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natural treasure Story: Samantha Adams Photography: Mark Arbeit Wardrobe courtesy of neiman marcus Stylist: Blaine Ashley If you’re not among the millions of viewers tuning in to watch Elizabeth Mitchell on ABC’s “Lost,” then you may as well be stranded on a desert island. Fierce, relentless, and complicated, Mitchell’s character, Juliet Burke, has women applauding their TV sets and men shaking their heads. But for Mitchell herself, the greatest glory derives from her personal reaction to the role. The free-spirited, Texas-bred actress forgoes the weekly fanfare to wax philosophical with Brilliant on fame, family, and the forces of “Lost.” 72 winter 2009 www.brilliantmagazine.com photo by mark arbeit photo by mark arbeit e Elizabeth Mitchell has just flown from Los Angeles, where she ruled the red carpet at the Emmy Awards, to Hawaii, practically walking off the plane and onto the “Lost” set. The hectic nature of her schedule leaves this writer antici- pating a more jetlag-induced languid tone from the actress. Instead, she greets me with an invigo- rated voice characteristic of a spa regular or at least, a person who has managed a miraculous nine hours of sleep. “You’ll never guess what I’ve been doing today,” Mitchell announces, setting the suspense. “I spent the whole morning with my little boy and we made pancakes and went to the aquarium.” Now that’s a balancing act. Tall, lean, and fair-haired with soft gray-blue eyes, Mitchell appears more of an angelic pres- ence than an oversexed blonde bombshell. Her lack of vanity and pretension makes her that much more appealing. While many silver and small screen queens grow so accustomed to read- ing from scripts that it spills over to their normal lives, Mitchell seems natural and unaffected by the business. “I think Hollywood is a lot like high school,” she confesses. “But, a lot of times actors are outcasts in their own lives, so when you get a bunch of us together, we’re nice to each other, especially when people are secure in their suc- cess and talents.” Indeed, Mitchell has fashioned a career brim- ming with accomplishments. Hit roles in films such as Frequency and The Santa Clause made her “It’s all about the roles for me, not the audience,” she professes. “That may make me an oddity in the business. I really like playing complicated women—they’re the most enticing to me. It doesn’t matter what they do or what others’ per- ceptions of them are, I have to go for the ones who look difficult. [My husband] jokes that if there were an unbalanced woman in the room at a party, I’d run to her.” While her deep fascina- tion with troubled characters may spell real life drama, her actual enthusiastic pancake-making, aquarium-going family persona indicates that opposites often do attract. Mitchell’s familial instincts developed while growing up in a close-knit household. Though born in Los Angeles, Mitchell was raised in the tony Highland Park area of Dallas where her parents’ law firm was based. Involved in theater programs, including those at the Dallas Theater Center, she shined in various plays. After gradu- ating Stephens College with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, she worked for the center for six years be- fore pursuing a career in TV and film. Because her parents still reside in Highland Park, Mitch- ell happily makes a point of visiting a few times a year. Her undying love of Tex-Mex cuisine is just an added bonus. “I loved growing up a Texan,” she enthuses. “My father’s belief is that if you’re born in Texas, you’re probably pretty friendly with nice values, a nice work ethic, and a nice way of treating people. If I walk into a grocery store, “I really like playing complicated women they’re the most enticing to me. It doesn’t matter what they do or what a familiar, likable face, while her edgy TV per- formances have caused audiences to cringe and it’s nice to have that initial smile from people.” Thousands of miles from Texas on “Lost,” others’ cheer simultaneously. She chooses roles that com- pel you to cover your eyes—yet, like when watch- Mitchell seamlessly sheds the proud daughter/ wife/mother image for a darker, more uncertain perceptions ing a train wreck, you can’t help peeking out at identity. Now in the fifth season, more light may her from between your fingers. In the 1998 HBO TV movie “Gia,” she played Linda, the lesbian be shed on her character’s (Dr. Juliet Burke) mo- of them are, tives, but will likely raise even more questions in lover of the title character, portayed by Angelina Jolie. Both were virtually unknown actresses at the process. Last season Juliet had viewers guess- ing whether she was a wolf in sheep’s clothing or I have to go the time. The gritty award-winning drama about fashion models, drug abuse, and sexual experi- vice-versa. An adversary turned romantic inter- est for Jack, played by Matthew Fox, Juliet and for the ones mentation established both leading ladies as seri- her erratic, often violent behavior sent shock- ous, diverse talents. “Everybody told me not to do ‘Gia,’” Mitchell reveals. “But, I had so much fun waves through the island. Once again, Mitchell’s cheerful personality contrasts starkly with the who look meeting Angelina. I love the idea of finding love where you don’t expect it. That was the fun for role. “I can’t relate to the complete betrayal from Juliet because I don’t think women do that,” she difficult.” me. It was like jumping off a cliff.” says referring to her character’s backstabbing of From jumping off cliffs to being mysteriously sequestered on a tropical island, and every ad- another female on the show. “I’ve killed people, I’ve knocked them out, but that’s the one thing -Elizabeth venture and hardship in between, Mitchell wel- comes each challenge with a voracious appetite. where I say, ‘Oh come on; really?’ [Juliet] uses her femininity in a powerful way.” However, the Mitchell www.brilliantmagazine.com winter 2009 75 “It’s not black and white, and I love that. You have your protagonists and antagonists and they shift. It’s a two may have more in common than Mitchell and as a mother you have a lot of empathy, so being ferocious and having empathy are the two Regardless of Mitchell’s skepticism toward her character, audiences and show producers ecutive producers Damon Lindelof and Cartion and mystery makes her always beguiling and al- episode. Plot and premise aside—you just can- not tear your eyes off of her. Presumably on the island to exercise her teeter between valiant and hazy—much like the message boards riddled with notes from loyal fans contain countless theories on the show’s meaning. From the characters trapped in limbo to the whole premise being part of someone’s comatose dream, no conclusions have been con- firmed. Immersed in the enigma on a near daily basis, Mitchell offers some ideas of her own. m initially thought. “My little boy is three years old traits I have learned that I share with her. I like her in the show. She’s a bit of an antagonist and also insanely heroic…but I still don’t trust her.” believe in her tremendous talent. “Elizabeth ra- diates a visceral intelligence as an actor, not sur- prisingly, given how smart she is as a person,” ex- Cuse of “Lost” agree. “Her mix of beauty, smarts, ways very watchable.” It is this balance of mystery and beauty that strikes a chord with viewers each special gift as a fertility scientist, Juliet’s motives indiscernible theme of the show itself. Internet also exhibit brains and wit. “I spend a lot of time with Evangeline [Lilly] because she’s absolutely hilarious,” Mitchell notes. Humor proves much more of an integral role in Mitchell’s life than one may imagine: her hus- band, Chris Soldevilla, a comedian, keeps her entertained on location while filming the show. While many couples may tempt the fates with long distance when working separately, Mitch- ell’s days begin and end with her family. “It’s fun to be really quick-witted with someone,” she di- vulges. “We have a continual one-up system in a very sweet, endearing way. We’re a good team.” Three year old son, Christopher Jr., keeps the team on track. After long, tiring days on the set, Mitchell returns home for a few hours of sleep, before awaking to cook breakfast for him. “He’s only three and he already has the vocabulary of a college student, and he’s a slapstick comedian with all the pretty little girls,” she laughs. “I had him when I was 35, so I had a whole life before him and now he is my whole life. The longest I’ve ever gone without seeing him is three days.” With all the time they spend together, Mitchell hopes to impart some of the lasting wisdom she has gained. “I want him to be someone who goes out into the world and does what he loves and has a passion. I want him to know that he can grab for anything.” Mitchell’s personal passions center more on “[‘Lost’] seems to be a wonderful battle of the the cerebral than the celebrity. Rather than suc- meditation gray,” she suggests. “It’s not black and white, and I love that. You have your protagonists and an- cumbing to occupational demands and parad- ing her beauty down red carpets and into exclu- tagonists and they shift. It’s a meditation on the sive parties, she prefers to satiate her mind. “I’m on the gray and on good and evil.” For Mitchell, some of the only real certainty more apt to sit at home with a book, newspaper, or scientific magazine,” she explains. “I spent and comfort on the island stems from the rela- the whole flight with Jorge [García] (Hurley on gray and tionships she forged with her co-stars. Enter- ing the show in its successful third season, she “Lost”) coming back from the Emmys. We were listening to Steven Hawking talking about quan- on good undertook the potentially nerve-wracking role of the new kid. “The people on the show are so tum physics.” While the acclaimed actress won’t be trading extraordinarily kind,” she enthuses. “At first it in a steady flow of scripts for beakers and test and evil.” felt like I was stepping on toes, because the writ- ers set my character up so strong. But really, it tubes any time soon, she, like the castaways on “Lost,” understands that life should not be con- was like walking into a lovely family.” While the fined to one space—be it the world of a TV show -Elizabeth island in real life provides home to thousands of Hawaiians and transplants, Mitchell remains or even that of a career. More meaning must ex- ist and Mitchell’s mission is to mine it. “I’m about Mitchell on a long way from her friends and family. Fortu- nately, the “Lost” cast shares great chemistry off screen as well and she relies on the support of having a worldview that is bigger than yourself,” she asserts. “I’m drawn to people who live their own lives on their terms and don’t follow the odd “Lost” her co-stars. Like in high school, the beautiful girls flock together—but the women of the show rules we have in this high school-type society.” 76 winter 2009 www.brilliantmagazine.com photo by mark arbeit keiFer sutherlanD on “24” everything elizabeth What TV show do you TIVO? “24” with Chris. We’re always on the seats of our pants. “Battlestar Galactica” is also one of the best shows for me. holly hunter evangeline lilly Best cast member with whom to be stranded on a desert island in real life: Evangeline [Lilly] because I really do have the best time with her. Or, you can’t go wrong with Matthew [Fox] for male companionship. Who do you think is the coolest actor/actress out there today? Holly Hunter in “Saving Grace”—so naked, vulnerable, and honest. What’s your favorite holiday? Christmas because that’s when photo by Chris haston © nbC. all of my family is together. I’m nuts about my family, whether we’re laughing or talking or fighting;I love being with them. I don’t care about presents, just seeing all their faces around the table is enough. What’s your favorite hostess gift when you attend a party? Candles. I love the vanilla one by Henri Bendel. People you’d love to work with: Kyle Chandler, Clive Owen, and Fleur print mini Dress by Chloé. available at saks FiFth avenue; $2,375. Emma Thompson. What movie would you pay for again to see in the theater? Truly, Madly, Deeply kyle ChanDler Favorite guilty pleasure snack Halloween candy corn pumpkins—I will eat the whole bag and be sick. Favorite designers: Chloé and Stella McCartney.
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