Fox on Fellers
To play the lead role of Bonner Fellers, the filmmakers needed an actor that audiences would be willing to follow into the personal and political rubble of 1945 Japan, someone evincing both intelligence and a romantic sensibility. They found that combo in Matthew Fox, who is rapidly moving into the ranks of today's top leading men. Having come to the fore in hit television roles on "Party of Five" and "Lost," Fox will soon be seen in Rob Cohen's thriller ALEX CROSS and Marc Forster's actioner WORLD WAR Z.
"Matthew has an intelligence that is quite rare in leading men," says Peter Webber of the actor who studied economics at Columbia University. "And he has the looks. There is a classic Hollywood feeling about him that I really like."
Adds Gary Foster: "There is a kind of masculine strength that I think is essential to the character of Fellers and Matthew clearly has that. He's also the investigator in the movie, so he had to be smart, and Matthew conveys great intelligence. And he has that romantic side as well, where you really want to see him kiss the girl."
Fox says he found himself moved by the script and by how Fellers reacts to a complex situation. "In the context of our story he is a very honorable man," he comments. "He is someone who is given an almost impossible task that is hugely important -- and at the same time, he is being haunted by this once in a lifetime love."
Soon Fox began reading about the real Bonner Fellers, who after studying at a Quaker College in Indiana initially served in World War II as an attache in Egypt, monitoring British military operations and finding himself at the center of controversy when his encrypted reports were famously intercepted and cracked by the Germans. Fellers then began to work in psychological warfare operations in the Pacific. But it was after the war officially ended that Fellers had his brush with history.
It was then, as a General Brigadier, that he was assigned by General MacArthur as a Japanese specialist to investigate the potentially explosive matter of the Emperor. With some 3.5 million armed Japanese soldiers still on edge, and just a few days to conduct his inquiry, Fellers understood that the stakes were enormous.
"I read all the material I could get my hands on from the time," says Fox, "all the actual reports he wrote. That took it to a whole other level of interest for me. This is my favorite kind of job where I get to do something where I'm learning something and being challenged."
He came to see the Fellers depicted in EMPEROR as motivated as much by his heart as his head. "What was always striking to me about the script is that it is an epic love story," he says. "When war separates Fellers and Aya, he becomes fixated on Japanese culture hoping to understand the reasons why she is the way she is -- and that leads him to a much more global understanding of Japan."
When he is with Aya, Fox notes that Fellers feels as if cultural barriers barely exist. "I think Fellers sees that love is possible no matter what the circumstances are," he comments. "When you can't communicate through language that well, you communicate more purely and truthfully. When he and Aya are together, it's like they're the only two people in the world."
This feeling became organic between Fox and co-star Eriko Hatsune. "The love story had to be very real so we had to share a lot," he explains. "We trusted each other and we really dove in there together. It was so incredibly important to the film that we interact honestly and warmly with each other, and I think we got that."
Fellers has a very different relationship with General MacArthur, one built on respect but complicated by mutual uncertainty of each other's agendas. Fellers is aware of MacArthur's larger personal ambitions and the pressures on him back home, but he never lets that sway his investigation. "I think their relationship is very much father and son in that Fellers looks up to MacArthur. MacArthur has a lot of qualities that Fellers doesn't feel like he has. He admires his chutzpah."
Working with Tommy Lee Jones brought that to the fore. "Tommy really got his hooks deeply into this material because he cares so much and that was really inspiring," says Fox.
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