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Killer Performance — Matthew Fox

Matthew Fox follows up his role as the good doctor on “Lost” with one that’s entirely bad news in “Alex Cross”

Author Sam Polcer

GREGG DEGUIRE/WIREIMAGE

BEING MAROONED ON a desert island does something to a man. Just ask Matthew Fox: After playing Dr. Jack Shephard—leader of the most famous bunch of castaways since “Gilligan’s Island”—on six seasons of the mind-bending hit “Lost,” he immediately signed up for a slew of roles that are about as far from his iconic flawed-but-noble surgeon as you can get. This March, Fox co-stars in the World War II drama Emperor as real-life military intelligence guru Gen. Bonner Fellers; in June, he takes on zombies in the much-hyped Brad Pitt vehicle World War Z.

First and most notably, however, the 46-year-old Wyoming-raised actor shed all traces of his leading-man appeal—and about 40 pounds—for Alex Cross, a reboot of the film franchise based on James Patterson’s bestselling thrillers. While Tyler Perry takes on the titular role formerly occupied by Morgan Freeman, Fox is nearly unrecognizable as the villain: a steely-eyed, martial arts–trained sociopath named Picasso who deserves every bit of Cross’ vengeance.

Play went a few rounds with Fox to talk about what going over to the dark side entailed—including cage fighting with a mixed martial arts pro, scuba diving in water pipes and swearing off Italian cooking.

In Alex Cross, your character has almost no interaction with anyone he isn’t trying to kill. Was it hard to shake off that intensity when the cameras stopped rolling? There’s intensity in everything I do, and that’s what I enjoy about it, in most cases. But Picasso was a really exhausting role to play because he vibrated at a hyper-intense energy level. When I wasn’t on set, I did my very best to relax and check out. It’s tricky, though, because you know you’re going to have to go back to it the next morning, so you hold on to it a little bit.

Did the fact that you were filming World War Z at the same time as Alex Cross help you get into the role of such an isolated character? I assume you spent a lot of time traveling by yourself between the shoots. It probably did. I was flying back and forth from Cleveland or Detroit on Alex Cross to London on World War Z—there were a couple of months when I felt like I had no idea what time zone I was in. I was living in hotel rooms and by myself a lot, so while the Picasso role itself made me feel very isolated, the travel probably fed back into that as well.

Most of your scenes with Tyler Perry had you two either hissing at each other over the phone or punching each other. Did you get to know each other off-camera? We really didn’t. That was part of [director] Rob Cohen’s strategy: We would only interact in those scenes where we’re threatening or trying to kill each other. Tyler was very focused on bringing out the vengeful pain that his character is in, and I was focused on doing what I was doing. We saw each other during the press junkets, though, and it was good—the movie was a year behind us and we got a chance to say hi in a calm, gentle way. He’s a very nice guy.

Alex Cross has its share of action sequences—did you do any of your own stunts? I always like to do as much as they’ll let me, and this movie required more stunts from me than anything I’ve ever done. The cage fighting sequence—I wasn’t doubled in any of that. That was a real pleasure for me, working with Rory Markham, who’s a great mixed martial arts fighter. He’s the guy I fight in the film. Learning how to do some of the stuff in that sequence was pretty cool.

Were there any scenes that concerned you, like the one where Picasso has to swim through a narrow water pipe in scuba gear? I’ve never been comfortable in the water. I didn’t learn how to swim until I was about 20 years old. That was a very tight pipe; plus, Rob wanted me to wear swim goggles rather than the kind of full mask that blocks water from getting in your nose. So that was a real challenge, being able to swim up that pipe with all that water pressure and not have water jetting down my sinuses. I didn’t want to take on water when I was 20 feet under. Then I had to shoot to the top, risking the bends. It was a little hairy.

Your tattoos suited the character, particularly in that cage fight. How many of them are yours? They’re all mine, and I keep adding new ones. There might come a time when there’s a role I want to do and they’ll say, “We just don’t want to spend the 45 minutes to cover all your tattoos every day.” But for the most part, they can basically spray-paint ’em off, and CGI helps too.

Can we expect to see you playing more villains in the future? I would love to. That cliché you always hear about how villains are more interesting to play than heroes—I would say that’s true in a lot of respects. You have a lot of freedom with bad guys. Certainly I didn’t have the sense that there were any rules with Picasso. I felt like I could go down any avenue with him.

Including losing about 40 pounds. Was that something the director requested, or was it something you wanted to do? It was my choice. The minute I read the script, I just saw Picasso that way. I felt that the things he had to do to support his mission statement would be eating away at his physique; it would require so much energy to rationalize his existence that it would be consuming him. That was exciting and also a little daunting, because I didn’t know if I could pull it off.

It couldn’t have been easy. [Laughs.] It definitely wasn’t! Eating is one of the true pleasures in life. I’m married to an Italian woman, my mother’s Italian, and I was raised on great food—so to give up all those things that I love so much for five to six months was really, really tough. I exercise a lot, but I weighed close to 200 pounds and this guy had to look really sinewy and vascular. Shredded. So I was put in touch with a guy who specializes in that. He laid out the exercise and nutrition plans. I was delivered food, and I simply ate what was in the bag. You just get to a point where you’re only eating for fuel.

What was in the bag? A lot of boiled and steamed vegetables and chicken. I did learn to appreciate some foods that I never would have paid attention to otherwise: raw almonds, fruits and vegetables. I’ve always been more of a pasta, bread and dairy guy.

What was the first thing you ate when you wrapped the film? We were shooting in Detroit, so I ate three Coney dogs smothered in that meat chili thing that they do, with onions and cheese. Unbelievable.

Given your successful six-year run on “Lost” and, before that, your role on the long-running drama “Party of Five,” quite a few TV execs are probably champing at the bit to get you on another show. Would you consider returning to the small screen? I’ve openly stated that I don’t want to do TV anymore, and I think people misinterpreted that as my saying that a film career is more prestigious or something like that. To a large degree, in terms of quality, TV is having a better time of it than film. But for me it’s about the schedule that moviemaking affords. I’m more interested in working on something for three or four months and then moving on to the next story. During all the downtime in between, I’m home, doing the things I love to do, unemployed—and happily so—until the next thing comes along that I get truly excited about.

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