Seven and a half months later, we're still picking brain matter off the wall. There we were, innocently watching Lost's season 3 finale on May 23, trying to figure out the direction of the flashback sequence in which Dr. Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox) had become an oxycodone addict/Grizzly Adams look-alike, when suddenly...WTF?! This is a flash-forward?! He and Kate (Evangeline Lilly) are both off the island?! Wait...now he wants to go back? This stunning episode — in which Jack led the castaways to near rescue (or not, depending on those freighter folks), and Dominic Monaghan's Charlie embraced his watery fate — represented a return to glory for ABC's acclaimed island drama, which had left critics and fans disgruntled earlier in the season. It also marked another potent acting performance by Fox, 41, who's served as a Lost leader, on screen and off, ever since Flight 815 crashed in 2004. ''I felt, and heard many other cast members say, that the show had hit a new plateau — and that Matthew in particular had gone there with it,'' says Michael Emerson, who plays Jack's eerie nemesis, Ben.
During a strike-created break from shooting season 4 — eight episodes were completed before the shutdown — we caught up with Fox (who also stars in next month's political thriller Vantage Point) near his Manhattan Beach, Calif., home. He looked back at the finale as well as the producers' decision to end Lost for good after 48 more episodes, and even offered us a peek into the future before the series returns on Jan. 31 (now on Thursdays at 9 p.m. — set those DVRs!). ''I think the show's going to be better in its last three seasons than it was in the first three,'' he notes, adding, ''There's going to be some huge mind-blowing s---.'' You heard the man: Helmets on. (And for more clues about how Lost will play out from here, don't miss EW.com's video interview with Matthew Fox, including behind-the-scenes footage from his on-the-beach photo shoot for Entertainment Weekly.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your first reaction to the big twist in the season finale?
MATTHEW FOX: Something like ''Holy s---!'' It really caught me off guard. I'm not sure I ever thought that people were going to get off the island.... Damon [Lindelof, who co-wrote the finale with fellow exec producer Carlton Cuse] did such an amazing job of orchestrating something that when you're looking at it for the first time it feels like a flashback, but there'd be little things that are a little odd — like why Jack seems so ridiculously messed up. You think it's in relationship to his marriage falling apart, and then boom, you go, ''Oh, my God, this is a leap forward in time. What does that mean? Why is he suicidal?'' I just think that's great.
How hard was it to keep the big twist a secret?
I was walking around with the cat-that-ate-the-canary look on my face. And when I would get questioned on it, I would say, ''I can't say anything, but, man, I can't wait for you to find out.'' Even a lot of the crew didn't know. When the scripts went out, the last scene of the episode was missing. So when we started shooting, the crew was just like, ''Oh my God!''
Did you guys shoot any decoy endings?
We didn't, for that. But that has been done, which I just recently discovered.
Do you mean for last season or this one?
This one coming up. I wasn't part of that particular scene. I thought I knew what was going on in the scene, and then found out that I didn't.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Fans have been analyzing this Jack line from the flash-forward: ''You get my father down here.... And if I'm drunker than he is, you can fire me.'' Given that his dad is dead, what was your take on that?
MATTHEW FOX: He was so loaded and emotionally distraught that he talks about his father as if he's still alive. I called Damon on it, and he gave me a couple stories — actual accounts of people whose very close relative [died], and in a moment of being really f---ed up, talked about them as if they did not know they were not alive. In that moment, Jack is losing track of any concept of time. I knew that there was a way to look at it and go, ''Well, that's kind of manipulative.'' But when you [realize], ''Oh, it's in the future,'' you can believe that the man — years after his father has actually passed away — says that about his father in that moment. I totally buy it.
What is Jack referring to when he says to Kate: ''I'm sick of lying. We made a mistake''?
Jack and the other people, upon getting back to the world, are not being honest with the world. They are covering up [something]. That's an agreement that they've all reached. And it's a weird, gross little bond that they have with each other. They don't see each other much, but when they see each other, it's incredibly awkward. And this lie — you can cut it with a knife amongst them.
