So many roles, so little time

Times Staff Writer

MATTHEW FOX is doing double duty these days. He’s one of the stars of the Emmy- and Golden Globe Award-winning ABC series, “Lost,” which returns to the network’s lineup on Feb. 7, and he’s branching out in the feature film world. Fox’s first major movie, “We Are Marshall,” opens Friday.

But that success comes with a price: The boyish-looking 40-year-old actor says he wrestles constantly with the need to balance his work life and his family life. “The kind of success I am having right now is very time consuming,” Fox said recently, relaxing in the lobby at the Chateau Marmont. “I have been away for three weeks and missing my children desperately....”

While filming “We Are Marshall” -- shooting took place during a hiatus from “Lost,” which films in Hawaii -- Fox was able to have his wife, Margherita, and their two young children, Kyle and Byron, fly from their home on the island to visit the location in West Virginia.

That was just one of the advantages to Fox’s decision to take a key role in “We Are Marshall,” a drama about how the small town of Huntington, W.Va., attempted to cope after one of the worst disasters in the history of American sports.


On Nov. 14, 1970, a chartered jet carrying Marshall University’s football team, coaches and fans was on its way home from a game in North Carolina when, with just a minute before landing, the plane crashed in the Appalachian Mountains killing all 75 aboard.

Fox plays Marshall assistant coach Red Dawson, who missed the fateful flight and couldn’t forgive himself for surviving the wreckage. The quiet, grief-stricken Dawson agrees to return to the field as an assistant coach for one year to help a new young coach named Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) rebuild the football team.

Director McG (“Charlie’s Angels”) said he had Fox in mind for the role as soon as he met the real Dawson.

“Matthew was good enough to fly out from Hawaii,” said McG. “We weren’t 15 minutes into the meeting that I knew in my heart of hearts, having met Red Dawson, that he was the only choice to play him.”


McG was impressed with Fox’s depth of character, both personally as well as in his performance as the stalwart but troubled physician on “Lost.”

“Red Dawson is a man of great integrity and Matthew has his priorities in order,” said McG. “He became personally involved in telling Red’s story.”

Fox said it was crucial for him to get to know and talk to Dawson before and during the production.

“I can’t imagine doing it any other way,” Fox said. “I had to question him and probe sometimes and ask him questions I needed answers to and to elicit memories and imagery from that time. He was so generous and really ultimately very open with me.”


And Fox, who was raised on a ranch in Wyoming, soon realized that he was cut from the same cloth as Dawson.

“I think it was growing up in very small-town communities ... and we had similar ideas of what strength in a man was supposed to be.”

Because the two bonded during the production, Dawson said he has become a changed man.

“A year ago at that time, I wouldn’t have talked to you, even if someone had paid me to do it,” said Dawson, 64. After his year with Marshall, he quit coaching and has worked in construction ever since.


“I would have lost my emotions,” Dawson added. “I have heard people talk about the healing process -- that sounds goods -- or closure. I don’t know what closure is, but that area of my life will never be closed. But I feel alive again. I feel I can smile again.”

“I think that’s because of the process of what he and I went through,” said Fox. “To see that turn in him, it seems to me a lot of the burden has been lifted from his shoulders.”

Dawson has seen the movie three times. “I am not sure I have ever tried to put myself on the sidelines [and consider] whether he portrayed me just right or not,” said Dawson. “But he portrayed what was needed in the movie.”

Fox had just 24 hours between finishing “We Are Marshall” and starting another movie, “Vantage Point,” in Mexico City. “It’s a contemporary action thriller about a kidnapping attempt on the president of the United States in Barcelona,” said Fox. “The whole movie takes place in 20 minutes of time and you see the same story from seven different perspectives. I play the lead Secret Service agent.”


Fox, who will soon be returning to “Lost,” says he is happy that the drama-thriller has a new 10 p.m. time slot -- it won’t be up against “American Idol” or CBS’ red-hot “Criminal Minds.”

But work really isn’t what’s on his mind this late afternoon.

As Fox leans back into his chair, he breaks out into a huge grin. “I go home tomorrow,” he said. “I can’t wait. I cannot wait to see my kids.”