Jack Fox is a man fascinated by poetry and prose.
The British actor describes himself as someone who for a long time abstained from reading. “When my mum died in lockdown. I was thinking to myself, she was someone who read a lot and I never read at all. And then, a week or 10 days after she died, I was like, ‘I’m going to read the longest book I can think of,’ which was ‘War and Peace,’” Fox says during a spring-like morning, sitting on a comfortable single sofa in a cobalt blue sweater with a fully stacked bookshelf behind him.
When Fox found a copy of Leo Tolstoy’s classic in the middle of mourning and questioned whether he should be diving head first into classic literature, a piece of paper fell from inside the book in his mother’s handwriting with a breakdown of all the characters. That gave him the reassurance and confidence to go forward with his plan.
“I just thought, ‘Oh, I’m doing exactly what I should be doing.’ So, from that moment on really, I tried to read 50 pages a day,” he says enthusiastically about his fondness for Tolstoy’s life and literature.
Fox is an accidental history buff and converted bibliophile — everything he speaks of comes with a reference to the past. Twenty minutes into the Zoom call he’s already discussed the impact that the Decembrist Revolt had on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s work.
Fox, who stands 6 feet, 2 inches with golden curls and grayish green eyes, isn’t that dissimilar from the description of Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky in Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” where he’s pictured as “a perfect specimen of Petersburg’s gilded youth.” It’s fitting for Fox’s noble role as Sir Edward Denham in the British historical drama series “Sanditon,” which is based on Jane Austen’s unfinished manuscript.
In a sequence of life coincidences, all of Fox’s roads seem to lead back to literature — when he worked on the BBC sitcom “Cheaters,” centered around infidelity in relationships, he quickly befriended show producer Alex Taylor Walsh. An Oxbridge graduate who studied the classics at university, the producer told him that Homer’s “Iliad” is a “really hard book.”
“I’m going to see him on Wednesday and tell him that I’ve read it — then I’m gonna fill his face,” Fox giggles mischievously as he tends to one of his dogs sitting by feet.
Fox is determinedly competitive, but in an English manner, where he apologizes for it, to outdo himself and those around him. Over the weekend, he was playing “The Jackbox Party” on Switch with his musician wife, Eleanor Fletcher, her two sisters and respective partners.
“You play it on your phone and it comes up with the first half of a sentence and then you have to come up with a witty quip, and then you vote on who’s the funniest,” he says, explaining that it’s “a comedy, egotistical, narcissistic game where everyone wants to win, but everyone pretends that they don’t want to win, but it’s performative.”
“No, I didn’t win. I’m furious about it and I’m upset that you asked me that,” Fox jokes about his competitiveness, who also plays tennis two to three times a week.
He started practicing from a young age because one of his brothers is a “terrific tennis player” as a means for entertainment, but he admits his “mediocre level of competitive tennis is always the best kind.”
Fox grew up in a family of overachievers in the entertainment business. His brother, Laurence, is an actor and political activist; his uncle Edward is one of Britain’s best-known actors who won a BAFTA award for his role in the 1971 film “The Go-Between”; his other uncle Robert produced the 2002 film “The Hours,” and his father, James, is another critically acclaimed actor with roles in “The Servant,” Madonna’s “W.E.” as King George V and Bernard Rose’s 1997 adaptation of “Anna Karenina.”
“When I was young, we used to go to my dad’s agent’s showbiz New Year’s Eve parties, called Lindy King. At one of these, I was 11 or 12, running around being a complete tyrant, probably stealing drinks, when the producer and casting director of ‘Harry Potter’ offered [me] the role of Draco Malfoy to my dad and he turned it down for me,” says Fox, which his father only told him when he turned 21.
His father dissuaded from taking up acting because of his own experiences as a child actor from the age of eight. He told his son that he needs to “mature and understand how things are” and to “go and get a degree, then if you still want to do it, then you can do it.”
Fox is an anomaly. One moment he’s listening to Ariana Grande on tour for the play “Dear Lupin” with his father, the next he can be found reading Dostoevsky and Homer.
Fox graduated from University of Leeds with majors in philosophy and theology. He’s aware of how “incredibly lucky” he is to go into the entertainment industry with a helping hand from his connections, but that still comes with a hint of imposter syndrome.
“It was just utterly pointless for me, I should have studied more. If I did it again now it’d be a different story. I would take it more seriously, but I worked in a nightclub called Tequila,” Fox says, trying to keep a straight face as he lists the other night clubs he worked at, such as Gatecrasher and Mint.
His new film, “Operation Napoleon,” set for release later this year, is based on Icelandic crime author Arnaldur Indriðason’s bestselling novel centered around the finding of a Nazi gold train.
“Everyone’s always fascinated by the idea of warmongering, megalomaniac, psychopathic a–holes trying to save their own skin,” says Fox of the thriller action film, a new genre he ventured into after spending lockdown working out.
At 37, Fox is now happier hosting dinner parties with his wife than cavorting around London’s social scene. He got married at the end of last year in an intimate ceremony.
“In show business, you either have to sell your soul and have 500 people at your wedding, all of which you really want there and then 90 percent of which are people that may employ you in the future, then 4 percent of which are holding cameras selling it to a magazine, or you can go the other way and have 80 people. I’m not saying that one is better than the other, but we went for 80 people,” Fox says of his wedding.
He met his future wife on a dating app at a time neither of them was looking to settle down, which he credits to what made it work out.
“She was the funniest person I had ever spoken to,” he says of their online encounter. They met for the first time in Bristol when she was touring and he was working on a TV show.
He gushes about his wife, describing her as a “really funny, cool, quirky and super talented person,” as he never thought he would get married.
“I thought I would just George Clooney myself for the majority,” he says.
Married life has put things into perspective for Fox. He’s taking a softer approach to life by being selective about the projects he takes on to “focus on starting a marriage in the right way. Relationships can become a passenger and if you don’t focus on them, they can take their toll.”
The third season of “Sanditon” will start on Mar. 19 on PBS