Now that we know Jack and Kate have made it off the island, has some of the death scare been taken off them?
There's no question. People are like, ''Well, it's not going to be Jack or Kate for a while.'' We have to get from the island to that point in the future before it can become a real threat again. But it can become a threat again — and it will. When Jack Shephard goes, ''We have to go back,'' that means he's f---ing going back. And if there's 48 episodes [left], you know that Jack is going back on that island for a certain section of episodes. That means that he could die.
With the new flash-forward device, does the guessing game become ''Who else is getting off the island?'' instead of ''Who's dying next?''
That's the question for the first part of this year, for sure. Jack gets people off that island, [and] suddenly he and the other people are very well-known — it becomes this massive story because everybody thought that every person on this plane was lost.... Who are they? What is everybody else doing? Jack's mission was to get all of them off. It's the overriding force behind him. So, the fact that he ends up getting off and doesn't get that accomplished — I'm very curious to find out how that all goes down. And part of that is going to be part of the reason why he wanted to jump off the bridge in the future.... If I start giving you words about what I think it's really about, I'm going to be honing in on some stuff that I'm not sure I'm authorized to talk about. A truck might pull up and a bunch of dudes in suits get out and mow us down with Uzis. [Laughs] Seriously.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How soon into season 4 do we learn who was in the casket?
MATTHEW FOX: It hasn't been revealed yet. I'm pretty sure I know who it is, but I'm not 100 percent sure. I remember saying to Damon, ''I can play that scene without knowing.'' But I wanted to know. And I got an answer. I'm not sure that the answer that I got will end up being who's in the casket.
This season supposedly deals with time travel and other supernatural elements. Is that accurate, and, if so, are you happy with this direction?
Yes and yes. Really fascinating stuff. Last year, we find out Jack and Kate are off the island. How the f--- did that happen? And why does he want to go back? In answering those questions, you have to start addressing the bigger, epic scope of the show. In doing that, you're going to get into questions about the show that the audience is just dying to start finding out. What is this island? Where is this island? When is this island?
We'll meet some new characters from the freighter, played by Jeremy Davies, Ken Leung, Jeff Fahey, and Rebecca Mader. Obviously Michael Emerson's Ben and Elizabeth Mitchell's Juliet have been great additions to the show, yet Lost's track record with new cast members has been mixed. Why has it been difficult for new characters to join the show?
Any time people come in, they're always so excited to be a part of it. There's always a new energy coming in, like, ''Oh my God, I'm so happy to be here.'' That's always a good thing to have. It could be the other way around.... [But] it's always hard to have a total vibe on the appetite of the audience for a new character. There are moments where the show is too mind-blowing and fragmented and confusing for people to put together, and if that's the moment when they're getting new characters, maybe they get less of a shot. And not all new characters are introduced to become characters that stay. They are going to be a mechanism that is going to push a certain arc forward to its final moments.
For example, Nikki and Paulo?
Those characters didn't work for me from the very beginning. I was part of the camp that was like, ''What? Huh?'' That was one of those experiments where [the producers] were like, ''Can we suddenly introduce characters that were part of the crash victims but we've never seen them before, and have them become characters on the show?'' And the answer to that question is...no.
Many fans and critics were harsh on the show early last season. What was it like being hated a little? And did you feel any vindication with the finale?
I kind of liked that. There's something really frightening about when the bandwagon-jumping starts, when it's all the rage. That's when you're like, I don't believe that everybody that's doing this is a completely truthful Lost fan. So there's something cool about now — I know we've got 15 million people watching the show, and these people are the same 15 million that have been die-hards from Day One. Those are the ones that we're making it for. I do enjoy proving people wrong. I'm kind of contrary that way, I guess.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When the producers were pushing for a definitive end to the show, was that something you wanted too?
