Millions of Lost junkies around the world may not know it, but growing up in Texas had a lot to do with shaping the character of the inscrutable but lovely Juliet, who figures to play a pivotal role in the season that begins at 8 p.m. Thursday on ABC.
“Texas women are insanely strong,” says the actress who plays her.
Elizabeth Mitchell grew up in Highland Park and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts years before landing the part of a lifetime on Lost.
“On the outside,” she says, “Texas women are incredibly gracious. But you don’t want to be iced by a Texas woman.”
She pauses, and with a little-girl laugh you’d never hear from Juliet, says, “I’ve drawn on that quite a bit, actually.” On the surface, Juliet “can be so soft, but I don’t think you want to cross her.”
Can she be as inscrutable as Juliet?
“I don’t have that violence running underneath,” she says with a laugh. “When I’m crossed, I’m sure there are similarities … though not necessarily gun-wielding similarities. She has a stillness that I love, that I don’t show too often.”
Ms. Mitchell, 37, is the oldest of three daughters, whose parents are real estate and tax attorneys. Joe and Josephine Mitchell live in the same house where their now-famous child grew up. Ms. Mitchell has been acting for 30 years, having made her debut as a 7-year-old at the Dallas Theater Center.
In 1998, she appeared in the HBO movie Gia alongside Angelina Jolie, which people still ask about when they stop her on the street. In 2000, she appeared with Dennis Quaid and James Caviezel in Frequency. And, having appeared in ER from 2000 to 2001, she continues to get stares over that one: “Say, weren’t you the woman on ER who … ?”
But being an icy blonde who swings from hero to villain and back again on the megahit Lost has generated far more media attention and hellos from strangers than she ever thought possible.
“It’s really nice. It’s sweet,” she says. “You know, I’m a real tall, big woman, so I never feel particularly nervous about things. It’s easy to spot me and easy to see me, and people are very kind. They’re very polite in Texas and polite here in Seattle and Hawaii as well.”
Lost is filmed in Hawaii, where Ms. Mitchell and her family – husband and their 2-year-old son, C.J. – had been encamped until early November, when the Writers Guild of America went on strike, causing Lost to live up to its name.
Cast and crew completed eight episodes, or half of what was meant to be a 16-episode season, whose future is now in limbo. As soon as writers began to picket, the Mitchells retreated to their Seattle home, hoping in vain for an early settlement.
They escaped to Dallas for the holidays and love coming back, because it’s so endearingly different from Seattle and Hawaii.
“I miss the big Texas sky,” she says.
She grew up, in her words, “a dorky, nerdy kid” who attributes her success to her “honest lawyer” parents. Texas helped hone a relentless work ethic, for which her parents were the ultimate models.
“They have an insane work ethic and an insane strength,” she says, “which I believe is very much a Texas thing.”
For her, growing up in Highland Park was not unlike being an athlete who devotes every sweat-stained second “to striving and doing your best – for the love of the game. I definitely got that from Texas. For me, it was almost a football mentality.”
Her mother remembers a girl who “has always acted. At home, she would always put on shows with her friends in the neighborhood. It’s the one thing she loved, the one thing she wanted to do.”
During Elizabeth’s days as a grade-school girl working at the Dallas Theater Center, she called her mom at work one day to say hi. “She said, ‘Mom, Mom, I’ve been cast in a show!’ ” Josephine Mitchell recalls. “And I said, ‘That’s wonderful! Which show?’ And she said, ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass.’
“And I thought, oh, that’s great, she’s going to play a little bunny or somebody like that. And I said, ‘Oh, what are you playing, honey?’ And she said, ‘Alice.’ ”
As for her current storm of success, her mother says, “I’m very glad that she still remains the wonderful person that she is.” As for her playing a villain, Mom adds, “Her dad loves it, because it’s so opposite of who she is.”
Her parents worked “really, really long hours and still managed to create this great home life,” the actress says. “My father was a coach for our sports teams, and they never missed a performance. They’re those kinds of parents. They never even went on their own vacations.”
The good parenting extended to having them send her to Booker T., which she calls “maybe the best experience I’ve ever had. It’s one incredible school. There was an art wing, and the guy sitting next to me in class was the most talented painter you could possibly imagine. And then you have people playing cello in the hallway. It was more helpful than I ever could have imagined.”
She earned a fine arts degree at Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., and moved on to the British American Drama Academy in London, which focused her career even more.
Its current limbo notwithstanding, Lost looms as a personal peak, which she calls “terribly exciting. Last year was one of the more thrilling, exciting years of my life. Because here was this show I really, really like and here was this character that I’m completely captivated by. And it just keeps getting better and better. Every episode of the show gets richer.”
She revels in being part of a show with closely guarded secrets.
“With a play,” she says, “you have a beginning, middle and end. You know what’s going to happen, and you craft your character accordingly. Lost, like life itself, is completely open-ended.”
So, with just the right touch of inscrutability, she says, “I don’t know how my life is going to end. And Juliet has no idea how hers is going to end either.”
Liz | CJ | Father | Mother | Lost | x