When you’re a young woman in Hollywood who, like Megan Fox, has had a kind of sudden, massive fameconferred upon you—a fame that some argue is not necessarily commensurate with your work or even your talent—you have several options: You can move quickly to cash in on your popularity (e.g. make a record, launch a clothing line, do a reality show); you can go out of your way to make penance for your “unearned” success by signing on for serious projects of a certain artistic or social quality that are ultimately neither very artistic nor very social and don’t actually make any money (it’s very important that they don’t make any money—even accidentally); you can freak out, act out, and burn out; you can reject it all and run away and hide; or you can very quickly become hardened by the entire process. In short, while there are obvious perks to immediate, quaking celebrity (e.g. some money, a certain amount of power, free Vitaminwater), the well-worn escape routes are not entirely appealing.
At the age of 24, Fox has already appeared in two blockbuster movies—Michael Bay’s CGI-robot juggernaut Transformers (2007), and its sequel, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen—which, combined, have grossed more than $1.5billion worldwide. Over the last few years, she has also done a series of other non-Transformers films, including How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (2008), and the campyDiablo Cody–written thriller Jennifer’s Body—the bulk of which have quickly wilted at the box office. But Fox’s penchant for offering up certain intimate-seeming details of her life in interviews—such as the same-sex romance that she once claimed to have had with a stripper named Nikita, or the location of her boyfriend Brian Austin Green’s name on her body she had tattooed (it’s in her lower swimsuit area)—has provided an entertaining sideshow.She’s also good about unprompted name-checks (“If I could just be Angelina [Jolie]’s girlfriend, I would be so happy.” “I want to eat Robert Pattinson.” “Olivia Wilde is so sexy she makes me want to strangle a mountain ox with my bare hands.”)
For years, the great revelatory insights about the way pop culture works were that celebrity is about image and that we like to build people up in order to bring them down. But for an actress like Fox, who came of age in the era of reality TV, social media, and second-to-second news cycles, these aspects of celebrity mythmaking (and breaking) are almost elementary. Fox herself has acknowledged as much, offering that some of the more outrageous things she has said in interviews were purely for effect, because—as an aforementioned a young actress in
Hollywood who has had conferred upon her sudden, massive fame—she knows that she is playing a role, that we live in a culture evermore about images, sound bites,
and archetypes, and she has decided that she needs to manipulate the system in order to avoid being consumed by it. It’s somewhat cynical, yes, and true that she is self-invented (as most famous people are), but in Fox’s case, the persona she has created and the way she has seemed to process her own fame hints at an underlying element of self-preservation at work. Fox says outrageous things. She takes sexy pictures. She looks good on film. But she doesn’t try to pull at your heartstrings by pretending to bare her soul. She doesn’t attempt to demystify herself through overexplanation. She doesn’t try to really prove anything to you. She just gives you what she thinks you want and keeps the important stuff for herself.
Fox’s next two films—Jonah Hex, with Josh Brolin, Michael Fassbender, and John Malkovich, and Passion Play, with Mickey Rourke and Bill Murray—are both departures, the former a sci-fi comic-book Western about a horrifically scarred cowboy with a spiritual hole in his heart, the latter a magical-realist drama in which Fox’s character sprouts wings at puberty and is drafted into a traveling circus. “I want to do different things,” said Fox, calling one early-May afternoon from Los Angeles, where she was busy preparing to film the third installment of Transformers. “I mean, Transformers is enormous, but it’s exhausting because it’s just this huge, huge machine,” she continued. “The studio, the director—everyone has so much power in this project that the actors are sort of very small in the midst of this very large movie.” Days later, it was announced that Fox would no longer be a part of Transformers 3. In a statement, she said that it was her decision, though some reports cited her rumored frosty relationship with Bay as the primary reason for her exit. (In an interview last year, she described Bay as a “tyrant” and, for typical Foxian effect, likened his on-set workaday methods to those of Napoleon and Hitler.)
Now, as the door closes on Transformers, Fox is imagining a very different kind of career—and life—beyond it. To ensure we provided her with an ample foil, we recruited comedian Zach Galifianakis to interview her for this story—and he boldly went where few men have gone before.
One final note: At the end of the photo shoot that accompanies this interview, which took place at the Chateau Marmont in L.A., Fox asked if she could keep the head of the mannequin seen in the story, which was made to look exactly like her, as a souvenir. When the concern was raised that the paparazzi perched outside the hotel might get a picture of her leaving, ostensibly, carrying her own head, Fox didn’t blanch. She didn’t stop and worry about what the tabloids might do with such an image, what people might say. I mean, what would the caption be? She didn’t wring her hands or furrow her brow. She just threw her head in a shopping bag and went on her way.
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: Megan?
MEGAN FOX: Yeah?
