December 1, 2008
LOST‘S LETHAL BUT LOVELY LADY
by MARY BETH HEATON
She may be an “Other” on America’s favorite island, but fans still love her. Get to know actress Elizabeth Mitchell as she talks about her career, motherhood, and guilty pleasures.
Actress Elizabeth Mitchell is best known as the enigmatic Juliet Burke on ABC’s drama/thriller LOST, but it is what she’s found that’s generating excitement this afternoon.
“We just found a lost puppy,” says Mitchell, apologizing for the slight delay in starting the interview. No problem: In my book, rescuing a cuddly pup trumps shop talk any day. She deftly fields questions about career and family, all while following the dog as it explores its new, if temporary, digs. “I love puppies, but they really are like babies,” Mitchell adds. Her 3-year-old son, CJ, isn’t so sure about the new arrival, but Mitchell calmly soothes his worries. Seems she’s got the mom role down, too.
Mitchell, her husband and their son are in Hawaii, the family’s part-time home while she films season five of the Emmy Award-winning show. She joined the tight-knit cast in season three when fans were introduced to her as one of the island’s “Others,” making her a potential threat to hunky hero Jack (played by Matthew Fox) and his fellow marooned flight mates.
Followers of the show know that Mitchell’s character is complex, at once cold and cunning and empathetic and vulnerable. “[Juliet] is one of my favorite characters,” Mitchell says, “because she does have this tremendous amount of empathy, which I identify with, but she’s also kind of—I always like to say she’s fairly lethal. I love her mystery.”
In real life, there was never any mystery about Mitchell’s career calling. Growing up in Dallas, she always had a passion for acting, performing with the Dallas Theater Center and landing her first big role at age 7 as Alice in Through the Looking Glass (coincidentally, also the title of Lost’s season three finale).
A Texas upbringing and encouragement from her parents infused in Mitchell a confidence and trueness that’s led to her success on stage and screen. “In Texas, you’re kind of brought up to be strong and be your own person,” she says. “My parents absolutely echoed that. They were big on you being an individual and making your way in the world. They also very much had the Texas mentality of ‘there’s nothing you can’t do.’ I enjoyed growing up with that idea.”
On stage, the self-described “hugely awkward” adolescent (hard to believe looking at the 5-foot-10-inch blonde beauty now) became a swan. “I had terrible acne, but on stage you couldn’t see any of that. I could be the most awkward person you’ve ever seen or I could be a lovely person. With makeup on stage, I could be anyone.”
Playing all sorts of characters gave Mitchell an escape. “All of a sudden I’d get a laugh from the audience or applause for something and it was a completely different world than what I walked around in, bumping into locker doors,” she laughs.
Mitchell devoted herself to her craft, attending a performing arts high school, earning a bachelor of fine arts in acting from Stephens College, and studying at the British American Drama Academy in London. “[In London] I was overwhelmed by the talent and overwhelmed by the mentality there, which is the working actor mentality,” she recalls. “They don’t see themselves as anything but actors. They don’t get a lot of notoriety; they do it because they love it. It’s kind of an old-fashioned approach to acting that I adopted as my own.”
Back stateside, she performed theater in Dallas and later in New York, paying her so-called acting dues. “I was on a soap opera during the day and did a play at night,” she says. “Then I got an understudy part in a show that was touring all across the country.” It was an Edward Albee show, and the revered playwright was touring with the company. Ever the student, Mitchell saw the opportunity as a chance to learn.
Following the tour, she settled in Los Angeles, but a transition to the screen wasn’t quite instantaneous for the accomplished stage actress. “I think I went on three auditions and booked the third. And this was over the course of three months. One audition a month and I thought, ‘At this rate . . .’ ” she trails off.
For Mitchell, the medium presented a welcome challenge. “I enjoyed the whole second layer of it—having to develop a character but also having to hit my mark and know where the light was and know where the camera was.”
Jobs and pilots trickled her way, but her first big break came in the HBO film Gia, based on the life of ’70s fashion model Gia Carangi. Mitchell costarred alongside Angelina Jolie.
From there, doors opened and Mitchell earned roles in films such as Nurse Betty and Frequency and in series such as ER. Of her early career in Hollywood, she says, “Every once in a while something would hit, something would do well. But in the midst of those I never stopped working. I was always doing stuff no one would ever see.”
Many did see Mitchell, however, in her 2002 role opposite Tim Allen in The Santa Clause 2 and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, in which she played Mrs. Clause.
“I loved playing Mrs. Clause,” she says. “I certainly loved the second movie tremendously. It was really my chance to do somewhat of a romantic comedy, and to get to do that with Tim was very exciting. He was funny and talented and worked really hard.”
It was in 2007 that Mitchell debuted on the mysterious Lost island as Juliet, a challenging character she so perfectly portrays that viewers root both for and against her. Should Juliet be trusted? Will she help or harm the crash victims? Is Jack her Romeo? Despite the uncertainties, viewers know for sure that Juliet is a force who cranks up the intrigue.
