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Matthew Fox Gets in the Film Game for ‘We Are Marshall’

It may be safe to say that Matthew Fox may have developed an affinity for plane crashes. The heroic yet conflicted doctor on the hit TV series Lost, faces the challenge of surviving yet another plane crash. However, unlike his TV persona who is fighting for his life on a mysterious island, in his upcoming flick We Are Marshall, he embodies an assistant football coach battling a serious case of survivor’s guilt in a small town, following a tragic and ill-fated plane crash which he narrowly misses.

Also starring Matthew McConaughey and Ian McShane, We Are Marshall is the true story of a small community that has suffered and risen from an overwhelming and heartbreaking calamity. Hollywood.com had the pleasure of sitting down with the incredibly humble, genuine and sweet Fox to dig up some inside information on Lost, get the lowdown on his personal life and talk about the emotional challenges of personifying a devastated young man struggling to deal with the aftermath of a stunning tragedy.

Hollywood.com: Were you familiar with the story of the Marshall football team before getting involved with the film?
Matthew 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.

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HW: 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 for it? 
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.

HW: How did the real Red Dawson, whom you play in the film, feel about that scene? Did you have a chance to talk to him about it?
MF: 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.

HW: When did you meet the real Red?
MF: 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, [my wife] 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 for 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.

HW: How is he coping with it today?
MF: 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.

HW: Do you play football?
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.

HW: How is it living in Hawaii?
MF: It’s like anything. You start to take it for granted and become bored by how perfectly beautiful it is every day and how there are no seasonal changes. Nah, it’s great. I love it. My kids are very happy there. I was looking for a way to get out of Los Angeles anyway, and this gig coming up and it being in Hawaii, Margherita and I have been traveling there for a few years – like 8 years – on vacation, and we were always joking about how great it would be if we got a gig there and shot there for a bit. It’s great there; the kids are really happy and in a great school. I think that we’re not going to stay there past the life of Lost, because personally I really do want to live somewhere that has seasons. I miss that.

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HW: What do Lost fans say to you when they come up to you in the street?
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.’

HW: There’s a buzz out there that Jack’s tattoos will be explained in the next half of the season. They really belong to to you—how many tattoos do you have, and what were the circumstances under which you got them in real life?
MF: 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?’

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