GALIFIANAKIS: This is Zach . . . um, Galifianakis.
FOX: How are you?
GALIFIANAKIS: I’m splendid. How are you?
FOX: I’m great.
GALIFIANAKIS: So before we begin, I wanted to thank you for allowing me to interview you.
FOX: I mean, it’s probably going to be awkward.
GALIFIANAKIS: Well, no. It definitely will be. My forte is awkwardness. But I don’t want it to be purposely awkward. Let’s make it organically awkward. You know, because we’ve never met before. So maybe we’ll—I’m already talking too much. . . . Maybe it will be nice and smooth.
FOX: I think it’s possible.
GALIFIANAKIS: Let’s start out with something simple. Where are you? Are you at your house in L.A.?
FOX: No. I was at my house, but we had to go pick up Brian’s son from school. Now I’m on my cell phone. It’s AT&T, so hopefully I won’t drop you. But there’s a good chance that will happen.
GALIFIANAKIS: I’m at a sidewalk café in New York. I’m trying to get recognized.
FOX: I find that it’s easier to disguise yourself when you go to Florida or places like that, because no one is expecting to see a celebrity there. When you throw on a hat and glasses, no one really looks at you twice—because why would you be in Florida? People just assume that if you’re famous, you’re in Hollywood. But in places like New York and L.A., they know that you live there and that you’re trying to disguise yourself, so people are always looking. It’s almost better to not wear a hat and glasses. I’ve actually stopped tinting my windows because the paparazzi look for trucks and cars with supertinted windows. In New York, especially, so much of your life is spent on the streets. You don’t always want to be driving around in an SUV with a security guard. You want to be able to walk to a restaurant; you want to go and do things.
GALIFIANAKIS: I’ve been here for four hours. No one has recognized me, which is a real bummer.
FOX: [laughs] Yeah.
GALIFIANAKIS: When you walk the red carpet and you see all of these paparazzi animals taking your picture, what do you think? Do you think, “I’m just a tool for the Hollywood system. I’m just here so an executive can buy another Bentley”? Are we just puppets?
FOX: I don’t really resent being on the red carpet as much as I do having to deal with the paparazzi. That actually makes me angry. The photographers on the red carpet—that’s their job. They’re usually pretty respectful, so I don’t mind. I mean, I’m not pretentious enough to just sit around and think about how I’m a tool for the whole Hollywood machine. But it has crossed my mind.
GALIFIANAKIS: If I were you, I wouldn’t eat a banana in public because of what they might say in a caption.
FOX: Yes, there is that. Every time I leave the house or we go anywhere, there is that paranoia. We always have to watch for specific cars and specific signs that we’re being photographed. The other day, I was having a private conversation on my phone, and I had to step out of my car to go into a Rite Aid. And there were like six photographers in the bushes photographing me the whole time. It’s weird. It is overwhelming. At times it’s jarring. You never know when someone is videotaping you or trying to capture your image. I see how it makes some people crazy. It’s a strange thing. But I am really lucky. I don’t understand it. I don’t know how any of this has happened. I mean, I don’t sit around and say, “Gosh, I have to do this movie with this person.” I really, honestly, am much more focused on my personal life. I’d really like to have a family at some point. Not that I’m not focused on my career—of course I am. But I’m just at that place where I want to spend some time at home and on my family. And if a great project comes my way, then of course I’ll take it. But I’m not actively out seeking something specific.
GALIFIANAKIS: [outside again, wind noise] The wind is blowing very hard in New York right now, so I’ve got to try to duck into a place where it’s not so windy. So tell me, does it drive you crazy when people ask you that question?
FOX: What question?
GALIFIANAKIS: The question about this machine that you are a part of that forces you to go out and answer other ridiculous questions?
FOX: Yeah, sometimes. I know you can’t really put actors or celebrities into two categories, but I’m going to right now: There are the people who really, really enjoy being celebrities, and then there are the people who came by it maybe by accident. I’m one of those people who fiercely guards their privacy, so I hate doing interviews. Because just in terms of the experience I’ve had with the media so far, almost everything I say, no matter how innocent my intentions are, seems to get sort of manipulated and sensationalized and turned into some ridiculous news story.
GALIFIANAKIS: But that’s for people, selfishly, to sell their magazines and their products. People don’t know that, for example, you could be doing an interview about candles, and you could say, “I like it when something is waxy and hot.” But then that gets taken out of context.
FOX: It just happens so much that I don’t want to open my mouth or speak anymore, because everything I say becomes scandalous. It wears you out. So I’m a bit jaded. I don’t read my own press, so I don’t know what’s being reported on a daily basis—I only hear about things when they reach a sort of Def-Con status and my publicist calls me because we have to do some damage control. But I do feel like, if anything, I’ve sort of made it worse. In the past I’ve been reluctant to share any bits of truth about myself or to really let people in on my reality, so I have said some things to throw people off the scent of what’s really going on in my life. So I have sort of aided the media in printing these misconceptions, which I regret. I’ve just come to the realization at this point that if I don’t feel like sharing, then I’m just not going to share. But I’m not going to go out of my way to mislead people or keep them at a distance, because that doesn’t really get me anywhere either.