MATTHEW FOX: I was happy. Damon said it to me best once: ''It's like running a marathon and you don't know how long it is.'' If he has a story in his mind, how does he tell that story if he doesn't know how long the book is? I'm telling you, the story is going to charge and move rapidly in the next 48 episodes. One of the knocks on the show is that it hasn't moved fast enough. Part of that was because Damon felt like he didn't know when to let it go. Now he knows when to let it go.
You were able to shoot only eight of this season's 16 episodes before the strike. What was that experience like?
It's a difficult thing to go through. Very odd for everybody. The crew has to go home. We're not sure if we're going to come back and do more this [season]. The audience only getting eight would really be a bummer. But I'm optimistic.
Let's talk about your movie career. Next up, you play a secret service agent in Vantage Point. What attracted you to the role?
I was attracted to the project because of [director] Pete Travis. I'm fascinated with the concept of perspective and vantage point. It's amazing to me how 10 people can look at the same events and depending on the point of view that they're looking at it from, they can see it differently. I'm constantly trying to remind myself of perspective and how much control I have over how I perceive things...I can't really talk a lot about the role without giving away parts of the picture, but that was attractive to me as well.
In May, you play Racer X in the Wachowski Brothers' highly anticipated Speed Racer. How did that come about?
I'm a cartoon and comic book fan, and I love anime. [But] I didn't know anything about Speed Racer. I grew up without a television. So when I found out that the Wachowskis were doing Speed Racer and were interested in me for it, I immediately went on the Internet, and as soon as I saw Racer X, I was like, I think that looks like me. I kinda think I would be a good Racer X. [Laughs] So then I was like, Dammit, I'm going to win this role! I went and read for it, and then waited quite a while.... It was the project last spring that I was dying to do, and I would have been so incredibly disappointed if I didn't.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What can you say about your interpretation of Racer X?
MATTHEW FOX: Racer X is all about mystery. And it's all about not just disguise of suit, but it's disguise of voice — he's, like, impenetrable.... Part of the fun that I had was that I got to be a badass, and work with the most insane stunt guys. I'm proud I did it all. They didn't double me. The stunt guys were like, ''We think you can do everything. Do you want to do everything?'' ''Damn right I want to do everything. I want to do everything to the point where you think it looks like crap. That's when I need you to step in and help me out.'' [During] some of it I was just dying. I would do these fight sequences in this leather thing, and the amount of sweat was extraordinary. I was coming home ultra-dehydrated.
Is your goal to make the leap into movies full-time?
There's no question. For me, it's more about my own quality of life. It's better for me to do films because it gives me much more flexibility in my life. I love the idea of becoming all-consumed in this one thing for four months, and then it's done, and I'm just floating around going, F---, I don't know what I'm doing next. You're in that process of looking, and then you're like, Oh, this is the inevitable next thing. Then you dive into that. Also, I love to play new roles. [But] the beautiful thing about Lost is that even though I'm playing Jack Shephard, I get all these new things to do with him. It's not like playing Charlie Salinger on Party of Five. It was tough to play that same character for six years because I don't think I got to evolve that character and play new elements of him and have him be as many different things as Jack Shephard can be.
People associate beaches with relaxation and vacation. When you see a beach, what do you think about? Work?
Yeah, because I spend a lot of time on the beach working. I've never been a huge fan of beaches. I'm a fan of mountains. I grew up in the mountains. So, I've been on the beach, either here or in Hawaii, for 12 years. I'm looking forward to a future in which I'm in the mountains again. I'm [in the process of] moving north. I've never been the type of person who was going to lay out my blanket and sunbathe.
After graduating from Columbia with an economics degree, you interviewed for a job at Prudential-Bache selling stocks. Do you ever wonder if you missed your true calling?
I don't think I'm very good at selling, and I don't think I'm very good at dealing with people on the phone. [Laughs] I think I would have sucked, actually. I have a hard time not being good at things, and I don't think that's necessarily a very good thing. I can't do anything just because I love it. I can only do it because I want to be good at it. It makes for a pretty dissatisfied life in a lot of ways because you're constantly always falling short of your own expectations. But it also drives you.
I know it's not Brituation08 related, but I was asleep for all of it D: