PopGurls Interview: Lost’s Javier Grillo-Marxuach

April 22, 2005 No Comments »

“I’m a TV Producer, what do I know about… living?”

It’s damn near impossible not to like Javier Grillo-Marxuach, even if he’s a bit elusive with the Lost spoilers. As Supervising Producer/Writer, he’s privy to the mysteries of the island, including Jack’s ever-so-perfect stubble. But he’s written for a number of series that make my eyes all glossy: my beloved Boomtown, The Pretender, and Jake 2.0. Javier talks about the lessons he’s learned on all those shows (dance numbers in underwater trains = bad; women in hats speaking a foreign language = very, very good), the popularity of sci-fi on television and gives just a smidgen of hints of what’s to come in the Lost finale.

You’ve written on a number of science fiction shows — Do you think that sci-fi is more accessible or popular now than it was years ago?

I don’t think that the level of success of sci-fi is any different now from what it was in the 80s. I think that because of the Internet and fandom, people who like it are able to band together and keep shows on the air longer. I don’t know what the exact numbers are, but probably more people saw Misfits of Science than Angel in its last couple of years, per episode. But because it was on a smaller network with a ratings profile that could sustain a show like Angel, that show stayed on a long time and it was fresh and vibrant. So I think that people have always tried to launch science fiction shows and it’s always to mixed levels of success, and it’s always sort of dictated by what else is popular out there.

I think The X-Files really succeeded in crossing over to the mainstream because it was basically a detective show and the audience only had to make one buy per episode, the buy was like “cancer sucking vampire.” But the first two acts of any X-Files, in the first two seasons, are basically the first two acts of any Law & Order: they go to the small town, they talk to the sheriff, he doesn’t like them, they talk to the witness and they talk to the other witnesses and they go back to the first witness. It was a really easy show to follow that way, and I think that the shows that ultimately cross over into mainstream success are the shows that have that kind of element that is accessible to the audience. Whereas the more hardcore shows like Buffy, Angel, Battlestar Gallactica, Star Trek: The Next Generation really flourish now because they’re on smaller channels without the same broadcasting expectations of their success. And success means something different now, too. Put out a DVD set and 500,000 people buy it and that mitigates whether a show was a hit on TV or not.

The fact that it’s a much more fragmented media world, and there’s so many delivery methods out there really helps some science fiction, but I don’t think there’s more or less people trying to launch science fiction shows because, as much as we want to believe that science fiction is going to be accessible to the mainstream in some way, it takes a very special person to like science fiction. It’s a genre for people who like to think, it’s a genre of ideas, it’s a genre that tends to be very intelligent and have cool flights of fancy. A lot of people are very comfortable living in a very mainstream world where they watch procedural crime dramas — I’m not saying those are stupid, but they’re very accessible in a way that doesn’t require the kind of leap in thought that you have to make to accept a science fiction show. So frankly, cops are always going to be more popular because they don’t have the same barrier to entry as a sci-fi show does. That’s just a fact of life. The great thing is that we can go to the SciFi Channel and they can have a show like Battlestar Gallactica that doesn’t need 50 million viewers to succeed.

That one really seemed to explode.

Oh, it’s fantastic. [Executive Producer] Ron Moore is just a genius and it’s a great show. It’s great television without ifs, ands or buts and of all the sci-fi shows out there right now, that’s the one that deserves to cross over to the mainstream. But again, you have to think about this — we know the show is an allegory for political maneuvering here on earth in the 21st century, but is your grandmother on a Friday night at 8 o’clock going to be able to tune in and watch a show about a spaceship?

Lost definitely has sci-fi elements to it, though they’re snuck in there. When you start watching it, it’s human and personal and something the viewer can relate to. Maybe that’s part of its success over other sci-fi shows where there is so much the viewer has to buy up front.

The mundane being surviving a heinous plane crash on a deserted island (laughs). What Lost has is a situation that everybody has imagined at least once in their life and I think that takes away that barrier to entry, which is, deserted island is a cliché — people ask, what are your deserted island movies? What are your deserted island discs? People think about that all the time, and by articulating that, we have created immediately a concept that is compelling to people. The sci-fi elements are very much in the background and I think we’re a better show for it. If we had our druthers, we might have been much more sci-fi-ish in the beginning, but that’s a place that the network and the studio and a lot of the creative elements of the show really wanted to keep it a little pulled back and make sure that there’s always a rational explanation for everything. I think that’s really helped the show because it’s made us focus on the characters and get you interested in [them] and you know there’s riddles and mysteries and all that, but I don’t think it would mean so much if the characters weren’t people that the audience is interested in.

You wrote Future Tense, a very sci-fi look at a futuristic crime drama. Was it your first attempt at a pilot?

No. I sold a pilot in ’96 called The Van Helsing Chronicles. We shot that for NBC but it didn’t get on the air. And then I did another pilot for The WB, and then Future Tense. That sold to NBC soon thereafter, and I think we shot that in 2002. And it was a real disaster. I actually wrote a bit entry in my blog about producing television pilots. I go through the whole experience of doing the different three pilots and everything that went wrong. I changed all the names to protect the guilty. But one of them is the story of Future Tense.

I hear that one of the most difficult things to do is write a television pilot and go anywhere with it. And it seems like NBC likes you, but likes to toy with you.

(laughs) You know, sometimes it’s a question of the elements [not coming] out right. Most pilots have a very narrow margin of success unfortunately, and the margin of error is huge. You get one wrong casting choice or the wrong director, the wrong producer, and you can crunk something up really badly without trying that hard. And that’s the worst part of it. I think that a lot of the experiences that I’ve had making pilots have just been questions of the wrong auspices or me not being an experienced writer/producer at the time to really be able to have my way and call the shots the way I wanted to. In a lot of ways, my lack of success in development has been due to selling when I was too young and not having the kind of authority that I needed to have to make sure my vision was properly executed.

Still, it’s pretty amazing to be so young and still be able to sell three pilots.

Oh yeah, I’m excited about that! There’s nothing to be not grateful or excited about. It’s all life experience anyway. You wind up learning as much in failure as you do in success. But learning from success is better than learning from failure (laughs).

Do you find it hard to work with such a large group of principals on Lost?

I think it’s hard to service everybody, but because we have that flashback structure we get the chance to give everyone [his or her] moment in the sun. I wrote on The Pretender which was a lot of fun, but Jarrod was in every scene pretty much — and if the scene wasn’t with Jarrod it was about Jarrod and you sat there going, “damn, I wish I could write about somebody else at some point.” Some days it’s exasperating because you’ll have broken a perfectly good story and somebody will come in and go, “Bob’s not in that” and you have to figure out how to stick in Bob — there’s no Bob, by the way. Sometimes you’re really happy because you’ve got 14 characters and you have to cut to something. Woo! Boone and Shannon are on the beach talking about hamburgers.

I have a saying that the hardest show you’ve ever worked on is the one you’re working on right now. No one will ever admit that they’re working on an easy show. Every show has it’s unique challenges — you could be working on America’s Funniest Falling Trousers, and you’re sitting at the editing bay and you’re going, “it’s difficult to make compelling television out of people’s trousers falling off” and then later on you’re sitting there watching an episode, and you’re going, “damn, that was a fine episode of America’s Funniest Falling Trousers.” And it’s the hardest show because you’re in it.

You created a character on The Pretender — who was it?

Angelo. He was great because whenever you ran out of stuff to do, you cut to him doing something crazy for five minutes. “Ooh! Angelo’s shaving his head!” I only worked on The Pretender‘s first season and we had Angelo around and explained what he did in The Center. Eventually you had to pay everything off, but it was nice to have a character so mysterious and weird and creepy. On that show, and later on Charmed, I was kind of the creepy guy.

Creepy guy?

More so on Charmed — I’d be sitting in my office and somebody would knock on the door and say, “we need some really creepy thing” and I’d say, “sides of beef and they’re bleeding milk.” They’d say, “that’s great!” and then they’d leave. I’d sit in my office for another couple of hours and somebody would ask, “what’s a really cool way for somebody to die?” “The monster opens its mouth and a high-pitched sound comes out and the guy’s organs liquefy.” “That’s great!” The thing is — they’d always close the door when they’d leave.

And what do you think happened in your life that has given you such a unique skill?

