It’s dead certain that once Lost hurtles past its 121st and final episode, airing May 23, millions of addicted viewers will be left feeling dazed and confused—let alone marooned. Six seasons of ABC’s Emmy ­winning, plane-crash-castaways-on-a-mysterious-island series created by Damon Lindelof, J.J. Abrams and Jeffrey Lieber have dazzled, bewildered and obsessed fans with bizarro time lines, trippy creatures such as tropical polar bears and a sense of high adventure that rivals pretty much anything on view at the local multiscreen. February’s kickoff episode drew more than 12 million TV viewers and 580,000 online gawkers; network insiders predict the final episode will easily trounce those numbers. The legion of the Lost is so massive that over the show’s reign it has spawned a mini-industry of promotional merchandise and countless fan sites, blogs, online encyclopedias, at-home viewing parties—even tour packages of its Hawaiian islands filming locations.

Little of the hoopla appears to have fazed Matthew Fox, whose brooding, square-jawed, strong and silent presence has helped generate and maintain the show’s heat. The 43-year-old, six-foot-two Fox, who plays the show’s complicated surgeon hero and action man, Jack Shephard, has handled the limelight’s glare with relative ease, balancing TV stardom with big-screen roles in the retina assault based on the Japanese anime Speed Racer, the assassination thriller Vantage Point and the inspirational fact-based football drama We Are Marshall. Having previously starred on another landmark pop culture TV series, Party of Five, the drama that ran from 1994 to 2000 on which he, Neve Campbell and Scott Wolf played siblings struggling with the death of their parents, he has managed to attain stardom without waving any red flags for the tabloid press—until recently, when the National Enquirer and In Touch claimed he had had an affair with a stripper, which Fox has vehemently denied.

It’s rare that scandal even comes close to the rugged actor. He has been with the same woman for 23 years, Margherita Ronchi, an Italian-born former fashion model he married in 1992 and with whom he has daughter Kyle Allison (born in 1998) and son Byron (born in 2001). Fox himself was born in Crowheart, Wyoming, the middle of three brothers. His father, Francis, raised longhorn cattle and grew barley for beer companies including Coors; Fox’s mother, Loretta, taught school. A self-admitted hell-raiser, Fox began riding horses at six, chased girls, played high school basketball and football and was an indifferent student. But he knuckled down when he was sent to preppy Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Massachusetts. From there he went to Columbia University in New York City, majoring in economics, playing on the football team (as a wide receiver), waiting tables, attending acting classes and modeling in commercials and print ads. While attending Columbia he met and fell in love with his future wife. Upon graduating in 1989, rather than enter the world of Wall Street, he continued to model. At 26 he began to land acting jobs, making his TV debut on a 1992 episode of Wings.

We sent Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello, who last interviewed James Cameron for Playboy, to the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii to interview Fox as the shooting of Lost was coming to an end. Says Rebello, “I was told Matthew Fox can be pretty intense, serious and tough to engage on personal subjects. I found him to be straight up, thoughtful, interesting and rough around the edges. There’s a whole lot of cowboy still left in him. In fact, he’s the first person I’ve ever interviewed who, for a good half hour, chewed tobacco and spat into a paper cup.”

PLAYBOY: With Lost coming to an end, many people would love to get the scoop on the finale and what the six years of the series have been building toward. There have been hints that you are among the select few who know how the show will end. What’s true?

FOX: I know a little bit about what the end’s going to be like. I went to the show’s creators to ask what I should be working toward with my character. They gave me an image of how my character would end up.

PLAYBOY: Are you going to share that image with us?

FOX: No, man. But it’s pretty awesome. [laughs]

PLAYBOY: Lots of fans are debating whether Evangeline Lilly’s character Kate will end up with you or with Josh Holloway’s bad-boy character Sawyer—assuming any or all of you survive. Do you ever regret not being cast as Sawyer when you auditioned?

FOX: I don’t think they were ever seriously considering me for Sawyer. They were just using a Sawyer scene to audition guys they were interested in. The minute I did that Sawyer audition, though, they were like, “We think you’re Jack Shephard.” I said, “Great, but I don’t have any fucking idea who Jack Shephard is because nobody’s read the script.”