Mitchell was actually a fan of the show before joining the ensemble cast. “I didn’t know that I would be so drawn in the first episode,” she confesses. “But it was so compelling and the characters so well-drawn. You have the best of all the things I love. You have an incredible, dramatic story but also an adventure. It was a very well thought out, methodical, sometimes terrifying but always exciting adventure. That’s what drew me to it as a fan.”
But she tuned out during the second season when she became pregnant with CJ and wanted to avoid the show’s violence. “Any person that I was before the baby, I was different when I was pregnant,” she says. “I had been this huge risk-taking, adventurous kind of soul, and then I got pregnant.”
Around the same time, however, the show’s writers were thinking of her for the role of Juliet and called her manager to say so. Though the writers thought she’d be perfect for the part, Mitchell warned, “I know you guys think so, but this is a really big show and they are never going to let me on it. Don’t feel bad when it doesn’t happen.” She acknowledges the scenario had played out before: a part written with her in mind but given to someone else.
Fortunately for the show and for Mitchell, things turned out differently this time around. “In this case, the show was already so successful they could kind of take a gamble, I guess, with me,” she says. “I’m admiring their bravery.” Watching her performance, one wonders how there could have ever been any question.
At home, she’s as dedicated a wife and mother as she is a professional on set. Her son CJ goes with her everywhere. She remembers bringing him on set of The Santa Clause 3 when he was only about 6 weeks old and colicky. “I would be up all night with him, then I would work all day, and then every hour, I would come back to the trailer to breastfeed him. All of a sudden, I became tireless and realized there’s nothing I won’t do for him.”
And that includes baking a homemade third-birthday cake—complete with dinosaurs on islands and gummy- worm monsters rising from a blue-sugar ocean—at 5 in the morning after an all-nighter at work.
Mitchell may be on one of television’s most popular shows, but it’s clear by the warmth in her voice as she talks about being a mom that CJ is the star at home. “He’s started talking like a madman,” she says. “He comes up with things I can’t even believe he’s saying. He remembers everything.”
She and Chris are very hands-on parents, but she wouldn’t describe them as overprotective. “I want him to be his own strong person and to figure things out on his own. But as far as emotional support and really listening and trying to figure out who he is, that I really give a lot of care to.”
Will they have more children? She answers earnestly: “We thought we were going to have a lot of them, and then we had the year of colic. I think we’re just kind of the walking wounded when it comes to that.” But then she talks about how much fun CJ is at this age, and it’s evident the notion still has its appeal.
When the family isn’t in Hawaii, they still enjoy island life from a spot in Puget Sound off of Seattle. “We both wanted to be near the water and out of the heat,” says Mitchell, who also wanted to stay within range of Los Angeles for work.
Her description of their Washington home sounds almost Edenlike. “[Chris and I] are both huge lovers of gardens and trees, and I’m an enormous fan of anything that flowers and fruits,” she says. “I’ve got everything you could possibly imagine—plum trees, kiwi trees, cherry trees. I’ve got raspberries and blackberries growing wild and apples everywhere.”
It seems a very authentic and un- Hollywood sort of life, but it suits Mitchell, who most enjoys spending downtime reading, running, and swimming and who names Battlestar Galactica and chocolate as guilty pleasures. (She prefers Chocolove bars, if you’re wondering.)
For the most part, she manages to stay below the industry’s gossip radar. “I’m pretty lucky,” she says. “There’s not a lot that’s written about me that is completely incorrect.” Then, however, she jokes about her supposed first husband and second child—both untruths—mentioned on various websites.
Yes, you likely won’t read stories of Mitchell as an on-set diva or scandal-plagued actress, but her name is a hot topic in certain circles. After Lost’s season finale, when her character was last seen on the island that impossibly disappeared, fans have been wondering what the next season holds for Juliet.
She’ll be back, but beyond that, Mitchell isn’t sharing. She will say: “It’s really good; it’s really crazy. Because [the season] is so different, there’s not even any little innuendo I can share.
“This whole secrecy thing is definitely what makes the show go ’round,” she adds. What’s no secret is we’ll be tuning in early 2009, and we’ll be following Mitchell as her star continues rising. [Sb]
Mitchell’s Favorite Beauty Finds
Ole Henriksen:“His stuff keeps my skin clear, and it’s amazing. He’s got an On the Go Cleanser and a Walnut Complexion Scrub that are out of this world.”
Kérastase Paris Oléo-Relax:“For people with crazy hair who need to have it chill a little bit.”
Laura Mercier French Vanilla Honey Bath:“It smells so good, I can’t keep it in my shower. I know my husband is using it.”
Crest Whitestrips:“I do love the Whitestrips before a big event.”
La Prairie Caviar Collection:“They make a base that I think is the most delicious thing you can put on your face. Especially good if your skin is uneven or breaking out.”
Wet ‘n’ Wild 666 Brandywine Lip Liner:“What makeup artists use on everybody. It’s 99 cents and still the most beautiful color.”
Estée Lauder More Than Mascara:“It just works. It goes on every lash and is so pretty.”
Prescriptives Intensive Rebuilding Moisturizer: “If you’re someone whose skin breaks out but is also really dry, this is the complete bomb. It’s fantastic if you’re 38 years old and still have teenage skin.”
Liz | CJ | Lost | Theatre | Loving | The Santa Clause 3 | xm