In a smart London hotel, Matthew Fox, the star of Lost, has a killer hangover after a night out in Soho. ‘I’m feeling kinda rough,’ he drawls. ‘I didn’t mean for this to happen but I went out, there was drink, more drink - then even more. It was unexpected.’
Fox, 43, plays Jack Shephard, leader of a group of crash survivors in the show whose final series begins here on Friday. The part was originally written for Batman star Michael Keaton, and Shephard was supposed to be killed off after the first episode. Fox shrugs: ‘It’s all part of the Lost myth. Strange things happen off screen as well as on. One of the most exciting things about the show for me was that I never knew whether I was going to get killed off. None of us did. Some actors hated it; I loved the idea of never knowing what was going to happen next. Most of us weren’t even told the real ending. It’s important to keep everyone guessing.’ Married to a former model, Margherita Ronchi, with two children, Kyle, 11, and Byron, eight, Fox is currently working on a new superhero movie called Billy Smoke, which is out next year.
My life could have been a complete disaster. I was a pretty wild kid. I grew up on a ranch in the middle of nowhere under the huge blue skies of Wyoming. I had two brothers and a lot of friends and a lot of freedom. Out West, kids grow up with very few rules. You find strange ways to entertain yourselves. There is a whole culture in the West about what you should do to define yourself as a man, a strong man - I started experimenting with drink when I was about 13, and I was driving a year later with a farm licence. It’s a very macho environment.
By the time I was 16 ten of my close friends had died. Some were suicides, some were accidents, some were just recklessness. There’s a flip side to having so much space and freedom in that you get this sense that there are very few options beyond those huge horizons. I had friends who started to feel trapped by life there, and friends who were just crazy. Most of the deaths were caused by accidents. You’d go into town and get smashed on drink and then drive 60 miles home down a deserted road in the pitch dark at 2am. That was a common thing to do.
My dad saved my life. He pulled me out of Wyoming when I was 16 and sent me to a boarding school in Massachusetts called Deerfield. I think he could see I was heading in the wrong direction in life. I hated Deerfield when I arrived. I was a cowboy out from the middle of the Wild West plonked into this school where the boys all wore suits and ties and studied. It was like Dead Poets Society to me. I didn’t conform at all. There were bed checks, curfews, sit-down meals and no girls. I was this absolute rebel who smoked and drank and put my boots on the desk. I hated it but looking back it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
I wouldn’t trade my upbringing for anything. It was wild, it was reckless but it was free. There’s something compelling about living life like that, but you have to get the right perspective on it. My background is a huge part of who I am. I’m more comfortable on the back of a horse driving cattle than I am on a red carpet. Even now when I need to recharge myself I have to go back there.
I tried to make it as a trader on Wall Street. After Deerfield, I went to Columbia University and I wanted to make a success of myself. Back then being a Wall Street trader was the definition of success. I got an interview. I am 6ft 2in and I had no suit, so I borrowed one from a friend who happened to be five nine. I turned up looking odd and I saw everyone checking out my dusty old desert boots. I heard one guy screaming like Gordon Gekko and I just knew I couldn’t hack it.
I was terrified of acting when I started and I still am. It is what drives and challenges me. Fear. I signed up to classes at William Macy’s Theatre School in New York. Initially I’d get so nervous I’d feel physically sick. Everything was terrifying, from standing up in front of people to revealing emotions. It was so against everything I’d grown up to be. Out in the West, it’s wild, men are men, emotions aren’t exposed and you don’t talk about feelings. Every day I’d find myself full of fear but every day I’d find myself compelled to go on.
I use speed to relax myself. I love speed and I am definitely an adrenaline junkie. The success of Lost has been amazing for this addiction because now I have great motorbikes, great hot rod cars and I have just got my pilot’s licence. I’ll take delivery of a single-engine Bonanza D36 plane soon. Flying has become my greatest love. Being up in the air, miles away from anyone and anything, makes you feel unbelievably free.
I want a new life - I am thrilled Lost is finally over. I’ve spent five years as Dr Jack Shephard. It’s been a crazy experience but I want more. I want to do films, I want to do theatre, I want to be different people. It’s made my name and made me famous all over the world. I’ve won awards for it and it’s possibly the best TV series that has ever been made, but nothing beats leaping back into the unknown. Filming the very last show was a mix of sadness and pure exhilaration for me.
Women find any man on the TV sexy. You can’t take it seriously. If a guy goes on television then there are women out there who will find them attractive. I don’t buy into the sex-symbol thing. It’s a compliment but that’s it. I’m not interested. I’m a married man. I married a girl who worked to support me while I was trying to make it as an actor. She knows exactly who I am. We’ve been together more than 20 years, she’s the mother of my kids and that’s what it’s about.
I have skinny-dipping parties just to make people take off their clothes. On the set of Lost I instigated a few skinny-dipping parties but I can’t say who came. It’s important if you’re having a party that you do something outrageous and I’m not afraid to lead by example. I like everyone to get their clothes off and jump in the water. It’s a great way to get people excited.
I drink and smoke to excess at times. I can’t help it. It’s part of who I am. The wildness never quite goes. What I’ve discovered is to have periods of drinking and smoking, then periods of total abstinence. I wish I could stop smoking. I’d like to give up but I’m an addict. People call me the next George Clooney but I’m more Marlboro Man. I would love his career but I think I’m rougher round the edges. Even though I’m in one of the biggest series on the planet, I can move around undisturbed. I can fly under the radar.
Shaving off all my hair was very liberating. It was my last day on Party Of Five (a series he starred in before Lost) and I got rid of it all. Some people didn’t like it but I loved it. Every guy should do it once.
The hardest part of leaving Lost is leaving Hawaii. We moved to Hawaii when I got the job on Lost. Byron was aged two when he arrived so he grew up there. It’s an amazing place with unbelievable people, blue sea, great weather. I was sadder to leave Hawaii than Lost.
Seeing the Jimmy Kimmel/Matthew Fox staring contest broadcast on Taxi TV today brought back a rush of emotions. Feelings of lust, fearfulness, animal instincts, courage, agony and heroism. The sentiments that flow through my bloodstream at a rapid pace whenever I’m watching Dr. Jack Shephard on Lost. I’m ready for the season 6 premiere on February 2nd— one week from midnight! Here are the clips that get me through the off-season (not in chronological order) and remind me that Dr. Shephard isn’t just the man, but a man. Hubba hubba