PLAYBOY: Did they let you read it?

FOX: J.J. Abrams said, “You want to read the script right now?” I did, but he proceeded to butt in every fucking 20 minutes with, “What do you think? What do you think?” Finally, I’m like, “Fucking great. Let me finish it.”

PLAYBOY: Apparently you liked what you read.

FOX: The minute I read it and saw that the show started on Shephard’s eye opening, I realized they were essentially talking to me about playing the guy. And I was like, “Well, okay.”

PLAYBOY: Lost has had more strong seasons than not, but many people still hotly debate season three, which was almost a sidebar miniseries featuring you, Lilly and Holloway held captive. It was mostly Lilly and Holloway trapped in zoo cages.

FOX: It became a show everybody talked and wrote about. People who never would have been fans, who weren’t watching the show from the beginning, started watching because of the reviews, the press attention and the ratings. They didn’t know what the show was about, didn’t know the characters or anything, but they were criticizing it, saying it wasn’t as good as seasons one and two. Season six is the last one, so with all the publicity, of course the ratings will be huge, especially for the final episode.

PLAYBOY: You’re saying the last show will be watched by lots of people who’ve watched only sporadically or maybe not at all?

FOX: Yeah. The same with the big party for the end of the show. People who had nothing to do with Lost are scrambling to get in. They just want to be there. I will say good-bye to some members of the cast privately, in my own way, without the crowds looking on. It will be tough to say good-bye to everybody, but at the same time it’s going to be incredible.

PLAYBOY: Will you watch the finale on TV with your family?

FOX: My kids don’t watch Lost. It’s a little too hard-core. I think my daughter at some point in a few years will probably get a kick out of watching the boxed set with her girlfriends. The movie Speed Racer was the only thing I’ve done that my kids can watch.

PLAYBOY: According to the Internet, your house is a gathering place for cast members to watch the show and hang out.

FOX: We haven’t done that in a while.

PLAYBOY: What about another Internet rumor that says you’ve been known to instigate skinny-dipping parties and that cast members have nicknamed you the Pendulum?

FOX: [laughs] I haven’t done that in a while, either, but I have absolutely no trouble taking my clothes off—never have, from the time I was a kid growing up in Wyoming. It’s fun to do something others think is outrageous. It’s fun just to watch people’s reactions. You mentioned the Internet. I make it a strict policy never to look at anything on the Internet that pertains to me personally or to anything I’m working on.

PLAYBOY: In the past six years of filming the show in Hawaii, some of your fellow cast members have had run-ins with the police. Have the Hawaiian police been tougher on the cast than on anyone else?

FOX: The fact that a few of our cast members have been caught drinking while driving is unfortunate, but I don’t think they’ve been targeted. The people of Hawaii have been incredible about allowing us to be on this island. They’ve made room for the way we have taken over certain spaces. But the show has also brought in a lot of resources to the state. It’s been a good relationship.

PLAYBOY: You’ve made noises that you’re finished doing TV. Is that Lost exhaustion talking, or are you serious?

FOX: Six years on Lost and before that six years on Party of Five—that’s 12 years on two successful television shows, with some other TV mixed in. It’s close to 300 hours of television. That’s it for me. Lost has been an incredible opportunity, but I don’t ever want to be committed to one single project for that amount of time again. If I’m going to continue in this business at all, I’m going to make movies with the type of filmmakers I admire and challenge myself in different types of roles. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll do something else.

PLAYBOY: Where will you live?

FOX: Oregon. I miss having four seasons. My brothers are two of my closest friends in the world. I want to spend time with them and my mother while I can. I want our two kids to be close to their first cousins. It will be hard for the kids to leave their friends in Hawaii. They love it here, but with all respect to the good people of Hawaii who’ve been so good to us, I can’t wait to leave.

PLAYBOY: What if your agents tell you that a network will pretty much back up a Brink’s truck in your driveway to tempt you to star in a series guaranteed not to run more than three years?

FOX: I haven’t been doing this for the money for quite a while. My wife, Margherita, and I don’t live a crazy lifestyle. We try to keep things simple and spend money only on things we like to do, such as travel. Party of Five gave me many amazing opportunities, including financial, and I realized when the show kicked off that it was going to be on for some time, so I made sure I saved. That gave me the opportunity to make choices from that point forward based on my creative impulses and not based on putting food on the table.

