Tavis Smiley

MARCH 2010

Elizabeth Mitchell

Tavis: Elizabeth Mitchell is a talented actress known to fans of “Lost” for her role as Dr. Juliet Burke. She now stars on the popular ABC drama, “V.” The show airs Tuesday nights at 10:00. Here now, a scene from “V.”

Tavis: You’ve got some powerful angels. I’m laughing, thinking that you used to be on “Lost.”

Elizabeth Mitchell: (Laughs) I know.

Tavis: Now you’re on “V.”

Mitchell: I know.

Tavis: “V” follows “Lost” in the lineup. (Laughter)

Mitchell: I know.

Tavis: Somebody likes you.

Mitchell: Well, I’m very grateful for that, but it is very bizarre, yes. It’s really nice. And I get to work with Morris Chestnut.

Tavis: So what do you think about Morris Chestnut? That was a nice scene there.

Mitchell: Oh, I like Morris Chestnut so much. He knows, as does Pam, his wife.

Tavis: Oh yeah? (Laughter)

Mitchell: Yeah.

Tavis: That’s important.

Mitchell: No, it’s weird – yeah, Pam? Yeah, absolutely. (Laughter)

Tavis: For those who have not seen “V,” you describe it how?

Mitchell: Oh, I describe it as – I’ve always described it as a smart popcorn movie. Is that what you mean? How to describe it?

Tavis: I like that, I like that.

Mitchell: Yeah, that’s how I describe it. I suppose it’s an alien invasion movie, but there’s a lot of characters and we do some fun stuff, and we’re tortured, so therefore, yeah.

Tavis: Tell me more about your character that you play.

Mitchell: FBI agent and a mother. Probably more important the mother, but the FBI agent’s good. I get to run around and hit people and shoot things.

Tavis: Why do you say more important the mother, where the series is concerned?

Mitchell: I think that that’s why I chose the role, because I got to be a mother. Because I am a mother, and it’s so important to me, and I thought it would be really interesting to (unintelligible).

Tavis: What about – I hear your point – what about motherhood fascinated you enough to want to play it on screen, to your point, when you are that already in real life?

Mitchell: I think how hard it is. There’s this image of motherhood where we are just – everything’s beautiful and life is gorgeous and you have these kids and they laugh and you laugh and we all love each other, but it’s really a struggle.

It’s a struggle to choose well and to keep your temper and to help them be good citizens, good people, good husbands, good any of those things. I like that. I liked that there was something very important to me in being a mother, and playing one on television, it’s the same thing. It’s very messy. Life becomes a lot messier when you have kids.

Tavis: What about the balance between being an FBI agent and a mother on the series?

Mitchell: That’s another one of the things I loved, is that I feel that her job is so important to her she almost gets a little bit obsessed with it, and I really can relate to that. I think that then you go home and you see what actually is the most important, and that’s your child. If your child is slipping away and your job has kind of exploded underneath you, it just leads to some fun stuff. I like messy women, I like messy characters.

Tavis: So before you became the famous actress that we know you to be (laughter), you were on a soap opera.

Mitchell: Yes, I was.

Tavis: From which you were fired.

Mitchell: I was so fired. (Laughter)

Tavis: Would you care to tell the PBS audience why you were fired from that soap opera (laughter), speaking of obsessed. Why were you fired, Elizabeth?

Mitchell: I think I was one of those horrible kids who comes from drama school – I had studied in London and I had studied everywhere and I really was, like, I’m ready to work my craft. (Laughter) And I got onto a soap opera and I was like, they wanted one thing from me, which is actually it takes tremendous skill, and instead I was like, “What if -” and they’re shooting a show a day.

So the “what if” is not what they want to hear. They want to hear, “I’ve memorized 60 pages and I’m ready to go.”

Tavis: So you were taking your job a little too seriously.

Mitchell: I was taking it very seriously. (Laughter) I remember getting fired and I was like, “Really?” Like, “It’s okay, honey.” “Oh, really? I thought it was going well.” “No, no, it’s not. It’s not going well.” (Laughter) “You’re actually really terrible.” I was like, “How is that possible?” So yeah, I was that girl, which was just terrible.

Tavis: That raises – it’s funny, but for me at least it raises all kinds of philosophical questions.

Mitchell: Yes.

Tavis: One, what do you learn when you’re just getting started and you’re taking your craft very seriously – never mind that it’s a soap opera – but you’re taking your craft seriously and for that you end up being dismissed. That says what to you as a thespian?

Mitchell: I actually learned to have a lot more respect for the other artists. There’s something about school and/or being a young actor that makes you feel like you are the most – your stuff is the most important, and really, it is a massive collaboration.

After that, I worked pretty much every job in the theater. I really know how to – I could do the lights and I could – (laughter).

Tavis: Roger, you’re fired. (Laughter)

Mitchell: But I just gained so much more knowledge and so much more respect, and that’s what helped me. I don’t know if that – that didn’t do – it didn’t – it’s not that I became a better actor for that, but it definitely made me a better person to have behind the scenes.

Tavis: But it didn’t trip you up, though –

Mitchell: Being fired?

