The new series of Lost starts on Showtime this month and Time Out met Naveen Andrews, the angry man of the cast who plays Sayid. Words Matt Pomroy
You’ve been critical of Lost’s storylines in previous seasons, so how’s Sayid doing in season four?
Oh, he’s doing pretty well actually. I’m actually quite pleased, which is saying something, isn’t it? At the end of season three you did sort of get the idea that some characters would actually leave the island at some point. You see them in the future and, I guess, that may be true of a number of characters. One looks for dramatic shifts, especially when you’re on a series, and you want to be able to do things that are new and somewhat exciting compared to the usual grind.
Given that season three ended with flashforwards and an end date, does knowing how long it’s going to last help the actors?
Yeah, for those actors who do get a flashforward it’s somewhat reassuring, because you know you’re going to be about, I guess, for at least another season or maybe more. That happens for a number of other characters as well. You know they’re not on the island, so there’s a big dramatic shift for some of these characters and in some ways they’ve changed completely. You think, “Well what the f*** could have happened to them to make them change, and do a kind of 180 that way?” That’s good. It’s good for the actors, and it should be good for the audience, I hope.
So actually, you already have a good idea of what’s going on this season?
Well, I wish we did. Logic dictates that we would have a good idea, wouldn’t it? But oh, no. You said that if all this had happened to you 10 years ago you would have gone mad.
I was still drinking and using then but now I’ve been sober for five years so it was more to do with that and not to do with Lost really. It’s about the way different individuals react under pressure. David Carradine did Kung Fu and ended up thinking he was f****** Kung Fu. Do you know what I mean? Which is a sad thing to happen to somebody with a good brain and intelligence and a very good actor. So it’s something that most human beings are susceptible to.
Have you ever been concerned about the cast becoming overpopulated and the audience not seeing enough of the original characters?
Oh, of course. I guess it goes with being a member of the original cast. It’s like animals scenting danger. Like when a new bunch of animals come along you’re like, “Who the f*** are you? F** off!”, and you’re protective of your territory. But the ground on which you stand is constantly being rearranged by the writers and you have to accept that. It’s stupid not to.
How does it feel as an Englishman of Indian origin, to be playing an Iraqi? Did you have concerns about how you play the character?
Well, before we started doing it, obviously I was concerned. You want to do right by a whole community of people, not just Arabs, but the entire Muslim world, if possible. And I think the writers were aware of that too. The first season was great because we got this letter from the Arab leagues going this is brilliant, we’re really happy, it’s positive and very flattering. Occasionally you’ll have to remind the writers there’s certain things that would be really stupid to do. I can remember once getting a scene where they had him praying before going to go do somebody in or shoot somebody. And I went, “You know I’m not going to do that.” He’s not a terrorist.
Are those aspects things that attracted you to the character of Sayid in the first place?
I guess if we’re going back to like what was defined in the first season, things weren’t black and white. There were a lot of grey areas -– the fact that one could be violent and yet a romantic, physically capable and yet vulnerable in other areas; it wasn’t one set thing – oh, you’re bad, you’re good and so on. There was a variety and complexity in our roles. And I guess that’s what we try to like hold on to in spite of the ebbs and flows of the way the writing’s going.
Looking back when you first read the script of Lost, did you feel that it something was special and get a sense that it would be a hit all over the world?
No, because you just don’t know. Even if something is well-written, you know it might be critically well received. You don’t know if the public are going to buy it. And personally I just thought this is a ridiculous premise. People on an island? How long is that going to f***ing last without people getting bored? (laughs) Six years f***ing later…
Given such a high premise, is there an increasing risk that the ultimate ending will be something about a letdown?
I don’t think so, now that they have a definite ending in sight. Damon is talented, you’ve got to give it to him. And now that he has sufficient time and is not pressured to come up with 23 or 24 episodes a season, I’m expecting the very best.
How would you like it to end?
You know, without being specific about anything, just I want it to have the same standards as the first season, those high standards and be totally unpredictable.
So how do you maintain the intrigue on a show like Lost?
Well, as they do, by a web of secrecy and deception and by keeping everybody on the cast scared s***less.
Is that perpetual uncertainty a contributing factor to you not moving to Hawaii where the series is filmed?
Well put yourself in my position. Somebody puts you there – even if it’s paradise – for three or four years of your life and that’s not where you live, it’s not where your bed is, it’s not where your children are and your family, eventually you’re going to start wishing you were at home. I remember when we did the first season. The show, it can become all-encompassing; you start thinking that that’s the most important thing in your life. It becomes your life and I don’t think that’s a good thing.
But quite a few of the other cast members are based in Hawaii…
Yeah, and they’ve all gone completely mad (laughs). They actually think they’re on the island the poor f***ers. They believe in The Others.
As you keep flying back and forth, do you ever get on a plane and have other passengers look at you and start to panic?
(Laughs) I always tell them, “God wouldn’t be that cruel, so don’t worry. I’m probably the safest person.” It would just be too ironic: “Actor from Lost goes down in a plane.” It won’t happen. So I always tell them to relax. Then we hit some turbulence, and they’re all looking at me. •
For Time Out magazine – for original PDF click here – Naveen Andrews