PLAYBOY: Do you have any idea why you were cast on both Party of Five and Lost as the go-to guy, the leader, the dude who pulls it together no matter what he may be dealing with inside?

FOX: They are very different versions of a certain kind of guy. I would say it’s not a coincidence, but I don’t have an objective enough view of myself to see what others see in me and why I’ve ended up playing that particular sort of part. But I’m proud to have been on two shows that have gone six years and have been very successful in their own ways.

PLAYBOY: How did growing up on a Wyoming cattle ranch prepare you for Hollywood?

FOX: You always hear about people going to Hollywood and losing their way. I never felt that was an option for me. Growing up I looked up to a very disciplined father, seeing the lives of the people he interacted with and still does, seeing the things they care about—it’s the furthest thing from Hollywood you can possibly imagine. When you grow up in that world, that’s how you define what a man is. I’d say it helped a lot in a fundamental way in terms of how I operate in a business that is oftentimes dangerous.

PLAYBOY: Who’s more like your father—you or your brothers?

FOX: In a lot of ways I’m the most like my dad. My brothers are amazing guys, and we respect, admire and love our dad. But he’s not an easy man; he’s a very difficult man, and that was incredibly hard on us at times. Maybe because he saw more of himself in me, I spent an awful lot of time trying to meet his expectations. He believed in freaking owning up to the mistakes you make. Because our father was hard on me, that’s interpreted by my brothers as me being favored. They didn’t get as much attention, but at the same time, that expectation was a heavy load.

PLAYBOY: Did the fact that your family grew barley for beer companies translate into your being able to drink at an early age?

FOX: Oh, we were drinking the beer, man. We all started drinking pretty young. My parents were never restrictive that way. I’m taking the same policy with my kids. My wife is Italian, and in Italy they start drinking a little bit of wine at the dinner table from a very young age. They don’t have binge-drinking problems when kids leave and go to college. We experimented with that stuff pretty early.

PLAYBOY: Did you experiment with weed, too?

FOX: Weed? Yeah.

PLAYBOY: Did that bring down your father’s anger?

FOX: I was a big hell-raiser, always doing crazy shit but always getting away with it. Wyoming is all about drinking and chasing girls, but it’s also such a big place and we lived in such a remote area that to get into trouble I normally stayed at a friend’s house 50, 60 miles away. My mom and dad never knew about much of what I did. But one time I got into serious shit with my old man when I was trying to grow weed in one of the farm buildings and he found it.

PLAYBOY: How did you finesse that one?

FOX: I blamed it on my brother Francis, who’s five years older than I am. He was in Mexico City on an exchange program for about six months. I thought, since Francis was so far away, the old man wouldn’t double back on him. My father wasn’t happy about it, but I think he was probably smiling through his anger. I mean, shit, yeah, we smoked pot and were goofing around with that kind of thing from a very early age. My parents didn’t know a lot of what else I did.

PLAYBOY: And you don’t intend to tell them or anyone else in this interview?

FOX: No. At Christmastime we were all a little lubricated, and everyone felt the statute of limitations had expired. We were talking to my mom, and my little brother, Bayard, who had ended up in jail on a couple of occasions, revealed that he’d been in jail another time and that he was on probation for a serious situation in another state. When I watched my mom react to the news in the way she did, I thought, Well, she probably didn’t need to know that.

PLAYBOY: You said Wyoming was about drinking and chasing girls. How did you first learn about sex?

FOX: My older brother was good with women; they loved him from an early age. He was getting laid when I was 10, so I learned an awful lot from him. We’d lie in bed at night and talk about broad, big questions such as how to treat a woman and what a woman might like.

PLAYBOY: How old were you when you took the plunge?

FOX: I was 12. She was about two years older than me. It wasn’t her first time. I can actually see the event in my mind’s eye, like photographs. It was in Dubois, Wyoming, where the population sign probably says, to this day, about 1,000. It happened literally on the ground by a river while a rodeo was going on in town.

PLAYBOY: How was it?

