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.