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Matthew Fox kept a mental checklist of things he’d like to accomplish in his career, and once every gig had been crossed out, he made a decision to “walk away from the storytelling business.”
Fox had starred in a pair of hit television shows in Party of Five and Lost, toplined a string of feature films, acted in a Western and jetted across the Atlantic to hit the stage for a play in London’s West End. Bucket list achieved. So, in 2015, the actor retired, taking what seemed like a final bow with back-to-back films Bone Tomahawk and Extinction before settling down in Oregon with his wife and two children.
Not so fast. Another small-screen challenge soon revealed itself. “One of the things that I had never done was executive produce and that was kind of, you know, haunting me a little bit like, man, I really wonder what it would feel like to be involved in more aspects of the story other than just the character that I’m portraying,” he explains to The Hollywood Reporter. “So we took the leap.”
The jump came courtesy of Last Light, a limited series that debuts Sept. 8 on Peacock. It casts 56-year-old Fox in a role his diehard fans will instantly recognize — a good guy caught up in a very bad situation. This one has implications not only for the fate of the world but also for his family, played by Joanne Froggatt, Alyth Ross and Taylor Fay.
Fox stars as petro-chemist Andy Yeats who, while on a trip the Middle East, discovers an urgent issue with the world’s oil supply. With his worst fears coming true and his family separated, Yeats has no choice but to get to the bottom of the international mystery amid the chaos imposed by the issue while his family members fight to stay alive. The series is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by prolific scribe Alex Scarrow.
“I was very much attracted to the backdrop in which the story is set, the oil crisis, with this beautiful family unit separated by the crisis and trying to get back together and be reunited,” Fox explains, adding that he was also keen to tackle the job alongside Entertainment 360 manager and producer Bill Choi. “He’s just become a very close, very good friend, and to have the opportunity to collaborate creatively and have our fingerprints in a story like this and shoot in many different locations, that was also attractive.”
About those locations, the Last Light production team, led by director Dennie Gordon who directed all five episodes, posted up in Prague, Paris and Abu Dhabi. For a first-time executive producer, Fox and team had their work cut out for them as the series was forced to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic along with its multiple locations — and it’s leading man came down with the virus in the process.
“We had people getting sick and I got COVID during the shoot in Prague and that shut us down for a few days,” Fox reveals, calling out the producing team for being “absolutely incredible” in keeping the train on its tracks. The EP roster also includes Gordon, Choi, Sydney Gallonde, Rikke Ennis, Patrick Renault, Diego Piasek, Patrick Massett and John Zinman. “They were light on their feet, adaptive and able to shift the schedule and find ways to move things around so that it didn’t hurt us. It was an enormous challenge. Dennie Gordon is a force of nature.”
She’s also an old friend. The pair first worked together on Party of Five back in the day before Gordon went on to become one of the highest-profile female TV directors in the industry with credits that include For All Mankind, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Goliath, Warrior, Waco, Kingdom, Burn Notice and the upcoming From Scratch.
“He was always our first choice for the role,” Gordon explains, adding that while they shared roots on the Fox series, they fell out of touch over the years. “We hadn’t seen each other for, I think, 20 years or something. His children had grown up and I knew them as babies. So much time had passed.”
She credits Rola Bauer, MGM’s president of international television productions, with orchestrating his involvement. “Matthew has this innate quality that comes across on screen, someone who is a moral human being and a man who has heroism in his soul. That was so important because for a journey this epic, it needs to be in the hands of someone who has that quality.”
Gordon says she saw it in action: “We were shooting a scene where he was on a horse with [Taylor Fay] the 8-year-old boy playing his child. Matthew, blessedly is an accomplished equestrian, and the horse bucked in this weird way that caused them all to go down. Matthew was able to hold Taylor up the whole time and cushion his fall. It was this slow motion accident but nobody was hurt. He never ceased to astonish me. He’s a joy to work with and he’s got a fine instrument. I was just lucky to play it a little bit in the orchestra.”
Froggatt was equally complimentary. “I’ve obviously loved lots of Matthew’s work over the years and he was genuinely so incredible not just as an actor but as an exec producer as well. It wasn’t a glorified role for him,” says the Downton Abbey star. “He really cared about every element of the shoot and every element of the script. He supported all of us and gave us the freedom to be completely collaborative. Matthew said to all of us from the start that if there was anything that we wanted to change to make it better, ‘Let’s find it.’ That’s where he set the bar from the start. You lead from the top and he did it so beautifully and made us feel in such a safe space to be able to create this world together.”
It’s a world that also speaks to the present moment. Last Light features an urgent storyline involving a global climate crisis that Gordon believes really spoke to him in such a way that he couldn’t deny being a part of it. “He was waiting for something that had a message that would be worth his time if he was going to be away from his family. It had to be something powerful.”
That’s not to say that it was easy. “I’ve had this conversation with Bill Choi, my partner in this, and we came to some serious realizations that filmmaking is just nonstop problem solving from morning until night. All you’re doing is bumping into obstacles and figuring out ways of getting around them to continue telling the story,” he says. “Some of those obstacles are so intense that you have to be spontaneous and loose on your feet and able to push in a direction that is actually gonna make the story better. You have to be open to that, not completely focused on only one version of events, because you have to be ready to move laterally.”
While Fox declined to speak on whether he’s attached to additional seasons of a potential Last Light franchise, he was keen to talk about what the future holds.
“I have this saying, and I’m sure it’s been used a thousand times, but to me, a collaborative experience like this is at its very best when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. There’s no question that the experience on Last Light succeeded in that,” Fox explains. “I can’t say enough about it. It was an incredible experience and it has really renewed my passion for the entire experience. I want to try to find the right projects and the right people to collaborate with and I’m looking to do that.”
He takes a pause, and smiles. “It’s good to be back.”
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