JULY 2009 (Comic Con)
Elizabeth Mitchell on Lost’s Juliet: ‘She Had Found This Kind of Peace that I Fought Very Hard Against’
There’s this thing about women named Juliet: They’re famous for meeting tragic ends. Elizabeth Mitchell’s character on Lost was no different — after finding unlikely love with Sawyer (Josh Holloway), she sacrificed herself to set off a crucial bomb — but luckily, Mitchell’s career has new life after that death. In addition to a mysterious number of additional episodes she’ll shoot for Lost’s final season, she’ll be seen later this year toplining ABC’s reboot of the alien miniseries V.
At Comic-Con, I talked to the actress about Juliet’s journey, the tumultuous period after she learned of her Lost fate (then had it somewhat revoked), and the alien-hunting yet to come.
Congratulations on the smooth transition between Lost and V.
I know! Who would have thought?
How did it go down? When you were told you’d be coming to an end as a regular on Lost, were you immediately offered V by ABC?
Basically, the two things happened within days of each other, which I was very surprised by. And, of course, the decisions were left to people more powerful than me. [Laughs]
But surely you had some input.
Well, V was actually a very personal choice on my account. It was somewhat brought to me, but it was along the lines of, “Oh, and then there’s this.” But I’ve always loved the idea of playing a female protagonist on a sci-fi show. I just like it — that’s the kind of thing I watch. [Gesturing to her husband, seated nearby] Like, we’re huge Battlestar Galactica fans. I think sci-fi is sexy, I think it’s fun. I love watching procedural shows, but I’m not as fascinated by them — not really at all. Being in them and acting in them is not really my thing, so I realized that if I was gonna do [a TV show] again for a long time, I would want it to be fun and incredibly challenging for me, something I’d have to stretch to reach.
So what’s the stretch for you in V?
First of all, the thing that was really fun about Juliet is how still she was, and how she watched everybody. For three years now, I’ve been in her mindset, which is a really unique and bizarre and kind of wonderful place to be and I’ve loved every minute of it. The character I play now [on V] — which I’ll be doing at the same time as Juliet [in future Lost episodes], which is going to be really interesting — is incredibly intelligent but vulnerable at the same time. Her anger and her emotions are far more forthright than mine or even Juliet’s are. There’s an honesty to the way she does things that’s fascinating.
And I think the idea of my character having a son who’s sixteen is gonna be…I mean, I have a son who’s four, and already, I can’t believe the words that come out of my mouth. There’s a thing about motherhood that I have never had a chance to play, which is weird at 39, right? You would think that I’d have played so many mothers by now. [Her husband interrupts: “You don’t look 39.”] Ah, that’s nice. [“Getting there, though,” he adds, as she laughs.]
Are you happy that you have a role where you can wear different clothes, as opposed to Lost, where you’d wear the same thing for multiple episodes?
I think my mom is happiest about the makeup. She’s like, “You get to wear makeup, you can finally look pretty!”
That can be kind of jarring — it’s like when people from Survivor appear on the reunion show, and you’re like, “Why did you put on all that makeup?”
I always feel that way! What I always enjoyed about Lost is that we’re there with almost no makeup on our face, we’re emotionally naked, we’re sweating, we’re hot, and we’re generally pretty disgusting, and the camera catches it. There’s a certain beauty to seeing people the way they are.
Even before this last season of Lost, you talked about how you thought Juliet would probably have a tragic ending.
Yeah, I always figured that she would. I actually had thought that she would end up doing something terrible, but then as it went on, I kind of thought she would end up doing something incredibly noble, which is what she did by sacrificing herself. The character was insanely complex and insanely fun. As she started going more in one direction, I thought, “Well, obviously this is going to come to its natural conclusion.”
Do you mean she finally became happy, and that never lasts long in Lost?
Yeah! Happy and not as complex, do you know what I mean? She and Sawyer had found this kind of peace that I fought very hard against and Josh fought very hard against, and we were so wrong, which is really nice. When I watched it, I liked it, and I don’t usually like anything I do.