FOX: It was absolutely terrible and—awkward—just two fucking kids lying down and pulling our pants down. It was hard to put into play all I had talked about with my brother when we were just down by the river. I had a lot of girlfriends later but nothing serious until college.

PLAYBOY: Ranch life can seem pretty all-American and romantic when you experience it through movies, novels and TV shows. What was your experience?

FOX: The years my dad grew barley for several beer companies are pretty nostalgic for me, but the way it works is that you have a contract with a big company that pays you only if the barley is delivered in a certain condition. Right away you’re in a financial situation with the bank because it takes a lot of start-up money. Then along the way there are so many factors that can completely destroy the crop. Harvesting is a huge operation, and it requires massive, heavy equipment. When you’re eight or 10 years old, it’s like the coolest fucking thing imaginable. I remember the smell of the barley dust and working in those late summer nights when the sun is setting and the air begins to cool, then the moisture starts and you can’t work any longer or you’ll be trapping the moisture.

PLAYBOY: Aside from ranch work, did you have other jobs?

FOX: My first paying job was working on a crew of four or five guys building barbed wire fence and guardrails for 15 miles of highway through the Wind River Valley, where I grew up. I was the only white guy; everybody else was Shoshone or Arapaho. I was getting paid a lot more than the old man would pay me, and I was putting in long, hard days—a half-hour for lunch that I’d eat out of a lunch box in the truck alongside the road and then get right back to work. I miss working with my hands, and there’s a lot to be said for hard, physical, mindless labor where you’re actually seeing the fruits of your toil immediately.

PLAYBOY: You finished high school at a prep school in Massachusetts. Were you being punished or rewarded?

FOX: When I look back, I owe my dad such a huge debt for that whole thing. After my junior year in high school, he said, “So, what are your plans?” When I said, “I don’t have any,” that alarmed him. I was doing nothing but playing football and basketball, chasing girls and getting loaded. He asked me if I’d consider going East to a prep school. I interviewed at Exeter, Andover and Choate and ended up going to Deerfield Academy. Without that middle step I would never have gotten into Columbia University and would never have been able to find my way into that world.

PLAYBOY: How were you treated at conservative, preppy Deerfield?

FOX: I wore beat-up roper boots, chewed Copenhagen and wore a Coors cap. They wore little boat shoes and shit like in Dead Poets Society. In the Deerfield yearbook I was voted most likely to appear on Hee Haw. You can take the guy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the guy. But that was an interesting year, because before that I’d never applied myself, never took books home. I ended up with a B+ average. My old man had said, “You’re going to learn how to study,” and I did.

PLAYBOY: What was your major at Columbia?

FOX: Computer science. Computers were the one thing I was interested in, from a programming class in my junior year at Wind River High, when it got its first Apple IIe’s or whatever the hell they were. The whole idea of writing code was fascinating science fiction to me. At Columbia you’d have about 200 kids in the class, all Asian and the smartest fucking kids you’d ever seen in your life. I thought, There’s no way in hell I’m going to be able to compete with them. I changed my major to economics, which I’d heard was kind of like the cool thing.

PLAYBOY: Why cool?

FOX: I swear to God, as pathetic as it sounds, I believe that seeing Wall Street was part of the reason. I suddenly thought, I’m going to be Bud Fox [Charlie Sheen’s character] and go make a bunch of fucking money.

PLAYBOY: You played football for Columbia in the middle of the team’s 44-game losing streak. Did women go for members of a losing team?

FOX: We didn’t get any of the benefits of being football heroes. There was plenty of sex but no football-hero sex. The way the student body at one of the best schools in the country dealt with a disastrous football program was to wear it as a badge of honor, like, “We’re real intellectuals here, and yes, our football team is a mockery.”

PLAYBOY: Did the team’s 16–13 victory over Princeton in 1988 bring on bouts of football-hero sex?

FOX: My sex escapades at Columbia were early in my freshman year. That’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re a college freshman. After that, Margherita and I fell in love, so that obviously changed.

PLAYBOY: Is it true that when you were at Columbia your future wife found out you had a phobia of water and taught you how to swim?