GALIFIANAKIS: It’s American society. American society loves to prop people up and then take them down.
FOX: I agree with you. That’s why I’ve always at least tried to be self-deprecating when I say anything about myself. As long as you set the bar low, it will keep people from putting you on a pedestal, so they can’t knock you off. That’s been my plan all along, but it slipped away from me—because once you let the words go, you have no control over how they’re printed or what the media does with them. So there’s no point in trying to make plans or to control it. When we were making the first Transformers—because it’s a movie about robots that’s based on a cartoon—I don’t think any of us realized that it would have the audience that it had. I just don’t think any of us expected it to be this huge. The second one had one of the biggest openings of all time, which is crazy. I didn’t ever anticipate being part of a blockbuster franchise, let alone one that’s made the kind of money that those movies made.
GALIFIANAKIS: So what’s your favorite color?
FOX: Green. What’s yours?
GALIFIANAKIS: Specifically, it’s olive green.
FOX: That’s really specific.
GALIFIANAKIS: Well, this isn’t how I chose my favorite color, but I read somewhere that smart people tend toward green. So that’s good for both of us. Do you color anything green because you like it? Are your walls painted green? Is your car green? And I don’t mean “eco” green—the color green.
FOX: No. I don’t have any green walls or cars or furniture at the moment. But if I’m going to draw a picture, I will usually go for the green crayon or colored pencil or marker.
GALIFIANAKIS: I have a green 1998 Subaru.
FOX: My dad drives a Subaru. I think it might be a Forester.
GALIFIANAKIS: The Forester is a very good car. It gets good gas mileage. Good for your dad. Now we’re getting somewhere. Just out of curiosity, what kind of toothpaste do you use?
FOX: I guess it kind of depends on where I last went grocery shopping. Crest Vivid White is a good toothpaste. But I also use Tom’s of Maine.
GALIFIANAKIS: Tom’s of Maine is what I use. I also use their condoms.
FOX: [Laughs] Are they eco-friendly?
GALIFIANAKIS: I just imagine these old grandma and grandpa people in Maine making condoms. “These are made out of rubber trees. . . .” [Fox laughs] Speaking of which, what is the tenderest moment you’ve ever had with one of your grandparents?
FOX: Most of my grandparents died when I was really young.
GALIFIANAKIS: Oh, I’m sorry.
FOX: No, it’s okay. I don’t know how tender this is, but my mother’s mother always favored me for some reason—out of all her grandchildren. When I was really young, maybe 2 or 3, I used to always ask her to get down on the floor and play My Little Pony or whatever I was into at the time, and as an excuse she would tell me that she had a bone in her knee. It took me another three years to figure out that we all have bones in our knees. So I eventually called her out on it, and I remember her being genuinely amused with me. That was Nanny, my mom’s mom. . . . [traffic noise] You sound like you’re in the middle of a hurricane.
GALIFIANAKIS: I left the café, and now I’m in a vacuum-cleaner shop. Is that inconvenient? No, I’m running across the street right now. I don’t know what street I’m on, but I’m ducking into a bar called Paddy Maguire’s Ale House. . . . [bar noise] Now I’m inside, but I’m out of breath. . . . [to bartender] Can I order a beer? [bar noise] Actually, now I’m moving to another place because in that last place there were a lot of old people who smelled bad. . . . [street noise] Now I’m at another outdoor café. Hold on one second—[to server] Hello, how are you? [noise] Do you have a draft of some sort? [server’s voice: “Guinness, Stella, Harp . . .”] Harp will work. Thank you. [to Fox] Sorry. I needed to order a beer. So what’s your idea of the perfect meal?
FOX: This is a good question, because there are a couple of different types of food I eat a lot. I was raised in the South, in Tennessee, so I’m going to go with comfort food, soul food. I would probably start with collard greens and candied baby carrots and then have some biscuits and white gravy—and for dessert, probably blackberry cobbler. Having been in a relationship since I was 18, I’m very domestic, but I don’t enjoy cooking for myself. I don’t mind cooking for other people—and I like doing it for Brian and his friends. But I don’t like cleaning or washing dishes, although I don’t mind doing laundry.
GALIFIANAKIS: As a cook, what’s your specialty?
FOX: I’m not a great cook, so I pretty much stick to the basics. I can do a pretty good chocolate-chip pancake. I can do a decent smoothie because when I was 15, I worked in a smoothie shop. . . .