Lost actor plays football coach in We Are Marshall
Hire two actors to play a non-fictional character and you’ll typically get two different answers if you offer them the chance to meet the person they’re about to portray.
One will probably refuse the opportunity while the other will embrace it. Matthew Fox, best known for his work on the hit television series Lost, falls into that latter category.
Fox plays real-life football coach Red Dawson in the new film We Are Marshall, an assistant with the Marshall University football team who was wracked by guilt after a charter plane — on which he gave up his seat — carrying most of the team, coaching staff and prominent members of the Huntington, West Virginia, community where the school is based, crashed killing all aboard on a return flight from an away game in 1970.
Following the tragedy, surviving relatives called on the university to cancel the football program, but a few determined surviving players and new head coach Jack Lengyel (Failure To Launch’s Matthew McConaughey) along with Dawson, resurrected the team and managed to field a squad for the 1971 season.
"It’s much more a story about healing and about how people deal with grief and about that argument over how you deal with it," Fox says. "Do you move on and leave it behind you or do you hold on to it as holding on to the memory of what was lost and who was lost?"
To prepare for the role, the 40-year-old former Columbia University football player called on the real Red Dawson to come to Hawaii where he was shooting Lost to discuss the emotions he experienced during that tumultuous period.
While Fox was expecting Dawson to turn down his offer, the construction company owner who still lives in Huntington, accepted. Although the actor expected the worst, the two would form a bond that Fox speaks of fondly.
"I can only imagine what it must have been like for him to have this single most defining event in his life, I would guess, and having an actor who he knew nothing about playing him in a movie and flying 5,000 miles out to Hawaii to meet this actor," Fox surmises. "I was anxious because that’s a relationship I think could potentially not work out."
The two formed a lasting friendship and still speak every couple of weeks.
But Fox feels that for Dawson, the experience of discussing the event and his return to the field afterwards was somewhat therapeutic, not to mention helpful for the former Party Of Five star.
"This has been a really cathartic thing for him and one that a year ago I think he was really anxious about and now he’s so proud of the movie … the one person in the world I cared about feeling great about this film was Red Dawson and getting that call from him (saying he liked the film) was really special."
- We Are Marshall opens in theatres today.