A couple of weeks back I traveled down to Long Beach for the Speed Racer junket. It was being held down there because the Long Beach Grand Prix was on, and I guess that makes a good backdrop for the usual roundtable interviews. I don’t want to sound too cynical, but doing this transcription I was reminded why we don’t do many of these roundtables anymore. I’m trying to imagine how you get to a point in your career as a journalist where the idea of saying to someone ‘Do you have any road rage stories?’ is a good idea.
I’ve interviewed Matthew Fox before, and I have to say that this was the loosest I’ve ever seen him. I could say that it was because he was loopy from the red eye from Hawaii, but I think the truth is that he’s very happy with Speed Racer, and his performance. And he should be; out of the entire cast I think Fox is the one that gets it the most. I’ve never liked Fox in anything as much as I liked him here, playing Racer X, the mysterious and violent driver who helps Speed investigate stock market fraud. Seriously.
I never ended up seeing any racing at the Grand Prix. If I had, this would have been the third car racing event I have attended thanks to my job. I don’t even have a license. It’s all wasted on me.
Despite being about manipulating the stock market through racing, Speed Racer is a damn fun movie that deserves your attention when it opens this weekend.
Q: What attracted you to Racer X?
Fox: The Wachowski brothers. 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, 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 1960s 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.’
Q: 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. So, yeah, there were moments where you’re like, wow, this
is pretty intense. 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.
Q: 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, 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.
Q: 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 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.
Q: 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 [his wife] 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 [gawps] 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.’
Q: 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. 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.
Q: 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.
Q: You were already familiar with Tae kwon-do, right?
Fox: Yeah. I studied for a couple of year when I got out of college in
New York and did some tournament fighting and stuff, but I hadn’t done
any training in a long, long time. So that part of it was fun. It was
hard work. For six weeks in Berlin I was training pretty much every
other day with them and learning a lot of the sequences which kept
changing. You know the stuff in the suit was particularly difficult.
Q: How much did it weigh?
Fox: It’s not that heavy. It’s just the heat was really intense and
having your head covered and the lenses would fog up really quickly
which led to a few misjudges on my part [laughs] which led to a couple
of stunt guys knocked on their asses.
Q: We 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.
Q: 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]
Q: What do you drive?
Fox: I just have a driver, like a little Acura that I zip around the island on.
Q: 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
Q: 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 [Silver]
– 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
Q: 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.
Q: 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.
Q: Did you get to keep the mask by any chance?
Fox: I dress up in it all the time. [Laughs]
Q: You can bring it home for your son?
Fox: No, no. They’ve [the studio] got that.
Q: 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.
Q: 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.
Q: 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.
Q: 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.
Q: 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.
Q: Are there going to be more questions answered?
Fox: There will be huge things answered. Yes.