Q & A with Elizabeth Mitchell
By Darin Burt April 1, 2009
Call it a case of Lost and found. As Dr. Juliet Burke on the ABC hit television series Lost, Elizabeth Mitchell is a bit of a tease, turning heads with her Others-next-door beauty, while at the same time keeping viewers guessing about her next cunning move. On the mysterious island things aren’t always black and white. Rest assured though that back home, in real life, Mitchell is charming, natural and even a little goofy. She’s the type of person who seems like she would be great to have as your neighbor. And if you live in Washington, she just might be. When not filming on location in Hawaii, Mitchell, originally from Texas, welcomely settles into home life with her husband Chris Soldevilla, an acting teacher and i
mprov comedian, and son C.J. in the Puget Sound – it’s a bit ironic, actually; she works on an island, stars on a show about an island and makes her home on an island. It’s fair to say that Elizabeth Mitchell is Washington’s very own island girl.
What originally brought you to Washington?
I work a lot in Vancouver, BC doing different movies and TV shows and I love the Pacific Northwest. My husband Chris and I were trying to figure out where we wanted to live because we didn’t want to live in Los Angeles and didn’t want to go all the way to the East Coast. We were going to visit Chris’s father in Montana and we looked out of the plane window and saw Puget Sound and Seattle and Chris goes, “What is that!? This place is beautiful!” We fell in love with it from the air and about six months later we ended up buying a house here.
How much time do you get to spend in Washington each year?
Of course, Christmas and Thanksgiving and the whole summer, it’s the most beautiful place to spend the summer.
What do you like to do when you’re at home?
We have wild blackberries all around our house and a little later in the summer we’ll pick apples. We love to go down to the beach, where my three-year old son and I throw rocks, and I love to go on epic walks because I love how beautiful it is here and how clean the air is.
Do you have a favorite Washington destination that you’ve visited?
Salish Lodge is the very first place that my husband and I spent our first couple’s night away from our son. That’s a place that makes me very happy.
Do people recognize you on the streets around town?
It’s the Pacific Northwest, so you’re running a close second to whatever book somebody just read or whatever music they’re listening to, so I certainly don’t feel like I’m being called attention to in an outlandish way. People are very kind and they’re very interesting as to their views about the show.
Do fans treat you like a local or do they ask tons of questions about the show?
Both. If they don’t know that I live here, their first reaction is, “You look so much like that girl on Lost.” I generally look like the mom of a three-year old; I don’t wear a lot of make-up and I’m usually pretty tired so I look a lot like I do on the show. The fact that people wouldn’t be quite sure it’s me is kind of an oddity.
Especially after this past winter, there are lots of people in Washington wishing they were in Hawaii. Do you ever get homesick for the Pacific Northwest when you’re working in Hawaii?
I do, especially in August and September when it’s very, very hot in Hawaii, to such a degree that when the trade winds aren’t blowing it’s very hard to move around. I leave Washington in mid-August, which is such a beautiful time of year and everything is in bloom and all the fruits and vegetables are out; it’s very difficult. But during this past winter when we didn’t have power for five days and were cooking off our woodstove and couldn’t go anywhere because the roads were all closed, we still enjoyed it, but it would have been nice to be warm.
Sounds like you live in a pretty rustic setting.
We live in an old Victorian house and it just never had central heating. We do have electricity, but the house it heated by a woodstove which works great, you just have to keep it going.
Are you a good cook in real life?
I think I can cook what Juliet cooks. She likes to bake, and of course I think she enjoys that whole life; she likes to be at home and cook and read, but then she gets caught in all these situations where she’s firing guns and killing people.
What else do you have in common with your character on Lost?
Something I always wanted Juliet to have is a certain amount of empathy for other people, which she does to a point. I share that quality in that I tend to try and figure out what people are thinking before I out and out condemn it. We’re both fairly calm people; when people are screaming and things are going horribly wrong, I’m usually the one quietly trying to figure out how to fix it. I’m not a big drama queen unless you make me really, really mad and then you better look out!
Does being a mom affect how you play your character?
Being a mom gave me an insight into her that was kind of nice. It also helped with the nerves because my son didn’t sleep for the first two years. I remember going to work on Lost, and because I was so exhausted and I was nursing, that I was like, “Okay, let’s do it,” there wasn’t time to worry about how to do things. I had a very clear idea of how I wanted to play the character and I had a lot of freedom as an actress.
Juliet has a nurturing side on Lost, but she can also be very direct, even calculating. Isn’t that a little like being a parent?
The great thing about being an actress is that if you give somebody a hard look and tell them to go away is that they do it. My son would never do that. I think part of how we perceive characters is by how characters around them react; I’m very lucky that the people around me have chosen to let me have some power.
Do you get a lot of direction when it comes to the motivation of your character or do you have to wait with the viewers to get the bigger picture of what’s happening on the island?
I play Juliet as honestly as I can. If something doesn’t flow out of me easily and doesn’t feel real I’ll ask (the writers and producers) to explain it to me. They’ve never told me the whole story, but they’ve given me tremendous insight when I’ve needed it.
What do you know about Juliet’s past that nobody else does?
I don’t know anything that nobody else does. Yes, Juliet has secrets, but those are definitely secret.
How about her future?
I have no idea who I’m going to end up with or if I’m going to die or get off the island. It would be so cool (she starts laughing) if we have all this build up and then Juliet just all of a sudden walks off into the woods and nobody ever talks about her again.
The secret is out about the Dharma Initiative experimenting with time travel. If you could really go back in time where would it be?
I’d probably go back to Greece. I’ve always found that the philosophies from a very short period time in Greece are very interesting. Maybe this is just because I’m a little kid at heart, but it would be very cool to see a dinosaur . . . not that I’d want to get stomped on by one, but there’s something about our ancient history that is very enticing to me.
Do you have a memorable Lost moment you can share?
I did have a really wonderful time with Evangeline Lilly (who plays Kate) when we were handcuffed and running through the jungle and sliding in the mud (episode 3×15, Left Behind, for you Lost fanatics). It was ridiculous and fun and there was lots of laughing. This season I was gathered around with the cast in the most insanely beautiful place and Terry (Terry O’Quinn who plays John Locke) and Josh (Josh Holloway who plays Sawyer) were playing the guitar and we were all singing and I thought at the time that it was one of the highlights of my life.