Matthew Fox for “We Are Marshall”

ABC hit series “Lost” has always been grounded by its leading hunk Matthew Fox. Making a name for himself in the 90’s with the drama “Party of Five”, the 40-year-old former model has mostly confined his work to the small screen. Yet during the break between TV seasons this year, he went to work on the McG directed football drama “We Are Marshall” and the political thriller “Vantage Point”. The former is now about to get a release and taking time out from “Lost” shooting, he spoke over the phone in a conference call about the movie and working alongside another hunk by the name of Matthew:

Question: How much did you actually get to talk with Red Dawson and what did you learn from him that really helped you get into the character [for We Are Marshall]?

Fox: I actually got to spend four, five days with him. I was shooting the finale of Lost last spring and I couldn’t leave the island. So I asked Red, I called him and asked him if he would be interested in coming out of Hawaii and I fully anticipated him that is — to do that because he hasn’t done a lot of flying in the past 35 years. And I was, you know, pleasantly surprised when he took me up on the offer and he came out and spent about four days [here] just hanging out with me on set and spent some time with my family. And it was just an incredible experience. I mean, obviously, I thought that was absolutely crucial to have some time with him and to ask him about his — that year of 19, you know, 1970 and what it was like and what some of his memories were of it. And I also anticipated him being reticent to talk about it. He hasn’t been really open about that. He’s not that kind of man. He sort of carries all this internally and so, it was just an amazing experience. The specifics of that are I think, you know, pretty private to him, and so I wouldn’t want to go into those. But he certainly was open with me. It was difficult. We had some tough moments and he’s just an amazing man and we’ve become very, very good friends.

Question: Besides being able to talk to him, how much other research did you get to do on the story itself?

Fox: Well, I didn’t know this event until I read the script and then, that was McG. So, I was — I felt like I had a whole catching up to do obviously. And, you know, aside from my discussions with Red, I immediately asked McG for all of his research materials and he sent me gobs and gobs of stuff that he had collected over his preparation. And I went through that as much as I could just to sort of get caught up on the facts and really get to know the story and what happened. So I spent quite a bit of time with that. And then, most of my time was really consumed with trying to empathize with Red’s position. And anytime I had really deep questions about that, I would call him and we would sort of go through that process and we’re trying to figure out how he felt. It was an amazing experience.

Question: Obviously you must be pretty busy with your schedule on Lost and you probably don’t have to do other things. Why did you decide to do a movie in the break like this one? And what was McG work like — to work with on this kind of movie? He is known for kind of action-comedy type stuff.

Fox: Right. Well, it was the script. I mean, I do — Lost does take up a huge chunk of my year and I am reticent to fill my hiatus with other work unless it’s something that I’m obviously, you know, incredibly passionate about and see almost like I have to do it. And that’s the way I felt about the story. I felt very, very moved and it affected and it felt, you know, the way I choose things is always sort of a nebulous sort of vague process and ultimately just comes down to sort of the sense inside yourself that it’s really important for you to do this part and be a part of this project. And McG, I cannot say enough good things about him. I mean, I would work with him again in a heartbeat. It was — I mean, my first big movie. It couldn’t have been a more amazing experience and McG was an enormous part of that and making it that special. He was so passionate about the story and just did a phenomenal job of creating environment that was — had a great energy. The entire project had a great energy. And I think that obviously, it being based on a true story and being us shooting in Huntington, West Virginia to start was — there was just something about it that had a great energy going into it and the entire process just continued that way.

Question: Could you tell us a little bit more about your character’s relationship with Jack played by Matthew McConaughey?

Fox: Well, it was sort of slightly fictional. In the real world, I think there was some tension between those two guys. You know, Red was really the coach that was left over after the crash. And he felt an enormous responsibility to honor those kids and people that were lost in the crash and had this coach coming in from the outside that wasn’t from that community. And Lengyel’s philosophy was more about sort of pushing past it. And I think there was sort of a fundamental wrestling with this concept of do we hold on to what’s happened and honor it or do we move past that? And obviously, that is the fundamental struggle within any — all of the individuals, you know, and — associated with everybody in Huntington. So it’s a question about how to deal with grief. And I think those two coaches were sort of two sides of the same coin and ultimately what they both wanted was the same. But the way that they wanted to go about to was slightly different. So, at the same time sort of honoring that relationship between the real coaches, Matthew and I had to find a way to have that. And also sort of created a kind of a slightly — a buddy dynamic in some way, you know, sort of a — two guys that we know are fundamentally different people are coming at the same problems from fundamentally different angles, but still find a way to be partners in it. And working with Matthew is amazing. He was really dedicated to the project and worked really hard. The two of us had a good time doing it.

Question: Did the people of Huntington feel about the production, since you shot it not far from the actual town?

Fox: It was an amazing experience. This event, it feels to me and obviously, we were a bunch of people coming into that community to make a movie about that story. It’s a very defining part of that community. So I think that anytime you have something like that and a bunch of Hollywood people are going to come in and make a movie about it, there is going to be initially some suspicion I think, that it’s so important to the people that are affected by the story are tied to it in some way. And almost everybody there is, you know, they could be slightly suspicious of a big Hollywood film being made about it. But I think that went away very quickly and I just felt completely welcomed into the community and everybody — shortly after getting there, felt like everybody was routing for us to make the very best, the most honest, most, you know, most beautiful movie and depiction of that time for them as we possibly could. And Marshall, the school itself and everybody that I met there was just — hugely support us. I think that that’s what created this almost special energy for all of us that we’re involved in trying to do this thing, because we felt this huge sort of net of people behind us rooting for us to do it, to do it justice and that was good.