I have other skills, but it’s my mutant power. I think that I had such a normal life — I have a really nice family. My father was very supportive, so’s my mother. I was your typical chubby kid nerd and I’d sit around and draw things and eventually there are only so many nice things you can draw, you have to start drawing creepy things. You get bored of drawing nice things.

What was the strangest thing about for working for Charmed?

Basically, after working on Charmed for a while I decided that torturing Prue would be my thing. I wrote an episode where [Shannen Doherty] split into three Prues and I wrote one where she became a man. I really wanted to do a fat suit episode, but they wouldn’t let me. I thought there should be a second head episode with Shannen Doherty — sadly, some of my greatest ideas for Charmed never came to fruition, but if you look at the one where she splits into three or the one where she becomes a man, those are things that I really enjoyed doing on that show. It’s not because I have some kind of vendetta against Shannen Doherty, Prue was such a solid, straight-ahead, straight man character that it was kind of fun to torture [her].

It was a surreal show to work on — it’s about magic and witches and all that stuff — invariably you’d be sitting on location in Chinatown and there’d be some guy on a horse with a lance and you’d be like, “how’re you doing?” and the guy’d say, “I’m having a good day, I’m riding around with this lance.”

You also worked on Boomtown — I loved that show so much. I was so passionate about it, and I was so sad when it was over.

I can’t believe they hired me. Let’s see, we’re gonna do a hard-edged cop show, let’s hire a guy who did Charmed.

Did they mock you?

On occasion, I was mocked, yes. On that show I had the most unlikely pedigree — I had been on Charmed, The Chronicle, seaQuest DSV, The Pretender, Three. I kept pitching the tentacle buffalo monkey episode. They just didn’t want to do it, I don’t know why. Ray fights the tentacle buffalo monkey! Who wouldn’t pay to see that?

I think Ray would have had a fantastic time with it. He would have laughed his ass off, then gone into fight it…

He would have kicked its ass! That’s what Ray did — he was a stealth ass-kicker. People didn’t realize just how good he was because he was sort of a big lug of a man.

Which character did you like writing for best on that show?

Tom and Ray were always a lot of fun to write. In fact, in an upcoming issue of my comic book, [The Middleman], I will pay homage to [them] — it’ll be in the second series of four, the teaser will be two museum guards named Ray and Tom yapping on and on about who knows what.

The character that was the hardest to write was Joel because he was so tortured and had so much crap going on. It was one of those things where, there’s this piece in the episode that I wrote called “Monster’s Brawl” where he gives this long heart-wrenching monologue about finding his wife and his kids and all that stuff. It was really hard to get to that. Donnie Wahlberg, [who played Joel,] would call me 11:30 on a Sunday night before it shot and we talked about it a lot.

Joel was a really difficult character to write because he wasn’t a type. With certain characters, you can always go back to the default — like Tom and Ray, you can go back to the default of them being these bantering cops — and Joel really didn’t have that. In a way, I’d say he was my favorite character to write because getting him right was such a challenge. So he was both my favorite and the bane of my existence. It was a really, really tough show to do, but very rewarding.

And of course, there’s McNorris.

Ahhh, I love McNorris.

What’s not to love about him?

While I miss the show, he’s one of those characters that you’re truly sad you’re not going to see anymore. It’s a little heartbreaking. I love that he’s an ass, but he’s not really an ass. On one of the episode commentaries, someone said that the only people who know he’s not an ass are Andrea and the audience. And nobody else really gets that.

Fred Golan wrote one of the best episodes of the series, “Blackout.” He did an incredible job — and I think it’s one of the best hours of TV ever. [David McNorris] is so good in it, and he’s so complicated. But McNorris was an easier kind of complicated to write, because his complications were the constant pull between good and bad and whether to give into your id or not. He was a really fun character to do as well.

What storylines would you have loved to do on Boomtown?

