The true story of the 1970 Marshall University plane crash
It's a story many people don't know about - the 1970 plane crash in Huntington, West Virginia that killed 75 people, including most of the Marshall University football team.
The squad was coming back from a game against East Carolina on November 14th when the tragedy occurred. Assistant coach Red Dawson was not on the plane; he stayed back to recruit players for the next season.
This coming December, Matthew Fox will portray Red in the new film, We Are Marshall, also starring Matthew McConaughey, David Strathairn, Ian McShane, and Anthony Mackie.
Matthew Fox was part of a conference call to discuss the film and what it was like to take on this person. Here's what he had to say:
What was it that initially drew you to this project?
Matthew Fox: That was the script; I didn't know anything about what happened in 1970. And so I read the script, and then there was McG - and those are the two beginning factors that just had me excited about it. Then obviously, I met Red and that was the thing that really was huge, too. I just really - I love him and (we've gotten to be) really good friends.
Did you do a lot of research on Marshall and Red?
Matthew Fox: I kind of went at that from two places because I didn't know much about the story. The first thing was to ask McG for all of his research materials that he had put together and he sent me this stuff, and so I spent enough time with that to get a really good concept of what had happened. And then the most important element to me was to spend as much time with Red as I possibly could as early in my preparation process as I could. And I was shooting on Lost and couldn't leave Hawaii, and that was about six weeks from the starting of shooting We Are Marshall, and so I called him and asked him if he would consider flying to Hawaii. He hasn't done much flying since 1970, but he surprised me by saying he would like to do that and he actually flew all the way to Hawaii, spent four or five days with me. He'd come to the set with me on Lost; I was working, and if I wasn't, we just spent a lot of time together, spent time with my family, and we got to know each other - that was the first step. And then the next step was a more difficult process and that was me asking him questions about recollections, memory - things that he hadn't done a lot of talking about. I mean Red is not the kind of guy that's going to do a lot of talking about his own stuff. But he was incredibly open with me and generous and that was the process that was really important to me.
With the story based on true events and the tragedy of the Marshall plane crash, how much added pressure was there on you for this role?
Matthew Fox: I've never felt as much pressure - and in a good way; when you do a fictional story and you're creating everything from a fictional script and creating a character that is, yours and the director is only to create. You always want to set out to make a really great movie; that's the way you approach a great story. But when it's based on a true event and you're playing a man that you care deeply about getting it right and doing him justice and honoring his life, there's an enormous amount of pressure if you're coming out it from a place of responsibility. I felt that all I care about - Red hasn't seen the movie yet because he's waiting for the right time for him to see it. He's got to see it on his own; and obviously the one person in the world that I care the most about feeling good about this movie and feeling good about my portrayal in this movie is Red Dawson.
How did the experience of playing college football help you when you're filming the movie?
Matthew Fox: It helped; obviously I love the game and I know the game well and this was the first time I ever approached it from the coaching perspective. But I had a lot of coaches in my life and I think you drew from those, but also I got to know Red long enough that felt like I had a pretty specific idea of what kind of coach Red was and that stuff was really fun. I had to carry a weight through this movie, and so it was hard; but yeah, the football stuff, it was really fun to get back on the field and have all these kids out there in pads. And I'll tell you, the football stuff and how well that was choreographed - that was amazing.
The film is pretty dramatic and unlike what we're used to seeing from McG; how was it working with him on this film?
Matthew Fox: Absolutely fantastic! I can't say enough things about McG; I would work with him again in a heart beat. For my first big movie to have that experience with him, I could not have asked for anything better; it was just fantastic! He came at it from such a well-prepared, such a passionate place, and he's such an amazing guy as a person who's really cool, number one, but then as a director, he was phenomenally prepared. We totally trusted him; he created an environment, which was really conducive to people bringing their (A game) and he's just awesome.
We Are Marshall opens in theaters December 23rd; it's rated PG.