Why didn’t you think it would work?
Well, I had always liked Sawyer with Kate! I mean, not to be a fangirl — which I am — but I just really actually liked them together. I liked their chemistry, their passion. What I didn’t anticipate is how Josh would play it and how he made it so honest and so happy and so real. When I was watching him, I was like, “That’s why that relationship works.”
Were you worried about incurring the wrath of your fellow fangirls?
I mean, I came on the show incurring that. I immediately hooked up with Jack and they were like, “Uhhh, no!” [Laughs] So I wasn’t as worried about that — I think as an actor, if you’re worried too much about people liking you, then you don’t really get to play the character so much. It’s not that it’s not great when people do like you or love the character or any of those things — it’s the most amazing thing ever to have that — but if I went into it thinking something like that, I don’t think I could have done it.
This year, though, the fan approval for your character and her relationship with Sawyer seemed to shoot through the roof.
Yeah, it was surprising.
Do you think it’s partially because audiences started trusting Juliet? During your first two seasons, it never seemed like she laid all her cards on the table, but this year, she felt complete.
We finally felt like we kind of knew everything [about her]. Every time something would come up before, she always had a wealth of new information and you kind of got the feeling that she shared it when she needed to.
On a show like Lost, was it a nice thing to think, “Oh, I think I finally know everything important there is to know about my character?”
I think I didn’t, because I have this crazy active and oddly weird little mind that tries to find all the wiggle room in places, so I think that I was still going through all the ways that things could be more complicated than it was. And when it turned out to be very simple, I was very happy. I was happy watching it more than I was playing it.
It’s funny that you began your tenure on the show sharing scenes almost exclusively with Matthew Fox and Michael Emerson, and you finished by sharing them almost solely with Josh Holloway.
I was very, very sad — and I hope that it’s rectified — that I didn’t have a final scene with Michael Emerson. I thought that built to a crescendo that then just died. There was a reason for that, but as an actor, that was hard for me because I just loved him so much. The same thing happened with Jack and Juliet — they got to a certain point and then they disappeared. But I love the fact that [the writers] do their thing and kind of just write whatever they want. It’s great.
Obviously, when you started shooting V before the season finale of Lost aired, speculation began that Juliet would be killed off — so much so that you were being officially billed as a “special guest star” in V, even though ABC has now confirmed you play the lead. Were there machinations involved to try to keep all that secret?
There were some machinations, but the thing that’s so fantastic about Lost is that they tend to keep things mysterious. I mean, I literally don’t know what’s going to happen and no one else does, and that’s what’s fun about it. As an actor, they asked us to sign all this confidentiality stuff and I don’t think we ever did, so it really comes down to the moral question of, “Who are you loyal to?” And where I’m finally loyal to always is the work. It’s more fun for me when people don’t know what’s going to happen.
I mean, the thing about Lost is that you may say, “Well, Elizabeth’s on V now, so we’ll never see her on Lost again,” but that’s probably not the case. As it is, it’s a complete surprise, and anything that happens further on in the series is a complete surprise, and I wanted that to be the case. When Lost is over and V is over, then we’ll have to have a big chatfest and talk about everything and that’ll be great, but for now, I was very happy that no one was saying anything one way or the other. One thing happened with Lost, and then another thing happened with V, and then something [else] happened with Lost…
You mean, they came back to negotiate for additional episodes after you booked V?
It’s been a rollercoaster, yes.
So originally, you didn’t know you’d be coming back to Lost?
I didn’t know what was going to happen. They also said that they didn’t know either, at the time. It happened in three weeks, it was just crazy…When V came up and everything happened that happened, it was at the very, very end [of the season]. No warning, kinda. [Laughs]
When you do your additional episodes next year, you won’t be a regular anymore, which means that these scripts will sort of exist in a context-less vacuum for you. Are you afraid that you won’t have any idea where your scenes fit into Lost lore when you film them?
No, I trust those guys. I trust those guys to write beautifully. The way they write those characters and scenes and emotions, it’s very wise to trust in their words.