Cult Times Interview: “Fertile Ground”

Part of “Old Info And News”

April 2008

Cult Times #151, see below for ordering options

Cult Times #151
Fertile Ground
Elizabeth Mitchell ponders the mysteries she protects as former Other Juliet Burke…
“I didn’t know she was as empathetic as she was”

Elizabeth Mitchell arrived on the Lost scene in Season Three, right as the show had advanced from monster hit to cultural phenomenon. And it was an experience unlike any she’d ever had before in her career. “Yes, it was a phenomenon,” says the actress, who stars on the series as the mysterious fertility expert Juliet Burke. “I stepped onto ER after it was a phenomenon too. Now Lost is something completely different, obviously. It wasn’t necessarily daunting. The excitement was already there. Everything else I’d do, I’d start a show with the expectation that it probably wouldn’t go. In this case, I knew it was going. So, if anything, it amped up the pressure for me, to make sure I tried to rise to the occasion.”

Heading into her Lost stint, Mitchell recalls, the show’s producers clued her in to some things to come about Juliet, but not everything. In fact, most of what they told her centred on developments that would unfold in her first six to 10 episodes. “At my audition they said she was a natural leader and they told me they didn’t want her to be too on the nose,” she says. “They wanted us to figure out our own voice for her. I thought, ‘Well, that’s nice. That’s kind of what I was going to do anyway.’ So it was fun. It was a fun audition. It was one of the more interesting collaborations I think I have ever had on a character.”

Juliet’s assorted twists and turns – is she an Other with a disdain for her fellow Others? What’s up with her and Ben (Michael Emerson)? Or her and Jack (Matthew Fox) for that matter? – have been exciting to Mitchell. However, she hastens to add, they’ve not totally shocked her. “The developments have been, I think, very complicated and juicy and good, but they haven’t been a surprise because I knew she was complicated,” Mitchell says. “I knew from the beginning that they were sure where she was going, but they definitely didn’t want anyone to know. I think we have played on those shades of grey with her and played on the line with her, and that’s been great. That was neat. I think that was all of us together deciding to do that.”

“It’s a unique experience working on Lost, she continues. “These guys are really good. They’re able to take whatever you give and run with it, and I’m very impressed with it. But it’s just like life with Juliet; I don’t know the ending. I know what I’m going for. I know what my objective is. But I have no knowledge as to the very end point of things. I’ve always assumed that I’m going to die, either for someone or for someone else, but I’m not really sure how that’s going to happen.”

And what’s caught Mitchell at least a little off-guard when it comes to Juliet? “I knew she was very kind, but I didn’t know she was as empathetic as she was,” the actress replies. “It was a pleasant surprise. I knew she hated Ben, but I didn’t know that the relationship was as complicated as it is. I think Jack was a surprise for Juliet. I think she went in there with a complete and total throughline of what she needed and then she ended up starting to really like him. I knew that was a surprise for her and that’s probably a surprise for me too.”

Season for of Lost recently debuted, but because of the writers’ strike it looked like it would run for a mere eight episode (it will now be 13). Mitchell reports that Juliet plays a major role in those first eight hours, but acknowledges that the sudden arrival of new characters – specifically rescuers who may whisk some of the crash survivors back home – means that other actors will receive plenty of airtime too. “That [rescue] has to be dealt with, so the thing that’s changed – and I think it’s a change for the better – is it’s very much an ensemble again,” Mitchell says. “You will see all of your favourite characters, no matter who they are, in every episode. And there are little bitty meaty jewels in almost every episode for everybody, which is really nice.”

And what’s Mitchell’s sense of what Juliet fans want to know most about their favourite character as the current season plays out? “They want to know if I’m good or bad,” she says. “They want to know about the numbers. They want to know about the monster. They want to know if Juliet and Jack get together. They want to know if Juliet has some sort of a special power. They’re actually very curious about that, whether or not she has some sort of an enormous secret.”

And more than a few fans have posed the mother of all questions when it comes to Juliet: wondering if the fertility doctor is preggers. “That’s an interesting one,” Mitchell says, coyly. “You’d certainly understand her empathy more, wouldn’t you? That’s a cool one.”

Meanwhile, Mitchell notes that she’s given some serious thought to the matter of whether Juliet is good or evil. She argues that “really powerful” people are often elusive, to the point that upon meeting them one doesn’t even realize they possess all the power. “I wanted to make sure that if we were going along the line we were going with Juliet that that would be something we didn’t rule out, ” Mitchell says. “We didn’t need to rule out that she was one way or the other way. I wanted to make sure she could be either way, as you would if you were a really good manipulator, as you would if you were someone who could do things. And the writing backs that up.”

“So I have felt at all times that Juliet really could go either way,” the actress adds. “She could be a real big force for evil or she could actually be good. She does have a humane and empathetic side, but how much of that can she set aside?”

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