FOX: Yeah. Margherita, being from Venice, is like the biggest fish on the face of the Earth. She thought it was absolutely adorable and inconceivable that I couldn’t swim, and she was going to fix that right up. Growing up I didn’t have the opportunity to spend a lot of time in the water. The water in Wyoming is so fucking cold that we got into the habit of jumping into a river or lake and then just jumping right out. But I think I have a natural fear of water. I’ve never been comfortable, even now that I know how to swim. I talked with people on Lost about a bunch of stunts I had to do in the water this season. I get anxious. I’m just not a very good swimmer.

PLAYBOY: You gave the 2007 graduation keynote speech at Columbia despite some skepticism bordering on hostility from the student body. Did you understand the brouhaha?

FOX: When the committee at Columbia tells you they’re trying to select a speaker, and it’s Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or you, and they choose you, that’s crazy. In the big scheme of things, what I do for a living is not an important thing. I’m always surprised and stunned by how obsessed the world is with pop culture. You don’t even have to do anything anymore—just do a reality show and people will buy magazines to find out where you fucking go to eat.

PLAYBOY: Do you think you won the students over?

FOX: In some ways I thought my speech was more constructive for those couple of thousand kids, because no matter how amazing it would be to have Obama or Clinton, most of those speeches sound very much alike. I told them, basically, fuck what you think you’re supposed to be just because your parents spent $150,000 a year for you to go to this school. Be open to the spontaneity of life and you might end up finding out what you’re supposed to do.

PLAYBOY: Isn’t that the path you took when you were about to graduate?

FOX: Spring of my senior year I interviewed at Prudential­Bache and had an epiphany. I didn’t own a suit, so I had to borrow one from a friend, and it was a good two to three inches too short. I borrowed his penny loafers, too. I met with three type-A, alpha-male Gordon Gekko wannabes who were telling me how this was the greatest life, kicking ass and taking names. At the end we were standing in a circle, shaking hands, and they were saying, “You’ve got to come here.” Then one of them leaned over to another and said, “But he’s going to have to do something about those shoes.” As they all laughed, I looked, and they all had on exactly the same pair of oxford business shoes. I knew in that moment there was no way I could do it.

PLAYBOY: How did you go from Wall Street escapee to actor?

FOX: I was very broke my junior year and wanted a job where I could make money without having it take up a lot of time. I looked at a job board, saw an ad for actors for a TV commercial, went on the audition and got it—a Clearasil commercial in which I play the guy who makes fun of the guy who has the zit. That triggered phone calls from agents, and I kept working.

PLAYBOY: You continued to model for a while, right?

FOX: Parallel to the whole thing was a girl I had a relationship with my freshman year. Her mother had worked in the modeling business for a long time, and from her recommendation I started messing around doing JCPenney catalogs, sweatshirt modeling and shit for a couple hundred bucks for a couple of hours. Anyway, this girl was the first time I fell in love. I thought I was in love with her, but then I saw Margherita and my world changed.

PLAYBOY: How did you meet?

FOX: I was waiting tables at a piano bar on the east side, and a woman friend I worked with kept telling me and Margherita that we had to meet. At the time I was with this other girl, but I said, “Sure, bring her by sometime.” Margherita was this gypsy vagabond. The girl would model three months in Milan, then go wherever she wanted, and when she’d spent all her money, she’d go back and do it again. Awesome. When she walked into the restaurant, I saw her and I was just done.

PLAYBOY: Was she just done too?

FOX: She maintained that she was absolutely not interested. She knew I had this girlfriend, so I slow-played my hand, like, “Let’s see New York, go to Central Park, go to the movies.” I wore her down.

PLAYBOY: After how long?

FOX: About two weeks. There’s fucking 10,000 things that kill me about her in a beautiful and amazing way, but if we’re talking about the very first moment I saw her, it was the way this stunning, exotic, uniquely beautiful girl carried herself. The way a woman moves is very underestimated. Margherita moves and carries herself in a way I’ve never seen. Fucking incredible.

PLAYBOY: How did Margherita’s first meeting with her future in-laws go?

FOX: This first girl I thought I was in love with was actually waiting for me in Wyoming. After being with me a month, Margherita was going to Los Angeles. We had tragic good-byes, and I told her, “I’m going to Wyoming to end that relationship. I’m madly in love with you, and I want to be with you. I don’t care what it takes.” I went to Wyoming, ended the relationship with that girl, and Margherita joined me at my parents’ house. The very next day we were sleeping in my room and my old man knocked at the door and said, “Matthew, step outside. I need to talk to you.” He told me, “Your brother Bayard got arrested last night and is in jail. Go get your shit, get your girl. We’re going to go down and see him.” Mom, of course, was completely wigging out.

