: I think Racer X breaks a few laws. I think he is definitely the end justifies the means. That's part of the reason why he has that reputation. A lot of people think he might actually not be technically a really good guy but obviously we find out that we think that he is. Yeah, he's walking the shadows.

Question: Any road rage stories of your own?

Fox: No. I've always really enjoyed driving. I grew up in Wyoming where the roads are really open. There's not a lot of traffic and there are speed limits but there's not a lot of enforcement of those speed limits. It's always been the sense of freedom in it. I enjoy that. I actually recently got the chance to drive some Porsches on the Willow Springs track because I was doing this story for Speed Racer. I got some instruction from the Penske Porsche LMP2 driver, Patrick Long, who is just awesome. It was two days and it was really one of the most fund things I've ever done. I really enjoyed it.

Question: Did you get to keep the mask by any chance?

Fox: I dress up in it all the time. [Laughs]

Question: You can bring it home for your son?

Fox: No, no. They've got that.

Question: What harbinger of boom trick would you like to have on your hot rod if you had one?

Fox: I like the Gatling guns that come out of the side of the car and have the thumb pedals on the wheel. That's pretty cool.

Question: Are you up for a sequel if there is one?

Fox: Absolutely. I would love to do more of this. I just love the world and love being in it and all the people that are involved in creating that world. I just have had the most amazing experience. I would love to.

Question: What about your next hiatus? Is there going to be a movie or would you rather just kick back?

Fox: This hiatus coming right now I'm going to take off. I haven't taken any break for two years. I've done four films and Lost in that period of time. I'm really pleased with how these movies [have done]. Vantage Point did really, really well. I'm looking at material to do next hiatus but I'm going to take this one off and just spend some time with people that I care about.

Question: With TV shows usually the way that it works as an actor, it's an open ended storyline where you're going forward and just discovering what's happening as you go. With Lost, obviously that's all changed not only because of the flash forwards, but because it has an end date now. Does that change the way that you're approaching your work on the show?

Fox: Not really. Not that much. No. You know we're going to catch up with the flash forwards here in this year and then we'll be back and it's going to be really interesting to see how time is structured in season five. But we will have closed those two points - the finale of last year where you had that juxtaposition of him on the island feeling like he'd finally accomplished rescue and this future where he's desperate and at the pit of despair and feels like he has to go back and we don't know why and what's transpired in between. We will have closed that thing and so we will have gotten back into a situation where we'll be in the present.

Question: How much gets resolved in the finale?

Fox: Huge, huge stuff. We're shooting pretty much three episodes that are...it's really like a three-episode finale that we're shooting simultaneously. It's huge.

Question: Are there going to be more questions answered?

Fox: There will be huge things answered. Yes.

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