Alex Cross follows the homicide detective/psychologist from the best-selling novels by James Patterson, as he comes up against psychopathic serial killer Picasso (Matthew Fox). This time, the story takes a younger version of Alex Cross (Tyler Perry) back to the origins of the character while the two men face off in a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse that will push Cross to this edge of his moral limits. From director Rob Cohen (The Fast and The Furious, xXx), the film also stars Edward Burns, Rachel Nichols, Cicely Tyson, Carmen Ejogo, Giancarlo Esposito, John C. McGinley and Jean Reno.
At the film’s press day, actor Matthew Fox talked about how he prepared for such a dark role, coming out of character once filming was done, getting injured while shooting the big fight sequence, the first thing he ate once he was done with the character, the roles he was offered after Lost, his experience shooting Alex Cross and World War Z at the same time, and playing General Bonner Fellers in the WWII historical drama Emperor. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
MATTHEW FOX: It was a lot of work. It required about five months of not eating the things that I like to eat, not having a glass of wine with dinner, a lot of time in the gym and just real commitment to it and not cheating. The physical weight loss part was really challenging. I was curious about whether I could do something like that, and proved to myself that I could. That was the way into the role for me. I remember when (director) Rob [Cohen] called me to offer the role, I was in London, doing a play there. After I read the script, that was the image that jumped into my head. I just felt this guy’s philosophical construct that he builds for himself to rationalize his obsession, would require an enormous amount of energy. He would look like that, naturally. He wouldn’t spend time in a gym, or anything like that. It wouldn’t be a result of his training. It would be more the intensity level, in which his mind is working. That was the image that I had, and I felt I really had to go for that. Rob and I talked about it, and then I went to work. It took about five months to get there. And then, the shooting was just maintaining where I got. There were a couple of sequences in the film, like on the houseboat in his lair and the cage-fighting sequence, where the physical dieting got ratcheted up a little bit. It was a real challenge, and I enjoyed that.
How long did it take you to come out of the character, once you had finished shooting?
FOX: Not very long. I couldn’t wait, honestly. When we were done shooting, obviously I was pretty spent, emotionally. We shot a lot of that movie at night, so with all of the demands of what I was doing with the exercise and the training stuff, and the emotional machinations I had to put myself through, I was pretty beat. That last few days, I remember thinking, “I just can’t wait to get to the end of this and eat some really high carbohydrate foods, and go home to my family and slip back into my normal, everyday life.” I was really looking forward to that.
FOX: I am a big, big fan of always being there for the other actors, when they’re doing scenes, even if it’s a scene that happens over the phone. All of that was driven by the fact that I was shooting another film, at the same time. I was working on World War Z in London, and traveling back and forth. So, I missed a few of those scenes where it was Tyler’s on-camera stuff, for a phone conversation. I really regretted that, but Rob’s really good at that kind of thing and gave him what he needed. We never really made a decision not to communicate with each other. That was really just driven by the nature of the film. In the movie, it’s just two guys, trying to kill each other. There was never really an opportunity for us to have any kind of interaction, beyond scenes where we were trying to kill each other. The few moments, like the long mano-a-mano fight to the death, at the very end, took several days to do and was really exhausting. We did have our moments to just have a quiet conversation. But, when you’re playing that stuff, it’s not like you stop and start saying, “How’s the family?” But, Tyler brought a lot of really good stuff into this film, and the small bit of interaction I did have with him was really good and very positive. And then, we went about doing our work.
FOX: That happens. I’ve been the one that’s done that, in the past. You do those fight sequences and, when they’re really drawn out and you’re exhausted, every now and then, somebody makes a mistake. You misjudge something and somebody gets hit. Tyler caught me with an elbow, at about midnight, on the scaffolding when we were doing that stuff. He was so unbelievably horrified by it. I think he called me, every day for two days after that, just apologizing. I tried to let him off the hook and say, “It’s no problem, man. I didn’t get seriously hurt.” It was all good.
Did you get pissed, in the moment?
FOX: Yeah. When you get hit in the face, that’s pretty much an instinctual thing, in all of us. When someone hits you in the face, it pisses you off. But, I did my best to swallow it and understand that this stuff happens. I’ve been on the other side of that, and it’s not a good feeling.
Was this character entirely in the script, or did you do some additional research on people like this?
FOX: I watched a lot of stuff. I remember the first time that Rob and I talked, he described the guy to me, and the first guy who popped into my head was Ted Bundy. Mainly, I think it was Ted Bundy because Ted Bundy looked like the last person on earth who would be a serial killer. He just came across as somebody who was dashing and prototypically handsome and was very charming. That was the first thing that popped into my head. Obviously, that changed because it ended up not being anything like Ted Bundy. He ended up being a lot more openly psychopathic than Ted Bundy. It changes, as you are working on it, but I started by watching a lot of footage of those guys, and trying to figure out what drives them. But then, Picasso became his own thing. Picasso only exists in the movies, so it took on a slightly, hyper-realistic thing.
Did you study any other psychopaths in movies?
FOX: Not really. I’ve seen a few of those [films]. Obviously, Hannibal Lecter is one of the iconic serial killer bad guys that’s been in movies. So, there was a lot of imagery that was popping into my head, from stuff that I had seen, but I really wanted to stick to what Rob and I were talking about. I am the biggest fan of Mr. Cohen. Our experience of collaborating together on the film was really special. For five months before we got to the shooting, we were firing emails to each other, constantly, with ideas, thoughts and images about certain specific moments in the film. More than ever, I felt that Rob was right there, deeply into the character with me, so I felt sort of like it was the two of us. I really felt like he had my back, and we could go really deep and try a lot of different avenues and thought processes with the guy, and that we were always going to always be in it together. That was cool. That felt great.