The missing episode of Boomtown — I actually wrote the outline for an episode that told the story of Vista Heights, and that was going to be my episode. The show’s order got cut down, so we ended up not doing it. It was going to tell the story of what happened at Vista Heights, why Ray was tainted as a bad cop and the fact that he was really innocent but the twist of the episode was that he wasn’t completely innocent — that he had actually taken some of the money. It had a great closing sequence — Ray had used the money to buy a boat because he’d always wanted a boat, but he never used [it] because he felt so guilty about how he got it. The last scene of the episode was going to be him pulling the plugs out of the boat and sinking it, having never, ever used it because he couldn’t make peace with the fact that he took this dirty money. It was going to be a really great episode — Boomtown‘s first season was very dark, very heavy — I wasn’t there for the second season and the show changed so much between the first and second season that the show really had no place in what the show became, sadly. But I broke the story, I wrote the outline and it was one of those lost episodes that never got made. Gary Basaraba would have kicked the living shit out of the part, he would have done great.

That was the nice thing about the character of Ray, he wasn’t just the funny fat guy. He had depth and he had real issues and problems, there was stuff going on with him, this would be one of those great episodes — it’s actually sort of the difference between Ray and Hurley in Lost. Hurley really kind of is good-time Hurley, he’s a fun character and a great foil, but it was really difficult to give him an episode with depth and darkness and all that — because it’s really just not part of the character. Whereas, with Ray that was very much at the core of his character — his sense of humor was really to hide a darkness.

What’s one lesson that you learned from writing each show that you have worked on?

seaQuest DSV: When you’re writing a show about an underwater train, try not to have a dance sequence or a massage scene. That’s a really basic one that everybody should know.

The Pretender: I learned how to make characters who are only there for one episode likeable, with some depth. Because on The Pretender, you only met the victims, like, twice. Also, The Pretender was a really great show, I genuinely believe that. It’s a cosmic injustice that it’s not still on. What I really learned from The Pretender is that there are concepts that are just plain bulletproof, and I think that the genius of [creators] Steven Mitchell and Craig Van Sickle is that they created a character that could go anywhere, do anything, and still be really entertaining and that’s priceless.

And it had Miss Parker.

Mmmm. Yeah. I had her speak Russian once, and that was pretty awesome. She was threatening to bust a guy who ran a smoke house, where they made smoked fish. You can never go wrong having a sexy woman speaking a foreign language. I think that J.J. [Abrams] must have known that already because in every episode of Alias, [Jennifer Garner] is wearing a fez and speaking Arabic, or a sombrero and speaking Spanish, or wearing an ushanka hat and speaking Russian. There’s nothing sexier than that.

The Chronicle: A show that I loved, more than anything I’ve done in my life. It was the most fun that I’ve ever had. I worked with [Producer and Writer] Silvio Horta, who was fantastic. That taught me that you could put characters in the most ridiculous situations, and if they’re good characters, people will laugh at the situations and buy the jeopardy. I wrote an episode where they were fighting Elvis impersonator vampires. You should not, by any reasonable standard, be able to take that seriously, and yet the three main characters of that show were fun and really developed — we could have them fighting a man-eating oven or a monster that is attracted to cellphone radiation. We did one where they were fighting sexually transmitted alien assassins. If you look at Buffy and Angel, they didn’t always have the budget to do everything that they needed to do convincingly, but the audience will forgive a lot of those things if you have characters that they care about — you can have all the fun in the world if your characters are consistent and their jeopardy is believable.

Boomtown: It was like story-breaking boot camp. Breaking those non-linear stories was hell on earth, and it was incredibly rewarding.

Lost: I think that I learned to be really humble — when your show’s a big hit, [you have to know that it's not] because you’re so amazing, but because the alchemy comes together. Lost is a rare show where all the episodes turned out really well. That’s 25 hours of TV that [I] can look at and say that everybody came in with their A-game and stepped up and really made the show great.

Jake 2.0: You can’t go wrong casting Lee Majors, that’s a big one. The travesty is that I was writing the series finale the day we got canceled. I’d written the outline, I was about to start writing that same day and America’s Next Top Model was rerun in our timeslot and did twice our ratings, and they just pulled the plug on it that day. We knew there wasn’t going to be a second season, so we wrote a real series finale and it was going to be so cool, and the bad guy, DuMont, dropped a satellite on the roof of Jake’s parents’ house and tried to kill them. It ended with Jake blowing the guy up with a rocket-powered grenade launcher. It would have been fantastic.

