"Emperor" is the second film where Matthew Fox has played a role based on a real person. He portrays Gen. Bonner Fellers, the man charged with the investigation after World War II to determine whether Emperor Hirohito should be hanged as a war criminal. Such an action would have launched riots in Japan.
Fox previously portrayed Red Dawson in "We Are Marshall," the 2006 film about a 1970 plane crash that killed members of the Marshall University football team, coaches and boosters.
Despite both roles being based on real people, Fox approached them differently. Whether it's a film based on a real person or a fictional character, Fox says he always asks himself how much research is enough to help him play the part and how much is too much and begins to weigh down what he brings to the role.
"It always adds a little pressure when you are playing a role based on someone," Fox says. "In the case of Red, we were telling a very personal and intense story. He's still alive, and I had the chance to spend time with him, so I got to know him."
Fox couldn't get that kind of insight with Fellers, who died in 1973. There wasn't a lot of material for Fox to use in researching the role, other than military reports.
That's why Fox relied more on the script to give him the material he needed to play the role. In the case of "Emperor," he felt more responsibility playing the moment in history as accurately as possible.
Fox was drawn to "Emperor" because it touched on aspects of post-World War II of which he had little knowledge and because it's also a sweet love story.
"The part of World War II history I was most familiar with was dominated by what happened in Europe: the Holocaust, the troops storming the beaches of Normandy. I was unaware of how the conflict was resolved in Japan and all of the work to decide how much support would be given to rebuilding the country. I found it all very intriguing," Fox says.
The story line of Fellers' love affair with an exchange student that started before the war was the part of the script that really moved him because it's so "beautiful and tragic."
Fox got a little help in playing Fellers from where the movie was filmed. Most of "Emperor" was shot in New Zealand, but the crew was given rare permission to film in front of the actual Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Cast and crew were under strict rules -- no smoking, no eating, etc. -- while working on the grounds.
Since ending "Lost," Fox has concentrated on making movies. His next film is another war movie, but it couldn't be more different than "Emperor."
" 'World War Z' is a huge zombie movie, but it is very different. It is a reinvention of that genre," Fox says of his upcoming summer action movie.
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.