[TV] Yunjin Kim - Star of ABC's "Lost"
- How 'Lost' Careered Into Being a Hit Show
By JOE RHODES
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 9 - The speed with which ABC's Wednesday night
breakout hit drama "Lost" went from a network executive's half-baked
suggestion to one of the most elaborate and expensive pilots ever
filmed was brain blurring.
Determined to see his idea into the fall lineup, Lloyd Braun, then
head of ABC Entertainment, brought together J. J. Abrams, the
producer of the funhouse-mirror spy drama "Alias,'' and Damon
Lindelof, a writer for "Crossing Jordan,'' to kick around his idea
about plane crash survivors stranded on an island, a notion that he
freely admitted was inspired by the reality show "Survivor.'' The
result has been a show among the top 10 this season.
"I met Damon for the first time on a Monday," Mr. Abrams
remembered. "By that Friday we had written a 20-page outline. And
they green-lit the pilot on Saturday. At that point, we didn't even
have a script, but in less than 12 weeks we had to start shooting."
That wasn't the hard part. And transporting the wreckage of an L-
1011 jetliner to the show's location on Oahu may have been daunting,
but doable. But of all the logistical nightmares that deadline
represented none were more daunting than finding actors for the
unusually large and internationally diverse ensemble cast - as the
parts were still being written.
"It was insanity," said the casting director, April Webster, who had
worked with Mr. Abrams on "Alias." "The characters kept changing.
Every few days they'd call up and say, 'It looks like there's
another one.' "
Because there were so many parts to cast - 14 major characters and
dozens of background actors whose primary job is to walk around
dazed on the beach until their story line comes to the fore - and
only a three-week window to cast them, Ms. Webster put out the
equivalent of an all-points bulletin. Calls were made to agencies in
London, Sydney, New York, Toronto and points between.
"We were looking at tapes from all over,'' she said, and
complicating the matter was the need to put together a cast at a
time when most network pilots were already shooting. And whoever
signed on for "Lost'' had to commit to working and living on Oahu
for the duration of the series.
Working off their original 20-page outline, Mr. Abrams and Mr.
Lindelof had ideas about the show's vibe - "Gilligan" meets "X
Files," strangers on a plane, mysterious island - and who the
characters would be: the hero with a secret, the plucky-but-haunted
heroine, the stuck-up girl, the affable dude, the menacing rogue.
But everything else was still up in the air, even as actors were
"We were writing audition scenes because we hadn't had time to
finish the actual script," Mr. Abrams said.
But as actors came in to audition, something fascinating happened,
he recalled. "They would inspire us to take characters in a
direction that we wouldn't have come up with on our own," he said.
The result was a radical reimagining of some of the original
characters. Charlie, the burned-out English rocker played by Dominic
Monaghan, was originally envisioned as a middle-aged businessman
with a drug problem. Sawyer, the troublesome American played by Josh
Holloway, was going to be a New Zealander. And Jack, the heroic (so
far) spinal surgeon played by Matthew Fox, was going to be much
older. And since he was also meant to die in the first episode, a
one-shot appearance, high-priced movie stars like Michael Keaton and
Aaron Eckhardt were being considered for the part.
Some well-known actors not usually associated with prime-time
television, Ms. Webster said, were attracted by Mr. Abrams's
reputation and intrigued by the nontraditional premise, which is how
they managed to get Mr. Monaghan, a hot property after playing Merry
Brandybuck in the "Lord of the Rings" films; Naveen Andrews, best
known for his performance as Lt. Kip Singh in "The English Patient";
and Harold Perrineau, coming off his appearance as Link in "The
Matrix" trilogy and critical raves for his stage performance in "Top
The cast also includes Terry O'Quinn, a frequent "Alias" guest star,
as the philosopher-hunter Locke, and Jorge Garcia, whom Mr. Abrams
and Ms. Webster happened to see on an episode of "Curb Your
Enthusiasm" the night before his audition, as the imperturbably
mellow Hurley. For the executives of the show, the most intriguing
breakout star may turn out to be Yunjin Kim, who grew up on Staten
Island and attended the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan
but then returned to her South Korean homeland to become a major
Asian cinema star.
Ms. Kim originally auditioned for the part of Kate, the female lead,
but Mr. Abrams decided immediately he wanted to write another part
just for her. "We had thought about having a couple that didn't
speak English before she came in," Mr. Abrams said, "but when she
came in, we knew we had to have her on the show. And we started
coming up with a story for this woman and then her husband."
"I walked in and, obviously, I speak Korean, and the next day they
they were going to write a role for me," said Ms. Kim, who plays
seemingly timid woman who planned to leave her husband on the day
boarded the ill-fated plane. "I was, like, 'Hey, I don't even need
read a script.' The fact that they would be so open and excited
me, that was a huge compliment."
The most difficult role to cast, in fact, turned out to be Kate. "We
master lists on the Kate character that were 12 to 13 pages long,"
Webster said, "which translates to more than 200 actresses who we
checked on their availability."
"We had seen some incredible actresses," said Bryan Burk, who shares
executive producer credit with Mr. Abrams and Mr. Lindelof. "'But J.
kept saying, 'You're gonna know when she comes in, you're gonna
Which I thought was just his craziness. But then she came in. And we
"She" was Evangeline Lilly, a virtually unknown Canadian actress who
the part, on a last-minute audition tape, almost out of nowhere.
Mr. Abrams seemed particularly pleased that the cast is not all
cheekbones and "Baywatch" bodies, although there are certainly
those. "The show is about an international flight that crashes
in the Pacific," he said, "so the cast is going to look more like
world looks and less like 'Beverly Hills 90210.' "
Not that they're done with the casting, even now. There are
episodes that have to be populated, and most of the 46 characters
survived the crash haven't been seen. The longer "Lost" stays on the
- and with an average of 18 million viewers per episode so far, it
undoubtedly be around for a while - the more likely it is that new
In other words, Mr. Abrams said, there's plenty of room to develop
characters without a need for outrageous plot turns. There's no
for instance, to have another plane crash.
"No," he said, laughing. "Although I wouldn't rule that out."