If I had to learn a lesson on that show, it wasn’t a creative lesson — just that you have the heartbreak of being canceled before your time and you have to get over it, but it’s sad. Jake was a labor of love for a lot of people. Another thing I learned is that you can never, ever handicap what TWOP is going to love. I was on Boomtown — John Foster Peabody award-winning show, honored by the AFI — I don’t think we ever got higher than a B- from those guys. They were savage! But Jake? They LOVED it. Jake got so much love and they always wrote great recaps and were so nice to us. This little sci-fi show on UPN.

Charmed: You just can’t go wrong torturing your lead actress. A lot of the time, serious leads are glorified and nobody pokes fun of them. When you’ve got a character like Worf on Star Trek: The Next Generation, he wasn’t the most interesting character until they figured out that they could use him as a straight man and poke fun at him all the time. They could have him have [drink] prune juice and it would be funny. You could turn Prue into a man and there’d be laughs galore. Also, there can be unintended consequences to the things you write — like the NC-17 fanfic that my Man-Prue episode inspired. That was deeply disturbing. To this day, I’m scarred. Wow, that was something.

Did you find the fic, or did somebody send it to you?

Somebody sent it to me! And there are things that once seen, cannot be unseen. Which is kind of how I felt when I watched the Shannon and Boone love scene. I was watching it and it was like “Eww! Ohhh.” And then I felt bad because it was just creepy. I did not feel that way about the Man-Prue incest slash, that was “EW!” all the way. Not my thing — I’ve got things, but that ain’t one of them.

On the other hand, I’m a big supporter and admirer of fanfic. I’m glad they did that, if it was their thing and they went for it, and I encourage everybody to write it at all times.

At all times?

Well, not all times. You gotta eat. Seriously, I am a really big fan — I can’t read fanfic for a show that I’m working on at that time, but I’m a big supporter. I read a lot of seaQuest DSV fanfic after the fact — which was such an interesting community because the show had changed so much. By being such a flawed show, it gave people openings to go in and reinvent things on their own. So that was a lot of fun. When you give people a lot of tantalizing openings that they can explore — and a show can do it by being really bad or really good — I think people engage their creativity, and it’s great.

Not everybody is a primetime television writer — and I don’t mean that in a condescending way, it’s a profession — but I think that writing is a great creative outlet, even if you’re not a writer professionally. The thing I like about blogging and about fanfic is that people can use writing to express themselves. It demystifies writing, and tells people that you can write a story about something and it’s fine. And if you’ve got something to express, go ahead and use writing to express it, you don’t have to be a professional writer to do it. And people write amazing stories about things.

Getting back to Jake 2.0 for just a second — do you think there will be a DVD, even without a finale?

I don’t know — there were going to be 19 [episodes] and we only got up to episode 16 and the last three were going to be the epic conclusion. I wish they’d do a DVD, but The Pretender ran for 4 years and they’re only now getting around to doing DVDs for it. If they ever put out Jake 2.0, it will be a while from now, sadly. There’s so much good stuff in that show — Mark Wilding wrote the episode where Jake has sex for the first time, and it was fantastic. I have a license plate from Santa Costa, where Jake had sex for the first time, in my office.

For a second I thought you said that Jake had sex for the first time in your office.

No… (quietly) in my dreams. No, the first time Jake had sex post-nanite was in the republic of Santa Costa, that’s actually my homage to Bruce Geller who wrote the Mission: Impossible TV series. And the first episode [in that series] took place in this Latin American country called Santa Costa. Whenever I have to write something in Latin America, or I’m involved in something, I sneak that in.

Do you think that this particular group of survivors on Lost got really lucky with their own doctor, engineer and golf course designer? They’ve got a bank robber and an expert botanist, an expert tracker-hunter. The average plane probably has a lot of office workers taking a much-needed vacation — how would that affect the show differently?

(laughs) It’s interesting because we have a character, Dr. Artz, who is coming into the last two episodes of the season, played by Daniel Roebuck — he’s a pompous high school teacher and he’s the kind of guy that you would get stuck on an airplane with. He talks about the other survivors and how they feel about Jack and Kate — he’s got a speech that I like to call the “Red Shirts Lament.” It’s all about what it’s like to be in the chorus and not in the merry band of adventurers. We’ve got 48 survivors originally — at the rate we’re killing people, I don’t know what we’re down to — and I think that in the backstory of [one of the guy's] who died, he was an office worker, and the woman who swam out into the sea and died had some sort of mundane job. Personally, if I were stuck on some deserted island, I’d probably prefer to be stuck with a bunch of geeks. Because while we died, we’d talk about comic books and crap like that — it’d just be more fun than to actually put any effort into survival. We’d also talk about what it’d be like if we had a play station, what video formats we like and why laser discs are better than DVDs, and then we’d die, but we’d die happy. But it wouldn’t make for great television, would it?

