The Parthenon

The most unlikely of friends

Matthew Fox and Red Dawson have very different lives, but 'We Are Marshall' has provided a foundation for a lasting friendship

Melissa Newman

The Parthenon

Posted: 4/19/06

On set, the two seem like lifelong friends. Kind words are shared, laughter is heard and a story of tribulation, triumph and strength of the human spirit is told.

Matthew Fox, who will portray Red Dawson in the film "We Are Marshall," and the real Mr. Dawson have come to form a special friendship, Fox said April 7 at a news conference.

"Red came to Hawaii to visit me and I was incredibly honored he made the trip considering his story," he said. "We had the opportunity to bond, and I really consider him a friend. It was very valuable for me to get to know him as a person and hear firsthand the small things he remembers about the experience and where he was in his life at that time."

Dawson said the two have a lot of respect for one another and he enjoys Fox's company.

"Matt (Fox) is a great, down-to-earth guy, and we have a lot in common," he said.

In order to prepare for the role of coach and fill the shoes set before him, Fox said he drew from a combination of experiences. He played football in high school and college, and said he is drawing from personal playing experience and some of the coaches he had, as well as paying very close attention to who Red Dawson is and the kind of coach he was.

"I've met some players who played under him, and they said he was a fairly stern coach, but a coach they loved," Fox said. "I'll try to do everything I can to bring that element to the character."

Fox described Dawson as a very compassionate man in the context of the story and said he was very strong for the community and those personally affected by the crash. The tragedy still affects Dawson, and Fox said he had to be respectful when asking questions.

"Meeting Red and getting to know him made me approach the character on a different level," Fox said. "A big part of it is trying to get a real sense of who he is, where he was and how he dealt with that situation. It's difficult for Red to talk about it today over 35 years later. Sometimes it just catches him off guard, and I try to be very sensitive about that and find the right moments to ask all the questions I have in my mind. He was very giving and patient with his answers."

When Fox asked Dawson what he could do to portray him as accurately as possible, Dawson told him to practice crying.

"Walking across campus, you would see a lot of students crying for a while afterwards," a teary-eyed Dawson said. "We all went through some very tough times."

Fox said he hopes to do Dawson justice in the Marshall story and finds it very comforting to have Red by his side during filming.

"I've had to do a lot of intense, difficult, emotional material in the first week ,and it's been tough," Fox said. "Red has been really incredible and supportive. It's very comforting to have him on set with me."

Dawson, on the other hand, finds it somewhat difficult to relive the tragedy all over again. He describes the filming process as an emotional rollercoaster full of ups and downs.

"I'm not over all the emotions yet, but I'm doing better," Dawson said.

He said it was courage that helped the community overcome tragedy, and it was courage that helped rebuild the football program.

"Someone once told me courage is knowing the worst," Dawson said. "I'm sure there are people that had a worse time than what we went through as coaches, but we went through some pretty hard times."

Fox said the focus of everyone involved with the film is telling the story in a positive light.

"This is a story about strength of the human spirit and healing and that translates well into film format," he said. "It's a huge challenge to tell this story, but everyone involved feels a huge sense of obligation to honor the story and get it right. I think we're going to do that."