FOX: No. I met James during the shooting. He had seen some rushes. It was pretty early on, and he was kind enough to stop by with his wife and his son. He was very positive, in reinforcing what I was doing with the guy, and I appreciated that, at the time. But, it was pretty limited [interaction].
A lot of actors talk about how fun it is to play the villain, but it looked painful to play Picasso. What was it like to go back home?
FOX: Part of that process was pretty painful, keeping things in relative terms. I know there are a lot of jobs out there that require an enormous amount of sacrifice, that is far more of a sacrifice than what I put into this film. But, within the context of being an actor, it did require some sacrifice, and it required a lot of energy and focus. So, I would be hard-pressed to say it was fun, but it definitely was very interesting to me to play a villain, and to play one where it was such a unique, interesting opportunity. You do hear that cliché phrase that the villains are much more fun to play than the heroes, and I would agree. I really had that experience, just because of how many challenges were involved in it, how much I had to figure out, and how I felt that this wasn’t naturally within my wheelhouse. I had to really work and go outside of myself to find a lot of things, and maybe inside of myself to find a lot of things. So, I really enjoyed that, in a masochistic way.
What was the first thing that you ate, when you finished the film?
FOX: When I got home, my wife is Italian and a fantastic cook. She makes a particularly good lasagna. She does the sauce and layers it with peas and meat. I think it’s the best lasagna in the world, but I have to say that. No. So, getting back and eating regularly was fantastic. My mother is Italian, and she’s also a mother. I see my mother often because she lives in the same town now. And when I started losing all the weight, it was really hard for her. Every time she’d see me, she would gasp and say, “Oh, my god, can I feed you?” My little boys were okay. It was more my daughter, who is 15, that was like, “You’re kind of looking hideous, dad.”
Did you have any input on your character’s tattoos?
FOX: Those are actually all mine. Rob and I discussed that, early on. You have the option of spending an extra 45 minutes in the make-up trailer in the morning and having all that stuff covered, or you have the option of saying, “Well, these are going to be Picasso’s.” So, that was the option that we took. I didn’t feel like it was too far of a stretch, in the guy we were creating. He has this obsession with pain. Early on in his life, before his obsession with pain and the self-punishment stuff, I think it would be something that he started reaching to, more and more, to satisfy it. They always have to up what they are doing. But, early on, tattooing would have been an early manifestation of his obsession with pain, not just inflicting it on other people, but he really enjoys it on himself. A lot of the [tattoos are] new, since I finished Lost.
FOX: I don’t think so. I certainly don’t remember getting offered a lot of really good, straight-up-the-middle guys, before Picasso came along. Honestly, after Lost was over, I didn’t really look that much, for a year. I really wanted to take a break. The first thing that came along was Neil LaBute and this play. I had always dreamed of doing a play, in the West End, in London. And I’m a big fan of Neil’s, and an even bigger fan, after working with him on that. Then, it all became about this play. So, the first year after Lost was really completely focused on that. And then, while I was doing the play, this was the first film thing. Rob called me directly and said, “Hey, this is what I’m doing. I really want you to play this role.” It really stuck with me. I was like, “Man, this is going to be incredibly challenging.” I love Rob. I met Rob, probably a year and a half or two years before that phone call, on another project that never ended up getting made, but just the 45 minutes we spent hanging out talking together, I really felt like we got each other and that we would have a really good time working together. So, it was really just that the moment felt right.
So, this was the first thing you shot after Lost?
FOX: Yes. Well, I was doing World War Z, at the same time. And then, I did another movie last spring, called Emperor.
How did the mind-set you had to take on for Picasso play into the character you had to do simultaneously in World War Z? Are they the same kind of people?
FOX: No, they’re very different people. It was just one of those scheduling things that was unfortunate because I was trying to make myself look a certain way for this role, and then I would have, given the opportunity, [made the character] look a little bit different in World War Z. But, he’s a Navy seal and a little off. He’s a little fractured, but he’s certainly nothing like Picasso. Some of these trips back and forth, between the films, were really rapid. I would be on set [for Alex Cross] and, literally 48 hours later, I would be on set [for World War Z]. I remember thinking, “I have to be careful.” Picasso’s voice took on a certain kind of rhythm for me, so I wanted to make sure that I was really distinguishing the two and keeping them very, very separate, and trying to make sure that I was being absolutely true to what I wanted to accomplish within each role and within each story.
After hearing about what a troubled production it was, how was your experience on World War Z?
FOX: From my standpoint, it was fantastic. I think the troubled stuff has been misrepresented, honestly. My experience was fantastic. I have some people that work for companies that represent me who have seen the film and think it’s fantastic.
How was it to kill zombies?
FOX: The zombie killing was fun. I got to shoot really cool guns.
FOX: Well, he has a lot of writings that were left behind. The first thing that I did, when I accepted that opportunity, was that I asked them to send me everything that they had, and they had a lot on him. I did a lot of reading about the end of WWII, in the South Pacific and Japan’s surrender and McArthur going in there. It was a part of history that I really didn’t know very much about, honestly. For me, personally, WWII is in my mind and in my historical knowledge, which is very limited. It’s just one of those things in my life, that I would love to know more history. WWII was dominated by what was happening in Europe and Germany and the Holocaust. So, the South Pacific and how that came to an end was this area where I was like, “Wow!” Other than knowing that we used the atomic bomb and all that, I really didn’t know much about this investigation that went on and this notion that Hirohito’s emperorship was in the balance. So, any time I get to combine telling a story and the challenges that I like about being an actor, and I get to learn history, it’s a win-win. That was definitely part of what was really attractive about that, other than I think it’s a really beautiful story and I hope people enjoy it.
Alex Cross opens in theaters on October 19th.