Matthew Fox, Deerfield Class of ’85 and actor best known for his role on “Lost,” will speak at school meeting and lead acting and photography classes this week. Front page editor and “Lost” devotee Casey Butler interviewed Mr. Fox.
Scroll: Why did you come to Deerfield for your PG year, and how involved were you on campus?
Fox: Actually, it was my father’s idea. I was going to high school in Wyoming and I hadn’t really made plans for the future. My father had gone to St. Georges in the east and he recommended I go to the east coast and have a year as a PG. I did that, applied to a bunch of schools and chose Deerfield.
I played football and ran track at Deerfield. and it was a fantastic year for me. It was very daunting and I was very nervous at first. I wasn’t sure I could handle being away from home for that long a period of time. I wasn’t sure I could handle the school academically, so I was very nervous. But I made some fantastic friends and when I look back I think it was a very pivotal year of my life. I think it opened up my eyes to many new things and I think that’s what a school like Deerfield is supposed to do. It opens your mind to all the possibilities life has to offer.
Scroll: Did anyone here have a particularly big impact on you? A teacher or a coach who helped steer you?
Fox: The football coach James Smith was a legend at the school, at the time. He had been coaching for many years. In general, the school had such an incredible spirit of learning and for the first time in my life, I really got excited about learning. I had been an underachiever in high school and really hadn’t spent a lot of time focusing on my studies. For the first time, I was in a school where I had to study hard and get good marks in classes. I enjoyed all of the classes I took that year.
Scroll: Do you have a best Deerfield memory?
Fox: I have many, many Deerfield memories. It was an amazing year. The first half, I felt like I was treading water a little bit as the barn kid from Wyoming. In the second half of the year, I felt like I had really made friends and felt part of the school. You know, as a PG at any school, you’ve basically just started junior or senior year, and you’re in a class with people who mostly have been together for three or four years. It was easy to feel slightly alienated at the beginning of the year, but by the end, I really felt part of the school.
Scroll: Did you act here at all?
Fox: I didn’t start acting until I had graduated from Columbia. I didn’t study theatre until I graduated. I got my degree in economics at Columbia, and then I decided to take some acting classes. It was intriguing to me. I was curious about it, and that’s how I started in New York
Scroll: What was your first big acting job?
Fox: “Party Of Five” was the first big job. I had done some small things. I was in an episode of a show called “Wings” and a small part in a film. But “Party Of Five” turned out to be a six-year chapter of my life working on that show. I had a degree in economics and here I was on a show trying to learn how to be an actor.
Scroll: Do you have a favorite character that you have played?
Fox: No. They are all very different and have different challenges. They all need different things from you and you learn by trying to figure them out. I’ve enjoyed every one of the projects I’ve been a part of and working as hard as I can to try to bring myself to the telling of a story in the best way I can.
Scroll: About “Lost”; It was on for six years, so was it hard to let go of the show, or were you ready to start something new?
Fox: Well, a little bit of both. It was an incredible experience, and there were so many people involved in the making of it that I knew I would miss and I probably wouldn’t see again. There was a part of it that was melancholy at saying goodbye to that, but there was also a big part of me that was excited to what was next. That’s why I’m enjoying where I am right now, being home and doing some plays.
Scroll: Did you have any favorite storyline in “Lost”?
Fox: Well, I always look back at Jack’s storyline, just being around that amazing caliber of writing on the show. I think that whole six years for Jack was one gigantic arc, and I can’t specifically chop out a part and say I like that part best; it really was all leading to the end. I feel very fortunate to have played that role and I really enjoyed it.
Scroll: You mentioned the arc of the show; were you surprised by the evolution of the story, or did you know early on where the writers were taking the show?
Fox: I had talked about the end pretty early on, but I was surprised by how he got there. I didn’t want them to tell me too much. I wanted to be surprised by the script. I looked forward to getting the scripts every week and seeing where it was headed. I was a big fan of it. The show, for me, was about getting the new scripts.
Scroll: Did you keep any props from the set as keepsakes?
Fox: (Laugh) No, I didn’t. Sometimes I do that, but Jack didn’t really have anything specific or interesting.
Scroll: Emperor just premiered last night at the Toronto Film Festival, right? How was that?
