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.