Former Triton moves on to film

    With a movie set to run at Landmark Theatres La Jolla on Nov. 11 and a future sitcom with NBC in the works, Kirk Fox is a man on his way up. It’s hard to believe that he got his start as a Triton tennis player in the 1980s.

    Fox ditched a possible tennis career to pursue an acting dream and, surprisingly, it paid off. With a few small roles in big movies and some big roles in small movies under his belt, Fox finally got a chance to actually star in one. And it was his movie. Fox co-wrote and co-produced “Tennis, Anyone…?,” a story about “two friends who discover that in the world of celebrity tennis, the battles are so bitter because the stakes are so small,” according to the movie poster.

    Fox, who now resides in Los Angeles, came back to his old San Diego stomping grounds to see his movie and to grant the Guardian an exclusive interview. I met Fox at the Comedy Store in La Jolla, where Fox does stand-up occasionally. He discussed his fond memories of UCSD and the Triton tennis team and commented on his semi-autobiographical movie.

    Guardian: How did you end up at UCSD?

    Fox: I went to UCSD because my sister did. I went to Mission Bay High School and I kind of wanted to stay in town, so she helped me fill out the application to UCSD.

    G: How did playing tennis shape who you are today?

    F: I think having a sport is really important because it teaches you not just to compete. You also learn a lot about yourself as you’re faced with situations. It was great to have a sport, to have someplace to go after school and have the camaraderie of traveling with the team. Tennis has always been great for me. Tennis is what got me into the movie business. I was actually playing in a tennis tournament in Lawrence, Kan., when I met Matt Dillon. He was doing a movie out there called “Kansas” with Andrew McCarthy. We were staying at the same hotel and I became friends with Matt. I saw how much fun he was having as a movie star and how much fun I wasn’t having losing the first round in all these tournaments. So I said, “I’d rather be an actor than a tennis player.” So I just forgot the rest of the tour and went to Hollywood and got my headshots and that’s it.

    G: How successful were you in tennis at UCSD? Did you have a sparkling career?

    F: I don’t think there was much sparkling. I was a little lazy but I did have a lot of fun. I played some singles and played some doubles. The highlight of my tennis career was when the coach of the team borrowed my car and crashed it. I won’t mention who it was but that was a memorable experience on the tennis team.

    G: In the movie, you win a bet that you can serve 135 miles per hour. Can you really?

    F: Actually, 142. I can’t do it too often and if it comes back, I’m screwed.

    G: When you were at UCSD, you played Division III tennis. The Tritons have since been promoted to Division II. Do you think you would have been able to handle the tougher competition?

    F: The good thing is I’m a better tennis player now then I was in college because I’m smarter. But now I don’t have the body. Now physically I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t decide on a one- or two-handed backhand, but I’m a little more committed now. And in sports you need to commit to one stroke. You just have to pick one and make that your own.

    G: You wrote and co-produced “Tennis, Anyone…?,” so you have obviously been involved since the start. Describe the process you took in turning this movie from a script into a film.

    F: I was doing a movie called “The Patriot” with Mel Gibson and I met Donal Logue, who co-wrote [“Tennis, Anyone…?”] with me and stars and directs in the movie. So, we met on “The Patriot” and we both didn’t have big parts. We were there for three months, so we had a lot of time to shoot the shit and have fun and we realized we were both from San Diego and that we both play tennis. So we just started thinking about two guys who would meet on a big movie where they were not doing much. So, we wrote about two friends who meet on a big movie and one of them comes back to Hollywood and becomes a big sitcom star and the other continues teaching tennis. The movie is about me not wanting to teach tennis — it’s about me wanting to be an actor. But it’s really about finding what your true calling is.

    G: How much of the movie is based on truth?

    F: Most of it is pretty autobiographical. I co-wrote “Pauly Shore is Dead” and I was in that with Pauly and that was pretty autobiographical for him. I’ve been in 15 or 20 movies, but this was the first one where I got to star and really shine, because I’m usually the bad guy.

    G: Do you and Donal play tennis often, and how intense are the games you play?

    F: There are some heated battles. We don’t really play sets, but we can bash the ball together. His tennis improved greatly because as we were writing, we would take breaks and go up to his tennis court and play tennis. I think that’s one of the reasons it took so long to make the movie; I think he wanted free tennis lessons. He looks like a champion, but he just needs to play more.

    G: How often do you get to play tennis now? Do you play in celebrity tournaments or private games?

    F: Donal and I did a few tournaments. I try and play a few times a week. I get out and swipe. I don’t teach anymore, but I’ll play with my agent whenever he wants. There are a few big directors that I still play with just so that they remember me.

    G: If you had the choice to start over, would you become a tennis pro or a top Hollywood writer, actor or director?

    F: If I knew then what I know now, I would have trained completely different[ly] and I would have easily been a great tennis player, a professional. At the time, I didn’t have the discipline, or a coach, or the repetition to do the same shot over and over. But I’d much rather be a professional athlete because with acting, you’re still at the mercy of somebody else. At least with sports like tennis, it’s you. You wake up, you grab your racket and you go out and you work your ass off and there’s a good chance that you’ll win. But in acting you can be the greatest actor in the world and you may never get to be in a movie. You are completely at the mercy of someone else, someone’s mood. That’s why acting is the toughest thing in the world.

    G: There was a scene in the movie where Donal’s character tells you to give up acting because you’re horrible. Have you faced that kind of criticism on your way to making it as an actor?

    F: As you get older and you realize you’re not having any success, you have that conversation with yourself daily. I didn’t get good at acting until about five years ago and I had been in the business for 10 years. When my dad died, I had to face some things, and I became a better actor because I became more honest. So, in the last three years, I’ve become very grounded and a better actor.

    G: Is there anything else you want the students of UCSD to know about you or your movie?

    F: It’s just a hilarious movie and I just want people to see it. One of the reasons that I’m opening it in San Diego is because I grew up here. And it is showing at La Jolla Village, which is across the street from UCSD. If you can get the movie to open pretty big, then the word can spread. So I’m just hoping that we can make it a UCSD event and take it from there. And if they don’t like the movie, they can kick my ass.

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