Tavis: For that particular – we all get fired at some point. If you haven’t, stick around; you will. (Laughter) We all get fired for something, but being fired for really trying to take the work seriously

Mitchell: Yes, seriously.

Tavis: That didn’t trouble you?

Mitchell: No, I actually think that that’s been something that’s helped me get more jobs, because people know I’ll come and yes, I may be fun and I’m always up for a laugh, but I don’t really love practical jokes. I don’t like it when people do things that mess up the work. I definitely like getting in there.

But I like for other people to have that chance too, and I’m open to any of the ways people do it. Like if you come onto a set with me we’ll play till you feel great about it. So that’s good. I think that’s gotten more jobs rather than less, so I’ve been very happy about that part. The not respecting the writers and the – that’s probably something I’ll never do again.

Tavis: At this point in your career, back to your earlier point about why you wanted to play this particular character on “V,” what’s your – you mentioned that you are a mother, of course.

Mitchell: I am.

Tavis: But what’s your barometer – not your barometer – what’s your process? That’s the word I want. What’s your process now for deciding what it is that you do want to do as an actor?

Mitchell: Oh, it’s so interesting. This – I had just been let go from “Lost” and I think I was –

Tavis: You got killed off on “Lost,” as I recall.

Mitchell: I was killed off on “Lost” and it was really sudden. There was only, like, two weeks of shooting left and all of a sudden I got a phone call. I remember thinking –

Tavis: Hold up, hold up – I want to hear this.

Mitchell: Yeah.

Tavis: When they call you to tell you you’re going to get killed off, how does that conversation go? How does that work?

Mitchell: “Elizabeth, hey.” (Laughter) “So.” “Yeah?” (Laughter) “So we were just – we wanted to call you.” “Well, you did, I’m here. Hi, hello.” “So we don’t think that there’s any further that your character’s going to need to go.” “Well, I – okay.” So it’s good, I tried to be gracious. They were upset and they were sad, so I was – I’m glad that I was because they then re-hired me, so I’m glad I wasn’t like, “What are you talking about?” and had a nervous breakdown. (Laughter)

But I didn’t, I was actually like – I tried to take care of them and be very motherly. I’m like, “Guys, it’s okay, I’ve had a great time, thank you so much,” and my sister was driving up – I had just dropped my son off at the airport, and, like, I was like, “Bye, sweetie.”

So my sister comes and she’s like, “Are you okay?” I’m like, “No.” Tears, the whole thing. (Laughter) So – but I was really good on the phone. They were like, “You just took that better than anyone else ever had.” Like, you just didn’t see what really happened.

Tavis: After the fact, yeah. I sidetracked you because I was – I wanted to hear that story. But I was asking you, though, about making choices at this point in your career.

Mitchell: Yes. Well, this was actually, as I said, I had just gotten let go, so I said send me what you have, and I didn’t necessarily want to do anything. It’s nice to know when you get let go, or whatever it is, that there’s other things out there. So I was actually just looking to read them, and then I actually heard that Morris was doing this.

We have the same manager, and I think he has really great taste in material, so I said – and it’s Morris. So I said, “Send it to me, and is there anything?” They’re like, “Well, they haven’t been able to find their lead protagonist,” and I was like, “Perfect.”

Tavis: “Here I am.”

Mitchell: So they did not come to me. I actually said, “Hey, I think I would love to do that,” and they said, “Oh, how wonderful, and maybe we can make that work.”

Tavis: Is that the first time that’s happened for you in this business, or have you found yourself being – my word, not yours –

Mitchell: In the right place at –

Tavis: – aggressive, saying, “I would like to do this,” even though you’re not –

Mitchell: Oh, no, I haven’t been particularly aggressive, no. I am when I love something, but I’ve certainly never been in a position to do so, no. It’s really been more about I go through 18 auditions and they finally are like, “All right, we’ll give it to you.” (Laughter) I wear them down like a lawyer with paperwork.

But yeah, I – no, this was quite a gift, and having worked so hard my whole career, getting something as easily as this was very bizarre. I thought to myself, well, that can’t be right. Then I’ve enjoyed shooting it so much I’m like, well, maybe this is just one of those times in life that you get a little something.

Tavis: Yeah. You’ve got to enjoy that when it happens.

Mitchell: I am, yes.

Tavis: So might you reappear, even though they killed you off? “Lost” does the strangest things.

Mitchell: I know.

Tavis: I’ve seen more people get killed off and come back anyway.

Mitchell: (Laughs) I know, yes.

Tavis: So might you come back again?

Mitchell: Yes. Yes.

Tavis: Wow.

Mitchell: I agreed to – yeah, just a little bit ago. Yeah, so sure.

Tavis: You were lost and found again.

Mitchell: I was lost and then I was found.

Tavis: Yeah, okay. So that’s “Lost;” you’ll find her there at some point.

Mitchell: (Laughs) Yes.

Tavis: But now you can catch Elizabeth on “V.”

Mitchell: Yes.

Tavis: On ABC. Elizabeth, good to have you here.

Mitchell: Thank you.

Tavis: Nice to meet you.

Mitchell: It was nice to meet you too.

Tavis: The pleasure is mine.

Source: PBS