The We Are Marshall junket took place on a particularly cold weekend, even for New York City in December. That must have been tough on Matthew Fox, who has spent the last couple of years living in Hawaii while he shoots Lost. Plus, the junket began at a punishing 9:15 in the morning – but that’s New York time. Fox was operating on a clock set about six hours behind. So if he wasn’t at his best I was willing to forgive him (and I forgave him even more after he got asked questions like ‘What was the last romantic thing you did with your wife?’, which I helpfully dumped from this transcript. Although I must take full responsibility – the last question here, which sounds like it was asked by a 14 year old girl, actually came from me).
We Are Marshall is Fox’s big attempt at a movie breakout. He’s billed as the second lead just behing Matthew McConaughey, but the reality is that he’s in most of the film and he provides the real emotional throughline as Red Dawson, a real guy who lived through the tragic events in the movie. A coach for the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team, Red at the last minute gave up his seat on a flight home from an away game. It was a fateful choice – the plane went down, killing the team, the coaching staff and many of the most prominent fans. Red, who had recruited most of the players, couldn’t go back to work, and the school was about to end the football program altogether, until Jack Lengyel, played by McConaughey, came on the scene to rebuild the team and bring Red back for one final, cathartic season.
Q: Are you tempting airline karma on purpose?
Fox: I didn’t even really make that connection. It was Jorge Garcia from Lost, he plays Hurley, when he found out I was doing We Are Marshall, he texted me: ‘What is it with you and plane crashes?’ I didn’t even make the connection; it didn’t cross my mind.
Q: Were you familiar with the story?
Fox: I wasn’t. I read the script and thought it was beautiful and moving. I seem to find myself attracted to true stories. And then I met with McG a couple of weeks after I read the script, and that was awesome and he was amazing. We talked for like a couple of hours and I just walked out of that meeting thinking I would be in great hands. I think I committed to him the next day, which is really quick for me – normally I have to sort of let things sit for a little while.
Q: You have some very emotional scenes – there’s one at the end where you’re crying for a while. Where did you have to go to get the emotion from it? Was it from talking to Red?
Fox: I don’t ever use stuff from my own life. It was all about empathizing with him and understanding what that year was. That moment at the end of the movie has to be a cathartic release for him because we don’t ever see him do that in the movie. You want to have the sense that he’s really torn up and he is destroyed, almost, on the inside, but he won’t let it out. He’s holding on to it and blocking it down and it’s not until after that game, finding himself in a locker room that is empty of people that should have been there – that’s the trigger that suddenly there’s some sort of catharsis for him. Hopefully you have the feeling that there’s some optimism for him and hope down the road.
Q: How did Red feel about the film? Did you have a chance to talk to him about it, and how did he feel about the crying?
Fox: I’m pretty sure I don’t cry except for that moment in the locker room. 75 people, many of whom were 18, 19 year old kids whose mothers he looked in the eyes and said, ‘I’m going to take care of your boys at Marshall’ and he didn’t keep that promise… I think that even Red, who is an incredibly strong, intense and almost John Wayne type of frickin’ character, he cried a lot. When I took the film he said to me, ‘You’re going to have to…’ When he called me after he’d seen the movie – that was the one phone call I was waiting for the most. I had heard the movie was coming together beautifully, but until Red Dawson called me, that was an awesome moment. I heard in his voice how proud of the movie he is and how happy he is how it turned out.
Q: When did you meet the real Red?
Fox: I wanted to meet him as early as possible. I was shooting Lost so I couldn’t leave the island. Ideally I would have liked to have seen him in Huntington, but I couldn’t. So I called him and said, ‘Look, I would much rather come down and see you, but I can’t, and these are the reasons why’ – because Red didn’t know about Lost – ‘would you consider flying to Hawaii?’ The guy hadn’t been on a plane in 35 years, or had done very little flying, and was very uncomfortable with it. I knew the chances were very slim and it was a big ask. He called me back a couple of days later and said he would like to come, and he came out and spent some time with my family, hung out with my kids, Margherita made him her lasagna, and we just hung out for a couple of days and got to know each other. And he came to the set a couple of days, because I was shooting, and met all the people I work with. I think that was fun for him because I don’t think he’d ever been on a set before. Then we started talking about 1970, which was getting to work. I had about six weeks to prepare, so I wanted that to happen as soon as possible and I wanted to get as much time with him as possible. We figured that out and made it work.
Q: How is he coping with it today?
Fox: The beautiful thing is that this movie, and this experience, this whole year, has been a very cathartic thing for him. He told me as much after he saw the film; he called me and we talked about that. When I was in Atlanta his brother was visiting, Rhett – these are strong, silent guys. They both played college football, and Rhett got inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame, he was a pro as well. Rhett pulled me aside in the middle of the night, he got me away from Red, and he was emotional and he started thanking me for what this experience is doing for Red. I just thought to myself, that’s absolutely amazing. I want this movie to turn out to be great, but if the only thing that comes out of it is that it is a cathartic experience for Red or anybody else still dealing with the memory of that, that’s pretty great. He’s happy.