PLAYBOY: How did Margherita roll with all this?

FOX: Beautifully. She’s incredible. We drove down to Lander jail, got seated in a cubicle with bulletproof glass, and my brother was brought in handcuffed, in an orange jumpsuit, looking as if he’d been through a night of the worst hell. My old man goes, “Bayard, this is Matthew’s girlfriend, Margherita. Margherita, this is my youngest son.” That’s my old man right there. Classic.

PLAYBOY: Fast forward a few years later, it’s 1993, you’re 27 and newly wed. After modeling you took acting classes and began landing spots on TV shows. The next year you became a star on Party of Five. Why did that show tap a nerve with so many people?

FOX: On a certain level everybody can relate to a show about a family trying to stay together. I hadn’t spent a lot of time acting, period, and certainly not acting in front of a camera. I look back at that incredible experience as my graduate program.

PLAYBOY: Is Party of Five the kind of show you would have watched?

FOX: It was a well-written show that was well executed on any number of levels, but tonally it wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m attracted to darker, edgier things. The show was very soft, and I was asked to play a character who was soft. The premise of that character was, being the oldest sibling who would have to become a father figure, he constantly had to be a floundering buffoon, an emotional wreck. He could never succeed. That was hard for me.

PLAYBOY: Six years is a long time to play something that’s hard for you.

FOX: I was raised in a household and by a father who stressed that if you’re going to do a job, do it to the very best of your ability no matter what it is or how much you might not like it. It’s a blue­collar approach to acting. I’ve always tried to approach it as laying bricks, and there’s something beautiful about that. I gave the show everything I could, and the experience was great, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy when it finished.

PLAYBOY: As the older, sometimes wiser guy on the show, did you ever fall into the pattern of giving “fatherly” advice to younger co-stars Neve Campbell, Scott Wolf and Lacey Chabert?

FOX: The dynamics of on-screen relationships do carry over into your personal thing in some ways. With Scott, Neve and Lacey, I certainly became like the big brother. I haven’t felt that way about any of the relationships on Lost, but I even felt that way when I ran into Scott and Neve at the Golden Globes this year.

PLAYBOY: What happened at the Globes?

FOX: I hadn’t seen Scott in a while, and we went back to the Chateau Marmont and partied for a bit, then we ran into Neve. That made it the weirdest night, because I hadn’t seen Nevie since we wrapped the show. The three of us stayed up until six in the morning, catching up and shooting the shit, and it was incredible. Especially on a show like Party of Five that’s about brothers and sisters, it’s incredibly intense and intimate. Spend that much time together over six years and by the end some of our responses were as though we never wanted to see one another again. But to see Scott and Neve again felt really good. I don’t know whether I’ll see any of the people from Lost again.

PLAYBOY: In the years you and your wife have been together, you’ve become a heartthrob and a sex symbol. In an industry in which temptation is everywhere, how do you handle fidelity?

FOX: The subject of fidelity is very personal. I don’t even know how to answer that. People definitely come after you for all kinds of crazy reasons, but I’ve always been fairly suspicious of people. ­Margherita and I have been best friends and best lovers. She’s the love of my life. We have managed to both be intensely independent and maintain that strength in our relationship. I am a man, and I am an appreciator of women. At the same time, Margherita is the shit. I can honestly say we’re good together. We’ve been together for 23 years, so let’s leave it at that.

PLAYBOY: The tabloids recently made noise by claiming you had had an affair with a stripper.

FOX: That story is not true, and I’m not going to comment on it.

PLAYBOY: You said earlier that doing movies is your next career goal. Were you disappointed with the box office for the movies in which you’ve played strong supporting roles, such as Speed Racer and We Are Marshall?

