EDITOR’S NOTE: On a rainy night on Oahu in the middle of April, Doc Jensen had a chance to talk with Lost’s resident island mystics, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Mr. Eko) and Terry O’Quinn (John Locke). Of course, Mr. Eko is currently more of the poster boy for faithful living than Locke, as the pivotal May 10 episode titled ”?” showed. Locke, in fact, has come to believe that the Dharma Initiative is playing mind games with him, while Mr. Eko has become convinced that pushing the button is his new religious calling. As both actors indicate, their respective perspectives will collide once again in the season finale. Doc J interviewed Akinnuoye-Agbaje in the quiet of the shadowy jungle, which added to the ambience of their conversation. The interview with O’Quinn was conducted for the most part during a long walk to the catering tent. Both men reveal that the second season of Lost has been a challenging experience, but in different ways.
DOC JENSEN: Your first season of Lost is almost at an end. What’s this journey been like for you?
It’s been a very arduous journey. But I also feel that through this experience, I’ve come of age, as a person, as an actor, and as a character. Interesting is the word. You really have to act your pants off to stay alive. I thrive on that; I rise to the occasion of the circumstances. But I must say, having gotten to the finale, I’ve never had a truer sense of panic — of not knowing what the hell is going on — than I’ve had working on this show. I really, truly didn’t know if I was getting knocked off in the next page. That was a genuine feeling. I don’t think it’s anything personal. I think it’s what serves the story. But the only way you can have any influence on your fate is your performance. Just try to put your soul and guts into it, and just hope it registers with the audience. Hopefully, that keeps you around. It’s really a cutthroat kind of arena.
The phrase ”survival of the fittest” comes to mind.
It really is. You never feel secure. And actually, the biggest mistake you can make in this business — especially on a show like this — is to feel secure. Once you get in that territory, you’re probably pretty much dead. You can’t feel comfortable…. You saw what happened [this season]. They brought in a whole new batch of people. But in order for that happen, room had to be made. And so, the third season is coming up. The stakes are high. [And] you might safely assume that some space needs to be created…. That’s a part of life. That’s how I adapt.
As of right now — today — you and Bernard are the only surviving Tailies. But will Mr. Eko make it to season 3?
All I can say is, it can change at any moment. I’m here at the moment… but in the finale, there are land mines, explosions, all sorts of things happening. I think he’s resonated with the audience. Whether he continues depends on what serves the story….
The May 10 episode, ”?,” marked an interesting turning point for Eko, and seemed to put him into a strange spiritual conflict with Locke over how to interpret the island.
Right: There was a spiritual battle between them over their faith, a see-saw battle over who’s crazy and who’s not… and it sets up a role reversal between him and some of the central characters, where the things you think he’s been against, he’s suddenly for. It makes for a great season finale, because the conflict will be addressed again. The central conflict between Locke and Eko [gets] a lot of interplay, because I know the producers wanted to explore the spiritual/mystic aspects of them and flesh out all the issues of faith. It gets physical. So you place your bets on who wins. I got my Jesus sticks. He’s got his crutches — and he uses them. Trust me.
When you got the script in which Mr. Eko started chopping down trees for some apparent reason, did you know you were building a church, or did the producers keep that from you, too?
I had no idea. I just… well, chopped the trees. It was a little frustrating at first. I asked them, ”Why am I doing this?” ”You’ll find out later,” they told me. They didn’t tell me until after a first few episodes, and what they told me was consistent with their original vision of the character, which they explained to me during the casting process. They saw him — at least back then — as the one character who comes to terms with living on the island, and not being consumed with trying to get off. That’s what they told me. The idea was that this is his home now. He’s not going to spend his life thinking about life off the island. So I thought maybe what I was building was… an actual home.
Mr. Eko has a point of view on what’s happening on the island. Do you? What’s your theory?
I’m so entrenched in trying to figure out what’s going on in my character, I leave the theorizing to the audience. Especially with this finale episode, there’s some freaky things… it could be anything. I don’t have a clue. I leave it alone and read the pages and do my best, because I’ll get brain damage if I start speculating. Like, in the episode where Mr. Eko saw the monster, the theories that came out of that? Wow. I read some of those and thought, ”These fans are really into this! The producers should hire them as writers.” They saw stuff in smoke I hadn’t even seen.
How did you react to the departures of your fellow Tailies, Michelle Rodriguez and Cynthia Watros?
It was a bit weird. The first three months we shot together, and there was a nice little camaraderie among the Tailies. It was sad to see them go. It was certainly strange being the one folding their arms and closing their eyes. It was weird seeing them dead. You have to wonder: Maybe they’ll have a go at me now? I mean, it’s ironic that it’s the Tailies that are getting picked off now. Maybe the only reason no one has come after Eko is that I have a big stick. [Laughs]
When I interviewed you earlier this year, you told me that when you first read what Mr. Eko’s backstory was in the script for ”The 23rd Psalm,” it really took you by surprise. You said you thought he was a very different guy.
My conception of who I thought Mr. Eko was, compared to what he turned out to be, is the difference between black and white, night and day. I think what happened was that, once they saw me on the screen without a shirt, all 6 foot 2 and using a stick beating three guys up, they knew this guy wasn’t going to be just a passive priest — which was the original idea. There was no talk originally of him being a drug dealer; those things just evolved… But they had an idea, and they kept to the integrity of that idea; it was the means by which they got there that changed. It organically got there after they saw me on the screen and my interplay with the other characters. To be on Lost is to dance with its writers.
What do you mean by that?
You have to trust them. For example, as the season progressed, I was becoming a little scared because I thought I was going to become this ”noble savage,” and that was not what I wanted to portray. I wanted a complex character. And so it was a trust exercise for me. ”The 23rd Psalm” sealed that. It showed me they understood what I wanted to convey and I understood the way they wanted to go. It had compassion and complexity. It had mystery and mysticism. Although it’s funny: While I always knew I was playing a priest, I didn’t know the extent to which they really wanted me to be a priest until ”The 23rd Psalm.” That was interesting, because I am a Buddhist. So I had to do some research — study baptism, study the religion, things like that.
What does the hatch mean to Mr Eko?
Salvation. It’s sacred. It’s the key for him. It’s nirvana. It’s enlightenment. In Buddhism, we have a term called eagle peak, when you reach the highest life state and enlightenment; everything is revealed to you. That’s what the hatch is to Mr. Eko. It’s the answer to the mystery of life.
Next page: Terry O’Quinn on missing the old Locke…