Fox: It was amazing. It was very well received and it got a very good domestic distribution deal. It was a very successful festival for us. We don’t have an exact date yet but Lionsgate is looking to release the film sometime in May.
Scroll: You mentioned that it was a period piece and based on true events, I was wondering if that influenced how you played and prepared for the role?
Fox: I love history, I love learning history and I feel like I don’t know a lot of history. You can dedicate your whole life to learning world history, you know, we have five thousand years of civilization to learn about and you can never scratch the surface, there’s so much to learn so anytime I’m a part of a story where I am going to learn about an historical moment in time, that a win-win, it’s a perfect combination. I’m doing something I love to do which is storytelling, being a part of a group of people who are trying to tell the very best story they can, then to weave in actual historical events that you may not have known much about. This combination is perfect. I learned a lot about the man that I’m playing, because he was an actual guy. I learned a lot about those couple of weeks in August 1945 when there were some incredibly difficult decisions being made and depending on how those decisions were made were going to determine history from that point forward so it was really a cool learning experience for me. I love when those two things go together.
Scroll: One of your other new projects is Alex Cross…It seems very different from your other work and I was wondering if it was fun playing the bad guy for a change and how did you decide to take on that roll?
Fox: You always hear that in the acting business that the villains are more fun to play. It wasn’t the most enjoyable experience because he is a very messed up human being, but I enjoyed the challenge of it and it was a very challenging project for me. I wanted to take on the challenge where I had to lose a bunch of weight and radically change the way I look. I felt that was very necessary for the role. When I was offered the role, the director called me in London when I was doing a play in the West End. He said “I want you to play this serial killer assassin in a film I’m doing.” In that first moment you think, “I cant believe you’re offering me this role; I’m not right for this role,” but what I love about acting, the challenge of acting and that part of me spoke up. I’ve always wanted to do that type of role, so I said yes. But I knew it would require a lot of work, so I immediately got a trainer and nutritionist to help me figure out a plan and a meal plan so over the five or six month period of time that I had before the movie, I lost a couple pounds and I wanted the guy to look almost disturbingly gaunt and shredded down. His ideas and the way he rationalizes his livelihood and what turns him on and his philosophy would require a tremendous amount of energy, and I think that’s what he would look like.
Scroll: Any specific career goals or projects you want to pursue?
Fox: No, I like picking them one at a time. I don’t have any genre of film I want to do next. I love not knowing what’s coming. I just wait for the moment when something is going to really hook into you in a way that you feel, “ I absolutely have to be a part of this.”
Scroll: Another “Lost “star Nester Carbonell also went to Deerfield as a PG. Did you guys ever talk or exchange Deerfield stories?
Fox: Yes, we discussed the fact that we both went there. He is a very good actor. It took us a little while to realize that we had both gone to Deerfield I think he had been working on the show for quite a while before we made that connection. He’s a very good guy.
Scroll: Deerfield is starting a program to promote the arts at the school. Do you have any thoughts on promoting the arts for budding actors?
Fox: I think the arts are incredibly important in life. Being creative is important to our happiness. I think that young people are too focused on making decisions about what they’re going to do with their lives too early on. I’m going to have an opportunity to speak at school meeting for a few minutes, and I hope encourage everyone to not make choices in life to early to delay and to keep their minds open to all the possibilities, the infinite possibilities of what they might be doing in their lives. They may end up doing many different things in their lives and not making solid decisions, like “I want to be a doctor” or “I want to be a lawyer” or “I want to work in some aspect of the business world” too early on. I want to encourage or to make sure people are creative in their lives. Not to say that they need to go out and pursue a creative endeavor to make a living but just for themselves, just on a day to day basis, try to find avenues to be creative because I really think it a part of who we are as human beings and if we focus too much on the linear side of our minds and are too committed to goal oriented things, it take away from our ability to find peace and happiness and to feel fulfilled. I’m sorry, I know that’s a long and wordy answer to your question but yes, I think that the arts are something you see disappearing everywhere. We’re focusing more and more on academic applications like going to a good college where it more focused on getting you into the right business or field you are pursuing and I feel that’s really dangerous. We need to step back and understand that the more balanced and compete we are its better for us as human beings. It’s very, very important. I really do love the craft of acting. There are many, many things about the acting business and the things that come along with it on the outside that I’m not crazy about, but the actual process and craft of acting is a pretty amazing and interesting thing to be a part of.