Not so much, but maybe you’d have a Gilligan’s Island-inspired episode with an engineer that would make a DVD player.

In Season Three, Sayid will make a DVD player out of aloe leaves. I think they should re-enact episodes of other television shows – it would be like the Max Fisher Players.

That would be brilliant.

Definitely Season Three. I think it’d be cool — the Lost Island Players reenact Armageddon. Locke can play Billy Bob Thornton’s part, Sawyer can be Bruce Willis.

Is Charlie going to sing the Aerosmith song, off in the corner?

(laughs) That’s right — he’d probably give it a more Oasis effect, but Charlie would sing the Aerosmith song. Kate would be Liv Tyler.

But where are you going to get the animal crackers?

That would be the fun of it — you could do a whole season of them preparing, and the two-hour finale would be the Lost Island Players doing Armageddon. That’s a great idea — I’m so getting on the phone with Damon [Lindelof], it’s not even funny.

I think it’s definitely the way you need to go for the third season.

It may be way ahead of its time, but I think it’ll find expression somewhere.

If you could give anyone on Lost a secret love of boybands, who would it be?

I think we found out that Locke has a much more extensive record collection than you’d ever imagine. In [the episode] “House of the Rising Sun,” you find out that he actually owns Drive Shaft’s two albums — not just the first one, but the lesser-known second release, Oil Change. (laughs) Locke, possibly, could have a couple of *NSYNC records lying around that he bought because he has to know everything that’s going on. And he might, perhaps, like them — not letting onto the rest of the world.

You don’t think Sawyer and Sayid know all the choreography to “Bye Bye Bye”?

Clearly, Sayid knows all the choreography to all the 98 Degrees [songs]. And that’s something that we both know to be true, which is why I didn’t mention it — it’s not even funny, it’s something that we take as a given. That Sayid, during his days in the Iraqi armed forces, was certainly a closet fan of boybands and was secretly working out, in his head, routines to all those songs.

Speaking of Locke, there has been a lot of fan discussion on what side of the moral fence he falls — is he supposed to be good or evil?

When we [went to] the Paley Festival, [Lost's Executive Producer] Carlton Cuse asked for a show of hands of who thought Locke was good and who thought Locke was evil and it was interesting because almost as many people thought good as thought evil. And I think he’s a polarizing character that way and frankly, I’ll tell you up front, I’m not going to tell you if he’s good or evil. Locke is a character who began — we had a very specific story we wanted to tell with him and Terry [O'Quinn] brought a lot to the character and then we really started falling in love with the character and he’s gotten more and more complicated and more and more… nutty.

Alright, I need to ask: did ANYTHING good EVER happen in Locke’s life?

Here’s the thing: probably. Do you really want to watch an episode with Locke and some puppies in a field of pumpkins frolicking all hour? It doesn’t sound very dramatic.

Not for the whole hour, but I’d really like for him to once have a puppy that was nice to him.

That’s what’s great about Locke, whether he turns out to be good or evil, he’s gonna be somebody who overcame all this crap that life threw at him. I think that’s why people like the character because he’s resourceful; he’s all these things. And what’s happening with him on the island is interesting because the island turned him into the man he always wished he were — some kind of combination of his real father, but better. It will be very interesting to see what the island does to Locke. He’s more about — not so much good or evil — but when a man who’s been repressed his whole life all of a sudden gets freed, and he has taken it in a very strange way. Not that he’s reveling in it, but that he’s positioning something that he thinks is his destiny. At this point Locke is not beyond good and evil, but it’s more of a question of, like any good character, he certainly believes that he’s doing good and the audience will have to wind up ultimately deciding if he’s evil or not.