FOX: Commercially, did Speed Racer do what we all hoped it would? Absolutely not. Am I proud of the movie? I think it’s a masterpiece. If acting were shooting 100 percent from the free-throw line, I would shoot until I got 100 percent and then lose interest. What makes it fucking cool to me is the struggle. I’m proud of my track list so far. I’ve made good choices in projects. I welcome and look forward to the challenge of working from one gig to the next, not having a studio tell me when to jump and how high, and being able to take time off between projects. After Lost I feel as if I can take four to six months off before I even start looking for the next thing that strikes me as interesting.

PLAYBOY: Have you gotten a lot of offers to star in movies?

FOX: If I’m going to stay in this business, I want to step out and start carrying movies. I’m giving myself about five years to make the transition into a film career that gives me the chance to work with directors I would love to work with. Warner Bros. bought Billy Smoke on my behalf. It’s based on a comic, has a good concept and is set in a world of assassins. We’re developing it.

PLAYBOY: Do you always need to be the guy whose name appears in the biggest letters on the movie poster?

FOX: I want the freedom to be the eighth guy on the call sheet and do something people may not expect of me. Tom Cruise has certainly been carrying his weight and making movies happen for a long time, yet he does that little turn in Tropic Thunder. What a great choice for him, and it’s one a lot of people didn’t think he could make at this point. I don’t think people expected what I did in Smokin’ Aces, but that has a special place in my heart because of its spirit and the experience of it.

PLAYBOY: What do you see as your niche in movies?

FOX: A necessary, time-honored archetype is the young Harrison Ford or young Steve McQueen everyman who is very relatable—a regular guy who gets caught up in circumstances larger than he can control and who, to save the day, has to be more heroic than he believes he can be. I think I can fill that spot, and I think a lot of people in the business of making movies believe I can, too. Anybody who knows me well knows I’m a total freaking goofball. I had an absolute blast when I hosted Saturday Night Live. I’d love to do a situation comedy.

PLAYBOY: You said you’re moving back to the mainland U.S. Even though you’ll be living away from Hollywood, have you and your family braced yourselves for the tabloid press and paparazzi?

FOX: Whether it’s just in my head or true, I feel I fly under the radar. In my heart, if I ever got into a situation where paparazzi waited for me every single time I went anywhere, I would completely drop out.

PLAYBOY: Did you feel like dropping out last summer when photos of you and your family sightseeing in Italy popped up in the press and on the Internet?

FOX: That pissed me off. I chased down the photographers. Take a fucking picture of me, but keep those fucking cameras off my goddamn children. That’s one of the things I struggle with all the time: How is what I do for a living going to affect my kids?

PLAYBOY: Aside from your family and career, what brings you happiness?

FOX: Flying. That’s going to be a big part of my life. I have my glider license and a private pilot license, and I’m working on getting my IFR rating. I just bought my first airplane.

PLAYBOY: What did you buy?

FOX: A Bonanza G36, absolutely the most amazing piece of equipment I’ve ever been around. I flew one, then ordered my own with the package, color scheme and interior I wanted. I picked it up over Christmas break and flew it a lot over the holidays. I understand the mechanics of flight. I’m very mathematical and scientific, and I love the speed and freedom of being able to go from point A to point B in the most direct way. As with acting, the amount you can learn about flying is limitless.

PLAYBOY: Does your wife worry about your flying?

FOX: I haven’t taken her and the kids up yet, but she can’t wait until I say “It’s time for you and me to go flying.” She understands that most general aviation pilots who kill themselves don’t make just one mistake but a sequence of mistakes. I would never put myself in a situation that could take me away from her and our children by being negligent.

PLAYBOY: At least having done two hit series helps buy a dream.

FOX: Nobody in the world feels more fortunate for the kind of life I’ve lived and the opportunities I’ve been given. I’ve capitalized on those opportunities and been ready to pounce on them. I feel I work hard and give a lot to it, but I’ve also been lucky.

PLAYBOY: The final Lost season plays with the concept of alternate time lines and parallel lives. If another Matthew Fox is out there somewhere, what do you hope he’s doing and what would you say if you met him?

FOX: I am fascinated by space and science, so I hope he has dedicated his life to looking for planets in other solar systems that could perhaps sustain life. It would be incredibly cool and rewarding to wake up every day knowing you’re discovering that kind of stuff. What would I say to him? Lighten the fuck up. I am actually much lighter than I come across in interviews.