If your job is covering TV and not, say, Somali warlords, you do not expect ever to conduct an interview with someone who is holding a deadly weapon the entire time. But then I talked to Terry O’Quinn, in his trailer on location with Lost, last month. O’Quinn was sent, as a souvenir, an inscribed hunting knife from the SOG company, in honor of John Locke’s having done so much to publicize the virtues of big-ass cutlery. (You really should watch that video.) The entire time we talked, he was tending to the knife—cleaning it, admiring it, tightening screws on the hilt, which ended in a pyramid-shaped point. “You can do all kinds of other damage with that,” he said. “Break glass, break skulls.”
I was exceedingly polite.
I crammed in several sit-downs between scenes with the actors (except Matthew Fox, who I talked to over the phone), so the interviews were necessarily a bit rushed. Here, then, some highlights, starting with the man with the big knife:
[Note: There’s nothing Earth-shatteringly spoilery here–in fact, I deleted some stuff I thought was oversharing. Nonetheless, if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, or want to avoid the possibility of even inferring something from the answers before the finale, you should not be reading this.]
On how he adjusted to becoming a different character halfway through the series:
“In season 5 I was apparently playing a different character but I didn’t know it. I thought I was playing Locke, but he thought he couldn’t be killed. So I made him a little more smarmy, a little more confident, a little more unafraid.”
On the advantages, or disadvantages, of playing a scene in which you know less than your character does:
“You can’t overindulge, you can’t overanticipate. You can’t give away anything because you don’t know what there is to give away.”
On the tragic nature of John Locke, and his death:
“I got an email that said, ‘It was such a disappointment to us to see Locke go that way, to see that he was an insignificant loser.’ My response was, I cling to the idea that he was in fact a significant loser, that his path, his actions were significant in that they made a difference. … It was unfortunate that he wasn’t fulfilled, that he wasn’t able to garner the thing that he wanted most, which was recognition and respect and to be somebody. And a nobody was who he was [when he went to Australia]. He was an unperson. He was tragic.”
Was Locke’s faith misplaced, then?
“I think it was never placed. He desperately wanted to believe in something, and he to this point in his life never found anything that repaid him for believing in it. … [Until he found the Island and the belief] that it could be shared with everyone. He desperately wanted that to happen. He said he was a man of faith, but I also think that he desperately wanted people to have faith in him. So no, I don’t think he was ever satisfied. And that’s what makes him tragic. But a good man.”
On the security measures the producers take:
“I usually scoff at them. We have people with cameraphones on the set all the time, we have fans on set all the time, so I feel—it’s going to get out. But obviously the mystery is very important to the show, so they have to do what they have to do.”
On what she doesn’t yet know about the finale:
“There’s one scene that’s been withheld from me, which is a scene between [you know what, I’m going to make a judgment call and say that what she said here is too spoilery, though she volunteered it. Sorry]. And there is a–a lot of the series that I don’t know because I don’t read the scripts other than my own work. I watch them. So I’m in the dark with the audience.”
Does that help or hinder you as an actress?
“I think it helps me be true to Kate. When Locke comes ‘back to life,’ if I had read the scripts, I would have known that he’s alive and he’s kicking and he’s doing his thing. But Kate doesn’t encounter Locke until long afterward. And when she encountered them, I think I was the only one who realized that this was her first time seeing this dead man alive. And I think it helped—I had to show that she was gobsmacked…
“There are a lot of times when I’ll show up on set and say to the director, ‘Walk me through this. Where has [Kate] been and what is she doing? Because we don’t shoot in chronological order. It can be hard to remember what the chronology is and how much time has passed between events. We have Greg Nations, who’s become famous as the script supervisor who maintains all the details and all the chronology. But sometimes the director will make a decision on the fly. When’s the last time she saw her? Oh, let’s say two hours-ish.”
On the season four finale reveal, and his role in concealing it:
“I was [filmed] in a coffin when they were trying to keep Terry O’Quinn’s secret. They put me in a suit, and they put me in the coffin, and they shot it. I got to tell you, it pissed me off. Because even if you know you’re not dead, you feel like you’re dead for a minute.”
On the comedy in Sawyer’s dialogue, and how it plays off the show’s drama:
“[Before Lost] I played some large, animated-type characters. They let me play with that a lot with Sawyer, which I liked. It was part of trying to find his humanity as well, because he was [in the early episodes] such a dick. He could be such a dick! He was that salty asshole that just told it like it was. Which was fun for a while, but you’ve got to find some likability in the guy if he’s going to continue on. The nicknames helped. They gave me some great ones…
“But to make it live you also have to come to terms with who he really is. And he did some bad shit to people… The Island forced him to grow and he learned to care about people in ways that were completely foreign to his way of survival.”