It’s fair to say Matthew Fox is still in a transitional period post-LOST. After six years on the air, the rapid fanbase, and ending on that hugely divisive note, it’s naturally going to take time moving away from a show that big. Picasso, the egotistical psychotic assassin at the center of Alex Cross, is certainly a role which could assist Fox in that department.
The actor transforms himself somewhat similarly to the way he did a few years ago with Speed Racer, a box office bomb he rightfully calls far ahead of its time. Racer X and Picasso may not be share personality traits, but both characters rely heavily on Fox’s physicality. As anyone can see in Alex Cross, making a transformation in achieving that physicality is a challenge the star embraces.
Here’s what actor Matthew Fox had to say about defending a psychopath, avoiding villainous monologues, and his love for Speed Racer:
I read a quote of yours that says, “Acting comes from how much you can empathize with the character.” When you play a character who is psychotic, do you still look for that empathy?
Essentially, you are their defendant. You really, at a certain point, have to get past any judgment of the character and you have to empathize with it. You have to find sort of the way that you have to hook into the motivations and the sort of philosophical thought process of the guy to the point where you can defend it; you can defend it even with, objectively, you know there’s no defense of it within sort of human interaction. But you have to defend it for that particular character. You certainly can’t apologize for it and you can’t be judgmental of it. So you have to find a way in and then defend it with everything you’ve got. That’s what I tried to do with Picasso.
What defense did you create for Picasso?
In my mind it was all about he’s sort of the most supremely arrogant person that you could ever come across, and his arrogance comes from this notion that he is essentially…he doesn’t believe in the concept of God, but if there were a God it is him because he can do and inflict moments of the realization. He’s a true existentialist and truly believes that the moments he creates for his victims as he’s snuffing out their life is a gift, because he’s giving them the truth that there is no cause and effect in the world; there’s chaos, and that they didn’t have to deserve what they’re getting. It’s just the randomness of the universe. That was the stuff that I personally came up with for him. I found a way into rationalizing what is really obviously abhorrent and psychotic behavior.
When you get a script, does it start with that process, where you are finding character details which maybe aren’t on the page?
Oh, yeah. That was never part of the script. Like I said, it doesn’t matter whether anybody in the world ever understands the tricks of the sort of construct that I created to motivate the guy. But I certainly have to. I have to motivate the guy and I have to motivate myself to defend the concept of the guy. So yeah, you know, that’s what was really interesting about playing a role like this for me. It was the first time I’d ever really taken on a guy like this or even remotely like this. I knew that would be the challenge. There’s sort of like a cliché phrase that goes around that villains are far more interesting to play than straight up the middle heroes. I would have to agree with that. It is really interesting and challenging to try to figure that out within the context of the film.
What happened for me in this is that I did a lot of research on guys like Ted Bundy and things like that. I wanted to start with that foundation. But Picasso became something that only exists in the film. He took on a slightly hyper-realistic thing for me. And so I felt a little bit of freedom to sort of go further outside the realm of our normal, if we have one, but a prototypical concept of what a serial killer is and the reasons why they do it.
And [director] Rob Cohen was just such a partner in crime with me on this. We had a really, really fantastic collaboration and we dug into this thing together. I always felt like he was in it with me. I didn’t feel like I was completely on my own, although that character is a pretty lonely place to exist for a while.
The one thing that definitely allows for the villain to be more fun or interesting is the possibility of scenery chewing. When you dig into a character like this, are you okay with going over the top, or did you want to do the opposite?
Oh, yeah. I think that’s a mistake that…I mean, you know, it all comes down to people’s personal taste. My taste is such that I do think the freedom of scene chewing, when it comes to the villains, is overly used. I think that, for me anyway, I know when a villain starts monologuing and it feels like it’s sort of a…That’s fine in a cartoon or a comic book thing because that’s…
Part of the genre.
Yeah, it’s part of the genre. I didn’t want that to veer anywhere remotely into this. I wanted this to be based in in something that feels realer at the same time. I used that hyper real thing; it’s got a whiff of that on top. I didn’t think that he was ever the guy that they would sort of bash verbally in his accomplishments. It’s much darker than that for him.
