Given the endless ink written about his life off-screen, Fox admits that he wrestled with whether he even wanted to continue acting. But he dove into his work, and as a result, the upcoming year sounds more promising than the last, with three completely different Fox films on the horizon: the World War II epic Emperor, the postapocalyptic World War Z alongside Brad Pitt, and this month’s Alex Cross. His lithe and lethal character Picasso is the epitome of efficiency: no wasted steps, no wasted words— no wasted calories. Fox had always envisioned the cage-fighting assassin to be “disturbingly lean,” so the studio hooked him up with celebrity trainer Simon Waterson—the guy responsible for transforming Daniel Craig, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Chris Evans into James Bond, The Prince of Persia, and Captain America, respectively.
First came a complete overhaul of his diet, which ranged from 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day. “It’s gonna take a long time before I can confront eating another plate of steamed broccoli and chicken breast,” he admits. Then came the brutal vomit-inducing circuit workouts, weapons training, mixed martial arts training, and scuba training (there’s an elaborate sequence where Picasso enters a high-security building through a tight water pipe; Fox did it take after take, even though he’s claustrophobic and an admittedly poor swimmer). Director Rob Cohen was effusive in his praise for Fox’s transformation. “There are those actors who can only play a part from the mask out, and then there are those who create that ‘inner alchemy,’ ’’ Cohen says. “Matt became Picasso.”
What was Cross training like?
I’ve spent a lot of time in the gym all my life. I played competitive sports in college. I thought I kind of knew my way around the gym.
Not so much?
It was circuit training until I wanted to puke. Simon taught me the difference between doing an hour and 15 minutes of a nonstop circuit, as opposed to working out for two hours and resting in between each set.
What kind of exercises?
Simon changed it up half the time, but a lot of full-body stuff. There was a period—and I hated this period—where you started out with a burpee that went into a pullup. And then you went right into these really intense shoulder presses. You look at it and start to think, “Oh, this isn’t gonna be too bad.” And then you get into one set of 10 and you’re, like, dying.
How have you transitioned from hardcore training to everyday training?
Something about the experience of what I did for [Alex Cross] taught me so much about food. I eat differently now. I enjoy foods I never enjoyed in the past. And I definitely work out differently. I run longer. I circuit train in the gym, but I’m more efficient; I only work out half an hour now.
Filming for Alex Cross lasted two months. Picasso is a really intense character to inhabit for eight weeks. How did you come out alive?
You know, it was one of the more challenging experiences I’ve ever had. And for a lot of reasons. Trying my best to realistically create this illusion took an enormous amount of energy.
So the mental aspect was more draining than the physical?
Without question, man. The physical preparation was almost a relief, in some respects, from the headspace.
Director Rob Cohen lauded your complete commitment to the role. Where does that dedication come from?
Fear of failure. [Laughs] I think it comes from my mother and father and the way they brought us up. They always instilled that work ethic in me and my brothers. We never shied away from hard work, and growing up on a ranch in Wyoming does take a shitload of hard work. Being disciplined on a diet is hard work. I think a lot of people fail on diets because they want to see results too quickly,they’re not willing to be patient, and they start to cheat. They think the quick result will motivate them to go to the next step. It doesn’t end up working that way.