Q: Do you play football?
Fox: I played football all the way through college. So yeah, I know the game and I love the game. I don’t think of this as a football movie – it’s just not – but it has the backdrop of it, and that aspect of what the role was going to require, the coaching aspect and what kind of coach Red Dawson was, that stuff was easy because I know the game well. Combine that with the fact that I feel I got a good idea of who Red Dawson was, so… yeah, it was fun. It was fun to get to that, too. And I imagine that’s how he felt in 1970. Even though there was an enormous sense of trepidation about stepping back on that field, there also had to be a sense of release and a place where he could be free of that a little bit.
Q: What do Lost fans say to you when they come up to you in the street?
Fox: Right now it’s like, ‘What, you guys have to go off the air for a couple of months and now I find you in New York? Why aren’t you in Hawaii making new episodes?’ And I’m like, ‘Actually we’re still shooting, the break didn’t mean anything to us. Everybody’s shooting, I just happen to not be shooting. I won’t tell you why.’
Q: Uh oh.
Fox: I don’t know if you saw SNL last weekend, but we did this sketch called The Elevator Sketch where I’m playing myself on an elevator and the rest of the [SNL] cast get in and they’re playing UPS guys and shit, and they get into an argument about the show. I think it’s a tribute to the show; I appreciate it. The show isn’t just about the 43 minutes someone is getting an installment of, it’s about what they’re talking about after.
Q: Last year during your break you shot two films, this and Vantage Point. Would you have the energy to do that again next break?
Fox: Honestly, shooting both those films was really rejuvenating to me in some respect. I’m exhausting, and it was a long summer. I was shooting 6 days a week all summer, but I got back to Lost with my creativity fired up. I’ll be looking for something to do over my next hiatus, but it would be the kind of thing where… that time is valuable to me, and the only way I would do something is if it’s something that made me compelled, that I had to do it and that I had to be a part of it. Because the other opportunity is that I get to spend the entire summer with my two kids and my wife and my friends. The reality is that relationships do suffer when you’re as busy as I’ve been for the past year. That’s the trade off. That’s the trade off I’m constantly wrestling with.
Q: How many tattoos do you have, and what were the circumstances under which you got them?
Fox: I don’t ever tell anybody what they mean, but they’re all very meaningful for me. I have a bunch of them, on my shoulders and my back and my arm. I really like the process and they’re about events or moments that happen to me that I think are really important and things that feel worthy of something that I want to carry my whole life. I also love the idea that there will be moments when I’m older and I’ll look at them and say, ‘Really? That’s what you were thinking when you were 28 years old?’
Q: But don’t they have to put make up on them every time you do a movie?
Fox: It’s really easy. They all use this spraygun stuff. It’s like painting a car, man.
Q: Damon Lindelof has said he envisions Lost going five or six years. But if it continues to be a big hit and ABC keeps throwing money at it, it might go longer. Do you say, ‘I am doing five years on this and I am out,’ or do you say, ‘I’ll stick with this as long as the creators can make it work’?
Fox: I haven’t really thought a whole lot about that, actually. I don’t want to look too far down the road; I’m happy where we are now. I hope the show stays on as long as it takes to tell the story. Ultimately that’s all I care about. If it feels like it’s because we’re so successful around the world and kind stretching it out, that would be a bummer. But I don’t feel that way. I feel like Damon and JJ and all those guys over there that are creating this thing, it began with a plane crash on an island and they know the final conflict, and they’re getting from A to B, and at this point they’re getting there as quickly as they want to get there, as quickly as the story dictates they get there.
Q: You have two signature TV roles in your filmography. Post-Lost, do you see yourself doing more TV, or is it time to move on to features?
Fox: Again, I don’t really think too much about that. I would say that I think will probably be my last television experience. I think some of the best storytelling we’ve got going is on TV right now, and in my mind Lost is included in that, so it’s not that snobby thing that you can find in Hollywood sometimes about, ‘Now I’m going to go off and do fil-umms.’ It’s more about what that means for my life, and how much time I get to spend with my family. The thing I love about making movies is that you’re telling a story that has a beginning and an end and you know what goes between. You go out and pour 110% of yourself into it for a contained period of time. You live it, you meet new people, and then it’s done. You can check out for a little while, get back into your life, re-nurture your relationships, and then you look for the next experience like that. It’s not that 8 ½ month out of the year, constantly moving ahead story.
Q: Are you jealous that Kate ended up with Sawyer?
Fox: Not at all. Jack might be!