Lost But Not Forgotten
Elizabeth Mitchell shares her thoughts on Lost, V, and kissing Josh Holloway
Lo, behold the power of pop culture.
Picture me, sitting on my couch in my living room in Edmonton chatting on the phone with a complete stranger (no, it doesn’t matter what either of us is wearing — fill that in for yourselves). My phone mate is sitting on her couch, in her living room on Bainbridge Island, Washington, and we’re chatting about our mutual friend, Juliet.
We both have plenty to say on the subject. “See, I’ve always thought of Juliet as a victim of circumstance,” I say. “She’s in an impossible situation, and she’s just trying to make the best of things.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” says my cohort on the phone. “I can’t understand how anyone could think of her as the bad guy in all of this. Sure, she may have colluded with the enemy at one point, but how could you blame her? She was just trying to deal with a terrible circumstance in the best way she knew how.”
Yes, so what if we’re talking about Juliet Burke, a character on Lost, the television phenom that is ending this Sunday. And that I’m chatting with the actress who created her, Elizabeth Mitchell. It’s the power of television that has brought us together, and pop culture that has us talking intimately of shared connections.
Elizabeth Mitchell is no stranger to participating in the world of pop culture. Although she, herself, may not yet be a household name, her small-screen characters have graced the living rooms of the world for more than fifteen years. She first rose to prominence starring as Angelina Jolie’s lover in Gia, the HBO movie about supermodel Gia Carangi. “That was fairly terrifying,” Mitchell says. “I had never done nudity before, and I’m a normal woman in that I’ve never felt super great about my body. But I did it because it scared me. That’s been one of the guiding principles of my career. If I keep doing things that scare me, I’ll never lose interest. So, I did it, and you know what? It was actually ok.”
Next came roles in big screen adventures like Frequency and Nurse Betty, but television beckoned, and Mitchell found herself joining the cast of ER as Dr. Legaspi (oddly enough, in another lesbian role). Guest appearances on more blockbuster series like House, JAG, Spin City, Law And Order: SVU and CSI proved her marketability, and when the producers of Lost came calling, Mitchell was ready.
Except that she really wasn’t. “I had just had a baby,” she says. “And I was dealing with motherhood for the first time, so I was rather preoccupied. And they had been talking to me for months, saying that they were writing a character with me in mind. Which was flattering, but frankly, people had said that to me before, and nothing had come of it, so I really didn’t get my hopes up.”
But then she received a script. “As soon as I heard about Juliet, I knew I wanted to play her,” she says. “She’s so complicated, and she’s always dealing with such high stakes. And it scared me because it was part of such a huge series. So, I knew I had to do it.”
The interview process was grueling.
“It took five interviews and auditions. Totally stressful, because the more I found out about the character and what they had planned for her, the more I really wanted to do it. But finally, by the end of the fifth interview, they told me I had it. They told me right there and then, so I didn’t have to wait any more. That was a great day.”
But it meant commuting to Hawaii with a baby. Not to mention that her wee one was terrified by her character. “Any time I would come near C.J. (her son with fellow actor/husband Chris Soldevilla) in my Juliet makeup, he would cry,” she says. “So I didn’t bring him to set with me all that often. But Hawaii was good for him. He’s a big four-and-a-half-year-old boy now, and he’s a giant. All that water and sunshine made him grow huge.”
Just like the show. “The show was already hugely successful when I joined the cast in Season 3,” Mitchell says. “I did feel a lot of pressure going in, and at first people hated Juliet. I’d read online about what a terrible villain she was, which was oddly hurtful, as I didn’t see her that way at all, and I thought maybe I was doing something wrong. But then I stopped reading what people were saying, and focused on fleshing her out the best I could. And I was so lucky, she was always beautifully written, so I had lots to work with.”
And as for her cast(away) mates, Mitchell cannot say enough good things. “Even though this show was this big Hollywood machine, it was the people who really made it an amazing experience. The cast had really gelled by the time I arrived, but everyone, without exception, is a truly beautiful human being, and everyone made me feel welcome. And the crew, too. We were like a family.”
And since Mitchell brought up truly beautiful human beings, she was happy to indulge me in some girl talk. “Yes, kissing Josh Holloway [Sawyer] was great. He has great lips. I even told his wife that. I even said to my husband, ‘You know, Josh has great lips.’ And fortunately for me, my husband is a very secure man, because he was like, ‘Yes, dear. How nice for you.’”
And, ladies, Mitchell says Josh Holloway is as great a guy as we all want him to be. “Josh is charming and gracious and chivalrous, the perfect gentleman,” she says of her hunky co-star.
But now Lost is coming to an end. The show has been heralded by fans and critics alike as one of the biggest shows of our generation, the millennials’ answer to *MASH*, and Mitchell promises the ending will be a smash. “Without giving anything away,” she says, “I think people will be happy with the answers they get, but they’ll still want to see more.” As for her own character, never fear, Juliet does come back, despite the fact she died at the beginning of the present season. “I knew they were bringing her back, but I purposely didn’t watch any of the episodes that she wasn’t in, in the meantime, as I wanted her to come back without any knowledge of what had happened without her. Especially what had happened to James [Sawyer]. I didn’t want to get jealous, after all.”
So with Lost in the can, Mitchell has since moved on to another television series, V, that shoots in Vancouver.
“So much closer to home,” she says, relief evident in her voice. “My husband was like, ‘couldn’t you take one for the team?’ so shooting in Vancouver was definitely part of the draw. And I love playing Erica [FBI agent Erica Evans]. Her brain is so messy, it’s a great challenge. And being a central character in a series [which is scary, which is, guess what, why she took it on] is a great challenge too, because I get more control in setting the tone of the show. And it’s a great popcorn show. I’m really proud of how it’s coming together.”
So Mitchell may not be lost without Lost, but we may well be.
I ask her one more desert island-related question: “What role would you play if you actually were stranded on a desert island, à la Lost?”
She laughs for a moment, and pauses before she speaks. “I like to think that I would be a calming influence. People tell me that’s one of my skills. And I could gather. I’m strong, and I’m a good gatherer.”
“So you wouldn’t be eaten by the smoke monster at the end of the first act?” I ask.
“I’d do my best not to,” she says. “I think I’d stay alive.”