A lot of fans, myself included, seem to be getting a bit restless with the lack of resolution of any storylines. The addition of more storylines on a weekly basis doesn’t help. While I don’t believe my impatience should ever force a storyteller to speed up their well-planned, albeit slow progress, how important do you think it is to throw your audience a bit of a bone? And, say, finish at least one storyline?

We are rapidly careening towards a season finale, so there will be things that will be explained. The show has taken place over less than five weeks, between the plane crash and now. People got really upset that we spent two episodes not addressing Claire’s kidnapping, but the fact was those episodes were 48 hours, and during those episodes other stuff was going on around the island. Jack and Kate got the crap beat out of them [when they were] looking for Ethan, so it’s not like they were going to go back out the next day. I understand why people got upset with it because there’s a big time lag [between episodes], but when you look at it in the context of the real timing of what’s going on in the series, it wasn’t like they were sitting around for weeks not caring about Claire. It was just 48 or 72 hours passed, and there was nothing that they could do at the time.

There’s a couple of mysteries that are going to clear up and those will open new questions. The season finale has a really amazing cliffhanger.

We’re by no means wrapping up the mystery of the island, but you will get significant hints about what things are, and some things we’re going to close out all together. After the end of the season, you’re not going to wonder what they are anymore.

Can you give us a hint?

In addition to the greater mystery of the island, there are a lot of tiny dangling questions out there. What is the black rock? What does the French Lady do for food? What is the deal with Kate’s little toy DC-3 airplane? Is the monster a carnivore or an herbivore? How does Jack keep his stubble so even? Those and about a million others — we’d be really stingy not to start shedding some light on the many questions we’ve raised, but at the same time it’s our responsibility to build the show to a place where the revelation of those puzzle pieces serves as a dramatic climax.

We’re not going to keep stringing the audience along — but at the same time, 45 days on the island, the castaways are just not going to find everything out.

If I told you what the island was now, you would probably never watch the show again. Not because it would disappoint you, but because you would know. It’s like Dave and Maddie having sex — after they do that, it’s not Moonlighting anymore, it’s some other thing. Once you find out what the island is, it becomes a different show. So those mysteries we keep close to our vest, but for the other character things we try to slowly dollop it out in a way that’s satisfying and the audience doesn’t feel led on.

Lastly, I don’t think I’ve read an interview that doesn’t go over the pronunciation of your name. But I want to know your best or most embarrassing nickname — the one that would be stitched on the back of your baseball jersey.

There’s been so many. I have a name that is bizarre enough that people try to make fun of it but can’t. I find that there are other qualities about me that people mock. I’m a huge nerd — and even within the rather nerdy confines of television writing, I find that I’m often singled out as the King Geek in the writing staff. I can’t even get into the number of reasons why people mock me savagely — but I think it’s because they love me. It’s when they stop teasing that you have to worry. I cling to that as if it were true.

On my jersey, it would probably say El Guapo, like the villain from ¡Three Amigos!. It’s one that’s kind of stuck over the years, it tends to show up on occasion. Although Damon has taken to calling me Khan for some reason, I don’t know why.

As in “Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan?”

Yes, my love of Star Trek is well known. Khan is gaining traction and I’m kind of concerned. It wasn’t good what happened to Khan, I mean, he blew up. However, I’d give anything to have the chest at 35 that [Ricardo] Montalban had at 72.

I went to the premiere of the Star Trek 2 DVD and Montalban was there. And he was in a wheelchair, as he’s had some issues as he’s gotten older, and I was going, “oh, that’s so sad, he’s in a wheelchair” and then they gave him a microphone and he opened his mouth and was like, “Hello! I am Ricardo Montalban” and every one of us was like, “oh god!” Literally, in a wheelchair, this guy could kick anyone’s ass. He is the manliest man alive. They don’t get manlier than Ricardo Montalban. I think he’s manlier than anyone on any show I’ve ever been on.

Manlier than Jake 2.0?

He’s certainly manlier than Jake. He’s the manliest. Good lord — he could kill us all if he wanted to, but he hasn’t and that’s what’s so great about Ricardo Montalban.

I think that should be Montalban’s new tagline: “I can kill you, but I haven’t — and that what’s so great about me.”

(laughs) Yeah, that’s gonna be on my [tombstone]. “I could have killed you all, but I didn’t. And that’s what was great about me.”

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