Question: Did you play football when you were younger, and how did that affect your performance being a coach?

Fox: I did. I played football as wide receiver for a huge portion of my life, all the way through college actually. So I know the game well, but it was the first time that I’ve ever approached the game from the coaching perspective. Made me feel a little old. But yeah, I know the game well and you know, I had spent enough time with Red to even I think, you know, I’ve had all of my own coaches in my life and I’m sure brought some of the things that I knew about them into the way that I wanted to portray Red. But it was — I really documented Red well enough and I felt like I had a good idea of what kind of coach he had been as well, and how important the game was to him and how important the people in the game were to him.

Question: You were talking about filming in West Virginia and working with the people from that area. How much extra pressure did you feel as an actor to get the story right because it is based on real people and it does affect so many people?

Fox: I felt more pressured than I’ve ever felt doing anything. I mean, when you’re doing a purely fictional story and you’re inventing a character in a story just in your imagination, you want to make something beautiful. You always set out to do that. But when you’re doing that in conjunction with it being based on a true story and you’re playing a man that you’ve become great friends with and you — all I really care about is that Red feels like I’ve done him right, you know? That’s — that was a huge part of what drove me everyday. So there was a lot of pressure, but that’s a good thing and I always approach it that way. And I think everybody are involved in the making of the movie felt that. And I hope that we did it.

Question: Regarding Lost, when you pick up the script, there’s always the possibility that they’re going to kill off a lead character. So are you worried when you actually think of a script that yours might be next?

Fox: I think that’s always an element it. I don’t worry about it too much. I feel really fortunate to be a part of this project and I do from an objective point of view understand that that is an element of the show that’s important. You can’t create this sort of this island in which life is always in the balance and then not, you know, have people perish. I think that’s just part of the show. And — so yeah, that’s always in the back of my mind but I don’t thread it too much. You know, if that happens to Jack, I really feel — I have an enormous amount of faith in Damon Lindelof and J.J. and Carlton that if that time comes for Jack Shephard is because that’s what is meant to happen in the story and I have faith in the — that they’re on top of that.

Question: Since the show has turned it attention more towards the Others, and the characters are all separated, you don’t get featured as much. Does that mean you get more time off now than you did at the beginning? And how do you feel about fans who say they miss the dynamics of the original cast because so much attention is given to the newer characters?

Fox: It has created some more time off for me because I’m doing all of my work essentially in one set, so I have two or three days where I’m working 14-hour days. And then, I will have a week of time-off while they’re doing other stories and that’s been incredibly nice for me. I mean, I worked on two films over my hiatus. I worked six days a week all the way through. So getting back to Lost was — I was excited but at the same time getting this much time-off has been a real relief. It’s been nice. And I understand the audience misses some of those other dynamics. But, you know, the story is dictating right now that we’re looking at the story more from the Other’s perspective than our original survivors’ perspective. And that’s a — I think that’s a really amazing thing. I personally — because Jack is now part of those Others as being held in, you know, captivity there, I’ve gotten to work with these with new actors and create completely new relationships and dynamics and that’s been really exciting for me.

Question: Since you do have so little time to devote to projects outside of Lost and you have been incredibly choosy about your film scripts, I was wondering what appealed to you about the project Vantage Point and how was the challenge of that character and that project? Was that more intense or less intense than We Are Marshall?

Fox: Well, Vantage Point was a script that I actually read about a year and a half ago and I met with Pete Travis, the director of that film. And that was a movie that I was looking at for my first hiatus actually. And then, something happened where it couldn’t get made then. So when it came back around and it looked like it might fit into my second hiatus, I was really excited. I just think it’s a really, really smart, intense and incredible thriller. I feel very strongly about Pete Travis as a director. He directed this movie Omagh which I think is an incredible film. So, he and I really feel eye-to-eye on what needed to happen for that character. And yeah, it’s a very, very — a very different character than what I play in We Are Marshall. It’s a very different movie. So I felt great about the two projects individually obviously and I also felt great about them sort of how different they were. And it’s a very, very intense character. You’re right. It’s intense in different ways. I mean, playing Red Dawson was very, very emotional. And — I mean, it’s not [outwardly] but I had to carry something and carry this weight… and also because I’m playing Red, my friend, you know, there was that added sort of intensely to it. The Vantage Point experience was intense in a different way and I can’t really talk about that too much. It’ll giveaway…

Question: But you play a secret service agent, correct?

Fox: Yes, I do.

Question: Did you study at all with actual secret service agents, all that?

Fox: Yeah. Pete was really amazing about trying to get us a [trained], and those guys are really reticent to talk about their profession. So, getting that opportunity was great and Pete really pushed for that to happen and then we had some research materials as well that we studied. We also had people on the set all the time that were sort of consultants to make sure that what we were doing jives with reality.

Question: Do you and the other actors who play the Others try to make a point of not hanging out or joking between takes to kind of keep the animosity easier?

Fox: I wouldn’t say that it goes that far. There’s definitely a dynamic. I mean, the stuff that’s happening between Jack and Juliet, and Jack and Ben and you know, these Others — the relationships that my character has with the Others — I think there’s an understanding between us as actors, that on the day that we work, there’s a certain dynamic that we strike. But I’m getting to know them both as people and they’re amazing. I just love them as actors. I’m really excited about working with them all the time and how psychological the work is. And — so, yeah, it’s — I’m really enjoying that stuff.