Obviously a lot of people have talked about the physical transformation you made for the film. Why did you see the need to make that change? What do you think that appearance says about Picasso?
Well, I think that construct that I sort of superficially laid out for you there, his philosophical construct that he’s created for himself, requires an enormous amount of energy to support. I mean his arrogance and his point of view on the world, and his holding himself above the world, and his philosophy behind that I think is just almost all consuming. I don’t think that he sleeps much. I think he requires so much energy to support that sort of singularity that I felt he would look like that whether he ever…He doesn’t spend any time in the gym. He looks like that just because his own energy consumption turns him into that.
Looking at yourself before getting on set must really make yourself feel immersed, having that look.
Yeah, that was part of it. And it was weird because it’s amazing how quickly you start to lose track of any frame of reference. It wasn’t until that still got released and somebody forwarded it to me. It was sort of the first time that I…I don’t watch any playback or any rushes. I hadn’t seen anything. So when that still got sent to me and I opened it and saw that shot, it was really shocking to me. And you’re right. I was looking in the direction that I wanted the guy to look, but I had sort of lost the frame of reference to where I started. So seeing the end result in one image was pretty shocking. I understood why every time I’d see my mom over that five month period of time, she was horrified. She was like, “Please let me cook you something right now.”
[Laughs] Is that something you always look for though, that transformation?
You know, I gotta say that’s part of what I think makes acting challenging and fun is the try to sort of reconfigure yourself in a way that is what the audience or what people’s perceptions of you, they might not expect, and to kind of keep surprising yourself. So that is definitely part of what I think is really interesting about it. I have to say, I’ve really enjoyed those experiences where I’ve done things that were pretty far from where I normally am.
Is it difficult finding those surprises?
Yeah. I would like to see Hollywood taking more and more chances with that. But, you know, I still manage to find them in a degree of regularity that satisfies my hunger for work. It seems like I’m going through periods of time where I’m really excited to be on a movie set but I haven’t found that thing that’s really gotten me excited.
At this point I’m finding the things that are exciting and have me inspired to go to work on just the right amount of frequency, because it’s giving me opportunity to also have breaks in between. That’s always why I’ve kind of wanted to be doing a career like this than a six year run of a series, because that’s just sort of more all consuming on one role and one character for a six year period of time, whereas this is giving me an opportunity…I mean I’ve played four different roles in the last two years, and that’s really exciting for me. That’s where it’s at for me.
It must be satisfying, though, even when you are on a six year run for a television show having that much time to work on a character.
Well, there’s no question, dude. Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed and am very grateful for those six year experiences I had in those series and just learned an enormous amount from them, in particular LOST and Damon Lindelof and what he did with Jack and how varied that secure arc was and all the different things that I got a chance to do with that character. I will forever be grateful of that.
But it’s still the same story and it’s still, ultimately, you have a certain set of shoes that you really can’t completely step out of. So being able to go from one very different role to the next and being able to take as much time as I want in between, which is really, at this stage in my life, it’s important for me to be able to take time in between and to have a little bit more control over how much time I take in between. So that’s why I feel really happy here right now.
Earlier you mentioned hoping Emperor finds an audience. How much does that actually mean to you as an actor? Say with Speed Racer, does a performance like that matter to you?
It only matters to me to the degree that…Well, it does. I’d be lying to you if…You know, when you do these things you hope that they find an audience. I mean, Speed Racer is just an incredible movie to me, and I’m so proud to have been a part of that. I just really was disappointed that more people didn’t get it. I think it, for a bunch of different reasons, was slightly ahead of its time. There’s a bunch of reasons why I think it didn’t do what everybody hoped it would do.
I was also really disappointed because I wanted to do another one. That experience was so fantastic working with Wachowskis and everyone involved in that project, the entire cast, that I was really excited about another one and really excited about Speed someday discovering that Racer X was his brother. You know, all those things that are never going to happen now.
Alex Cross opens in theaters on October 19th.