Actors often go through incredible transformations, both physically and mentally, to take on a new role. The best of the best seek fresh challenges, tapping into sides of themselves they haven't before, and pushing to try on something unique. With a new incarnation of James Patterson's Alex Cross book series, Matthew Fox and Tyler Perry have both done just that. While Perry has garnered fame from his writing and directorial work, he takes the reigns from Morgan Freeman and steps into Cross' serious shoes for the new crime thriller. On the other hand, Fox - largely been known for his work in television on the long-running shows Party of Five and Lost - is nearly unrecognizable as sociopathic villain Picasso.
While promoting Alex Cross, Fox and Perry met with Buzzine's Paul Wassberg to share how they faced the physical and mental challenges of adopting their characters, delving into meatier roles, and their own acting philosophies.
Paul Wassberg: This character was a huge, huge shift for you. Picasso is a very, very meaty role. What type of challenges, both physically and mentally, went into playing Picasso? How did you get to that point?
Matthew Fox: Well, I had a lot of time to prepare, which was very nice. Rob called me—I was in London, and he called me in April and told me about what he was doing and gave me a brief sketch of the guy. I read the script and was immediately, like, "I've got to do this. No matter what it is going to require, I've got to do this." I had six months before we started shooting—or five anyway—so I had lots of time.
One of the first images that jumped out at me was that I really felt that he would be almost disturbingly gaunt and sort of vascular, sinewy, wiry, and snakelike. I was, like, "Well, I'm going to have to get after that," so that started.
I got some help—a guy by the name of Simon Waterson, who's based out of the UK, and he specializes in helping people do that. He started me on a nutrition plan and on a exercise plan that I was absolutely dedicated to and did not cheat at all at. I think the dedication that I had to put in that direction started giving me this notion of how disciplined and—Picasso just wouldn't except any concept of failure in himself.
That sort of focus and discipline down that road started to feed into the psychological side of the thing that I had to figure out. That was a never-ending cycle of asking questions like, "Why?" "What is it?" "Why?" "What is it?" "Why? Why? Why?" and trying to find the answers to that. By the time I got to set in the middle of August and started shooting it, I really felt like I had cracked him and I knew why. I knew "why" to any answer, like I really knew the guy, and started trying to bring the necessary energy to actually perform it, which was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.
PW: It’s interesting because in a film like this, you have to establish your character and carry the story through its arc in a two-hour time span – whereas on episodic TV, it’s continually changing. After your work on Lost, is there anything coming up in the television world that you’d return to?
MF: No, and I've openly said that my television days are probably behind me. I think I've been misunderstood—which is not uncommon in my life, to be misunderstood—but I think people took that for me essentially saying, "After 'Lost,' he thinks he's going to go off and have this huge film career." Really, I think some of the best writing and best storytelling is happening on television.
For me, the reason why the last two years have been really special to me is because I did a play and three films over that two years. I did four different stories, four different roles within the context of those stories. Each role had different challenges, required to me to figure a lot of things out. In between those projects, I was home with my family, being a father, husband, brother, and a son, and living in the world that I live in there. I really like that and I really need that. I also get to determine how long I'm going to stay there before I start reading scripts again.
For me, that statement has always been about I think I'm personally happier in a world where I have more flexibility and more control over when I'm working and when I'm not. The thing about a six-year television show is that you—ultimately, if it's a big hit and you know it's going to go for six years, someone is telling you exactly where you're going to be and when you're going to be there. Because I approach my job as a professional, I'm there and I'm ready to go. I like being in a place now where, if I don't want to be working in August and September, I don't read scripts that might shoot that time of year.
PW: Well, this is definitely a character piece, and Alex Cross goes into some dark areas at times.Wht attracted you to Alex Cross? What themes or what aspects of the character were you looking forward to exploring?
Tyler Perry: What I loved about Alex Cross is his arc. He's so complicated. He's a great family man; he loves his kids, he's very sensitive, very thoughtful, very kind with his wife and mother; but when he's at work, he's a totally different person. He is intriguing and fascinating, and every little detail and nuance is there. The most exciting part for me in the film was when he became the animal. That entire arc was really wonderful for me to play.
PW: Is your process a little different when you're not wearing the director's hat and when you put all your faith into somebody else? Does that help or hinder the project?
TP: For me, it totally helped. It allowed me to step back 100% and allow the director to direct, so that all I had to do was focus on Alex and be the best Alex that I could be.
PW: What are some of the biggest challenges working on this, both mentally and physically?
TP: I think the biggest challenge for me physically were some of the stunts because I wanted to make sure they looked right, so I did a lot of them myself and got hurt a couple of times. Mentally was having to go into dark places and dark memories in childhood to pull out the emotion for some of those scenes. That can be pretty difficult, but as I look at it played back, it was riveting and it was cathartic to walk through it.
PW: It definitely was. One of the things that this outlet is very interested in is music. Is there a certain type of music that motivates you or gets you into the moment?
TP: The fight scene on the catwalk, I was listening to Tupac—"Makaveli the Don"—I was just going through it. I had my headsets on every time during the break, staying pumped up and ready to go. I felt like an MMA fighter or a UFC fighter, you know, getting ready to get into the ring. That was the music that took me through those moments.
PW: When I look at the action genre from the '80s and '90s, ahow do you think the action genre has evolved? How do you think it's changed? Or hasn't it?
TP: I don't know very much about the genre, to be honest with you. I don't study it. When I go to one of those movies, an action film, I'm just going to be entertained by big action. This film, what I love about it is the heart, and the actors, and the range of emotion that is expressed. It's a full story, and that comes from a James Patterson-type novel.
PW: We were just talking about taking off the director's hat, but can we talk about working with Rob? What do you think is unique about him? What do you think he brings to the film that maybe other directors don't?
TP: What was great about it for me is that, first of all, I got a chance to sit under his tutelage and learn, watch, and pay attention, because that isn't something I do. It allowed me to have this tremendous amount respect for what he does and how he does it. I'm a person who knows how to lead, but I also know how to follow if I'm being lead in the right direction, so it gave me a great comfort to be able to watch him do his thing and I could sit in the backseat and just take the ride.
'Alex Cross' opened in theaters Friday, October 19th, 2012 and is currently playing nationwide.