Matthew Fox On Tyler Perry And Becoming Alex Cross's Maniacal Baddie
After spending six years playing hero on ABC's LOST, Matthew Fox crossed over to the dark side for role in the James Patterson adaptation Alex Cross, in which he plays a master assassin named Picasso whose perverse precision and meticulous skill make him a deadly foil to Detroit cop/psychological profiler (Tyler Perry).
[Read Movieline's review of Alex Cross]
In addition to training for months to develop the sinewy, lethal physique of his ruthless character (who sports the actor's own semi-recent array of body tattoos, which make quite an impression in the film's opening MMA fight scene), Fox underwent an unusually severe emotional preparation for the isolating role, partly by design and partly due to overlapping schedules with World War Z which required him to fly back and forth for a period of time filming two movies at once.
As a result, Fox and co-star Tyler Perry barely interacted with one another on the Alex Cross set, save for when they came face to face for the film's fight scenes. (Director Rob Cohen would deliver Fox's and Perry's lines to the other during the majority of their characters' telephone conversations.)
Subsequently, Fox told Movieline, he only felt like he really got to know Perry the day they reunited with Cohen and their cast mates in Los Angeles to speak with press: "I felt like I was really looking at Tyler with my eyes, and he was looking at me with his eyes, and we were friends who’d been through this kind of crazy experience together."
Fox spoke further with Movieline about the emotionally taxing job of playing Picasso, one of the darkest and most unhinged villains of the year, how much of the cold-blooded killer's severe nature lives inside of him (and how he shook him off), and what compelled him to stay so busy following the end of the long-running LOST.
You filmed World War Z and Alex Cross at the same time, then started Peter Webber's Emperor just three months later. Why pack it in so much?
When you find the things you want to be a part of, you want to be a part of them. You get to the point, for me anyway, where once you click over to a certain point you’re like, I have to do this, and I felt that way about both World War Z and Alex Cross. I was bummed that there was so much overlap just because of how crazy it was going to be to travel. But it didn’t end up being too bad, it was doable.
Picasso is such a clearly strenuous character to play. There’s so much energy coming out of you off the screen in every scene. That must have taken such effort to even prepare mentally for, but how exhaustive was it to add the travel back and forth and switching out of Alex Cross into your World War Z character?
It was, and I had moments where I was a little like, oh my god. But I don’t know – I kind of enjoy that kind of intense load. I think I get excited by it and inspired by it. I’m not going to lie to you, I was very excited when I was done with both of those projects and got to go home and be with my family again and not get on an airplane again for a while. But both of the experiences were amazing. The World War Z experience with Marc Forster and the whole crew over there, that whole cast, and the kids in that movie, and Brad [Pitt] and Mireille [Enos], everybody – it was just great. And then the Alex Cross experience, my experience with Rob [Cohen], was one of the best I’ve ever had. Our collaboration on this guy and how much I felt like he was in it with me – how much he had my back in the whole thing. It was a very lonely role to play.
It seems fairly emotionally isolating, to live in the mind of this guy.
Yeah, it was. I mean, the character of Picasso creates that for himself. He’s the most supremely arrogant person and holds himself above everyone, so he creates that emotional isolation. So to walk in that and try to figure that out… but I always felt like Rob was right there with me.
Rob explained that while filming, you and Tyler actually didn’t interact very much on set, including the telephone conversations your characters share, mostly due to scheduling. At what point do you feel you actually got to know Tyler?
Right downstairs after the press conference when we hugged each other and we both were a year away from the characters we were playing, and the circumstances, and those two guys and how they were trying to kill each other. That was the very first time I felt like we’ve both hung out in a moment when were getting to know each other. I felt like I was really looking at Tyler with my eyes, and he was looking at me with his eyes, and we were friends who’d been through this kind of crazy experience together.
That seems quite unusual, no?
I’ve never been part of a story where my entire interaction with another actor was onscreen, moments where we’re trying to kill each other. I’ve never had that experience. It kind of makes sense to me that it turned out that way, but if I ever went and did another film where it was a villain vs. hero, I would wonder if there was a way to do it and still have moments in between when we just hang out and talk about our families. But I kind of think on some level sometimes it’s necessary to do it like we did it.
Many folks have drawn the conclusion that you following your years playing Jack Shephard on LOST with a villainous role like Picasso might have been out of a desire for extreme change, but is that how you feel about that decision now?
I’ll put it to you this way: I never, ever think about the things that I get involved with on a macro means-to-an-ends scale. Never. So am I happy that it worked out that way? Yeah, I think it’s pretty cool. But it was purely motivated by an inside-out thing. I love Rob, I met Rob, and I felt like we “got” each other. Him offering me this opportunity that I knew was going to require an enormous amount and be really challenging and require me to figure out so many things – I’m scared shitless, I’m not sure I can pull it off – that’s a good reason to want to do this. Now looking at it objectively I can see that coming off of a six-year television show, and I haven’t been in anything since then, and this being the first film coming out after that, it’s cool that it’s such a change.
When you look at the characters you’ve played throughout your career, do you see yourself in every one of them – and if so, what does that say about Picasso? Is there a hidden darkness inside of you that this enabled you to tap into?
[Laughs] I think that there’s a hidden darkness in all of us! I’m a big fan of the book The Heart of Darkness, and the notion that we are much more in the areas of gray than we are either a good person or a bad person. We all have the capacity for potentially very dark things, and we all have the capacity for incredible hope and compassion and goodness to each other. I think that’s the more challenging way to look at us as a species, because it requires you to actually make those choices. So yes – to answer your question directly, I think there’s a lot of me in everything I play. I hope. That’s important; I think all actors, to a certain degree, bring parts of themselves to every role that they’re playing, and my own taste is when they bring a lot, and they’re not hiding behind the thing that they’re playing but actually are revealing the thing that they’re playing.
So, yes – are there parts of me that are Picasso? Am I capable of doing those things? I mean, no. I’m not that person. I am a parent of two children that I love more than anything in the universe along with my partner in crime, my wife, and I’m really a very gentle and warm person. But I do believe that we all have a capacity for those things, and that’s what you have to do as an actor – find those things and exaggerate them and use them to try to create this illusion.
While you were living in the skin of Picasso, during the shoot, would you find you took him home with you at night? Are you an easy person to live with during times like these?
I would say I’m not a tremendously easy person to live with. I think I’m very aware of that, though, so I do my very best. I’m just one of those people, that – and I’ve worked with people in both camps, people who can emotionally just shine in front of a camera and the minute they say “Cut” they’re like, “Let’s grab a Coke!” And then there are people that I’ve worked with who, to bring that emotional intensity to the screen it bleeds over for a while. I’m definitely of the latter camp, but I’m also very aware of that. And so is [wife] Margherita. So it’s just one of those things; it takes me a little while for the emotional stuff to bleed out, and then I’m good. If you’re conscious of it and are aware of it, I think it’s fine.