SPEED ZONE: Matthew Fox on Racer X

Matthew Fox, who plays Racer X in the upcoming “Speed Racer” film, was really excited to jump into the role based on the classic animated series. When he first met the directors, Larry and Andy Wachowski, “They were basically warning me,” Fox told CBR News. “This [costume’s] going to be really intense. It’s going to be leather. It’s going to be hot. You’re going to do action sequences in it and you’re not going to have any use of your eyes as an actor. Are you worried about that?”

Fox’s response: “I’m not worried about it. I’m so fired up for the challenge.”

The actor’s initial interest in the project came from the Wachowskis themselves, but in meeting with them he learned the filmmakers wanted to make “a movie their nephews and nieces could see,” in contrast to their R-rated “The Matrix” trilogy.

In Fox’s view, Racer X is a “satellite orbiting” the Speed Racer family and looks to protect Speed as he enters the world of professional racing. While Racer X speaks with “this sort of anime voice” inspired by the original series, Fox said he did not strive for the over-expressive style associated with anime. “The world is so fantastic that the one thing that the audience has to identify is with the human beings and the characters.” Fox suggested attempting that sort of performance “would alienate the audience.” Instead, he grounded Racer X in the human situation of a man who becomes a masked do-gooder. What affectations are present, he said, exist for Racer X “to protect himself from the memory of who he was.” Fox thinks Racer X’s situation is “almost disturbing.”

The part of Racer X itself also gave Fox an opportunity to play a flawed hero. Like his part of Jack on the hit television series “Lost,” such characters appeal to him. “I really don’t buy into the notion of 'pure’ heroes. I think that’s kind of an antiquated idea,” Fox said. “For me, it’s more exciting to play someone who’s actually very human.” The actor considers the sort of character “who does heroic things and finds redemption” when a crisis compels him to action “more relatable.”

Despite the physical hardships of the Racer X costume, Fox found it actually benefited his performance. “This suit got to the point for me when I put it on and dropped that helmet on, I was just IN IT,” he explained. “People were different around me.” The mask allowed Fox to be separate from the other actors, as they also lost the benefit of eye contact with him. “You can intimidate.” The mask, however, also presented physical challenges. “The lenses would fog,” he laughed. “[It] led to me hitting a couple of stunt guys accidentally.” Fox said he felt bad about that, but, “you have to bring those moves [in] really tight … or it looks like a miss.”

Matthew Fox performed all of his own stunts in “Speed Racer,” and is very proud of it. “We had some conversations early on about how much better they would be able to shoot it if I did it all,” he said. Tthat kind of put the pressure on, [but] Larry and Andy are incredibly good at doing that sort of thing.” The decision led to six weeks of training for the fight scenes, and not just the type of choreography the Wachowskis are known for, but additional techniques and forms. Fox said his trainers prepared him for “the fact that once we got into those fight sequences, Larry and Andy might just decide to change things. I have to be prepared to move in a lot of different directions.” The work was intense, leading to a ten-day period of dehydration during which Fox said he took lots of electrolyte replacements to keep up the pace. But, he assured, the work is “absolutely fantastic.”

For his part, Fox is a car guy. “Being a race car driver might have been one of the first of a hundred different things I wanted to be when I was five or six,” the actor confessed. “[I enjoy] really cool 1950s designs and turning them into modern hot rods.” Though he does not do the actual work, he says, “[I] conceptualize it and have a lot of input into the detail. It’s a lot of fun.” The actor is currently working on a 1950 Mercury Coup.

Though the racing presented in “Speed Racer” is in his words “so far beyond” real racing, Fox thinks the races are “beautiful” in their own world. T film those races, Fox spent a great deal of time in a computerized hydraulic gimbal, a mock-up of his fictional car’s cockpit. While a full-sized replica of Racer X’s famous Shooting Star vehicle exists, all the work took place on the gimbal, which mimics the actual movements the car would make in each race. “Most of it is happening,” Fox said, saying he found himself jostled and slamming into the cockpit doors and going home with bruised shoulders. However, he said, even that adds to tools needed for an actor to work in a special effects environment. He praises the directors for “giving you everything you could possibly have while sitting in a green screen.”

Fox spoke briefly about “Lost” and the return to set following the Writers Guild Strike. He jokingly said the mood on set was “panic!” Explained Fox, “It’s been chaotic. As it always is this time of year.” At the moment, the “Lost” team is shooting three episodes simultaneously with “anywhere between two and three units working at the same time” with Fox “going back and forth between them and shootings things out of sequence.” Though scenes within episodes are generally shot out of order, jumping between scenes from different episodes adds to the acting challenge. “When you’re covering three episodes, it’s a lot.” But Fox is surprised by the developments on the series as they near the season finale. “It’s big and it’s going to be good.”

Despite the challenges of working on green screens and in leather suits, Fox is looking forward to reprising the Racer X role. “I’m hopeful to put that suit back on,” he confirmed. Fox revealed his final line in the film is “a set up for exploring what might happen down the road.” He also spoke about the character’s use of plastic surgery. He says, “It’s a really handy tool if you’re becoming a masked vigilante.” All of which a sequel would explore if “Speed Racer” is successful.

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