Velvet-voiced Elizabeth Mitchell is always a pleasure to watch on-screen or onstage owing to her smart role choices. Most people know and love her as Dr. Juliet Burke on “Lost” and as Erica Evans, humanity’s best hope against reptilian invaders, on “V”; but she’s also made an impression as Angelina Jolie’s lover in “Gia” and with supporting roles in “Nurse Betty,” “The Santa Clause 2,” “Running Scared” and “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause.”
In “Answers to Nothing,” an ensemble drama opening this Friday, Mitchell plays a woman desperately trying to have a baby with husband Dane Cook, even though she suspects he is cheating on her. Mitchell chatted with us about her premonition before she got this role, how she felt about Juliet’s death on “Lost,” what would have happened on “V,” and how reaching out and touching Angelina Jolie helped land Mitchell’s first film role in “Gia.”
Kate, your character in “Answers to Nothing,” lies to herself to remain happy. When she accidentally sees a suspicious text message on her husband’s phone from another woman, why doesn’t she say anything?
Kate doesn’t say anything — it’s almost like she knew — but I felt pretty devastated when I read it. She wants the baby more than anything. I think she has a window of time to do everything she wants to do. She’s 40 and she has a small period of time to have this baby. They’re in line to do in utero, which is thousands and thousands of dollars. I think you get to a point in life, which is not healthy, where you just keep saying you’ll deal with it later. They keep getting so separate from each other.
Kate has to convey so many emotions without saying a lot. How did you get into the head space of that character?
I found it remarkably easy, and I don’t know why. I think what she wants so badly is a child. She doesn’t mention parents ever — it’s his mom, it’s his family. I think she’s very much alone and wants something of her own. She’s desperate for her own roots. I found Dane really captivating in his remove in his character because I couldn’t get in there. It was interesting. We were two magnets turned to the wrong sides.
If you knew a woman in Kate’s situation in real life, what would you do?
I’m not big on lying. I don’t like that at all. If I found out that my best friend’s husband was lying to her, I would go to him and say, “Hey, you need to ‘fess up because it’s all going to come out.” I will overlook bad behavior if I know that people’s intentions are good. I have this belief that people really can do good things and that people want to be good.
Dane Cook plays your cheating husband, and people who only know him as a stand-up comic might be surprised at this range here. How familiar were you with his work before you took this role?
I had seen pieces of his stand-up and I thought he was brilliant. My husband lives for comedy, and it’s very fun for me. I thought Dane was genuinely funny in that way that you look at yourself and you really think about it. He was different than I thought, and not Mr. Joke-a-Minute. What is so freaky is that a week before I got the offer for “Answers to Nothing,” I had a dream that Dane and I were working together. Not a lascivious dream, but we were just doing a movie together. That has never happened before or since, but that was a weird thing!
“Answers to Nothing” highlights different parts of Los Angeles that you don’t see in movies as often. Do you have a favorite place in L.A. that is decidedly unglamorous?
We go to Olvera Street [the traditional Mexican marketplace] downtown. I love it because there is a happy and away-from-it-all feeling. I grew up in the hills here and spent 15 years living there, and there is something about being up on Runyon Canyon and just having a view of the city. I run and I’m also down for a walk down Hollywood Boulevard, which I used to do with my 150-pound guard dog when I lived in Los Angeles. I was fascinated by the street life and the whole thing, but it’s gotten more glamorous now.
Can you explain to people how you possibly shot this movie and both “Lost” and “V” all at once? Did you sleep?
I really don’t know! I don’t have any idea what was happening. I’ve been working since I’ve been seven, and work is such a gift and honor that it feels rude to turn things down. I was so grateful to have the opportunities. I was on planes all the time and didn’t sleep. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that people are flying you around — it’s not like you have to scrounge to do it. In this case, I would come straight from the airport, crash, work for an hour, crash and then get back on a plane. It’s amazing what you can do when people are looking out for you.
Juliet was a popular character on “Lost.” How did you feel about your character’s death on the show?
I think of Juliet about all the time. I was really sad when Juliet died and I never felt that way about any other character. It was such a surprise in this case and I felt like she had so much more to do. When I came back and I got to have those scenes with Josh Holloway, with Sawyer, I was happy with that.
There is a campaign called Project Alice that is petitioning for someone to bring back “V” now that it has been cancelled. Would you be game to play Erica again to wrap up the story if asked?
Absolutely I would! They were all great people. I have heard nothing about that. I think it’s great that there is a campaign, but I try not to go on the Internet too much. I don’t mind when people talk about the show, but when it gets personal is when I say, “Oh dear, I wish I hadn’t read that.”
Had “V” not been cancelled on a cliffhanger, do you think Erica would have finally taken Visitor queen Anna down?
That was the plan, yes. The plan was that it was to be set up that humans were so beaten down that you think they have no chance, but they fight back. It’s by the nature of their own humanity that they are actually able to do so. I think that was about to happen because that’s what they pitched to me for the third season. It’s so sad it ended.
Your first movie role was a memorable one as Angelina Jolie’s lover in HBO’s “Gia.” What was your impression of Angelina back then?
She’s a unique and wonderful woman, a superhero. I got the part because I actually reached out and touched her leg in the audition. Angelina wanted me to get the part because she said I was the only woman who came in and touched her. She and I had a unique situation because we trusted each other immediately and we had an amazing chemistry because we work exactly the same way. We just dove into it. I think it was two young kids who were passionate about acting and having a chance to go for it, and we did. I can’t think of a better experience and I love her.