On a remote Hawaiian beachscape where turquoise waves slither up tan sands, Josh Holloway (Sawyer), Evangeline Lilly (Kate), and several others (including Others) are filming a whopper of a scene for a February episode of Lost. Spotting this reporter through the trees, Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet) scoots over, embraces him warmly, and starts gushing about the previous night's charmed seashore interview: ''Wasn't it a gorgeous evening? The way the sky lit up at sunset, the couple getting married, the shooting star...'' Uh-oh, she's being summoned. ''Well,'' she says, cheerfully excusing herself, ''I'm going to go shoot someone.''
Cameras rolling, she expertly wields a Sig Sauer and pumps two bullets into someone shocking; the still-standing are left gasping as she coldly lowers the gun. After multiple takes, Mitchell hurries back to apologize for the interruption. Asked how she goes from delightful to frightful like that!, she smiles and shrugs: ''You can be nice and be a badass, you know?''
We're certainly starting to. Mitchell's Juliet the Jack-hammering fertility doctor who belongs to that eerie cult, the Others MDASH] has emerged as one of prime time's most captivating new characters: Juliet is soothing, conflicted, clinical, ferocious, and maybe a smidge flirty, while keeping her intentions murkier than swamp water. It's a performance that could vault Mitchell beyond I-know-I-know-her-from-somewhere territory, a nifty feat for a 36-year-old actress who's bounced around for more than a decade in projects memorable (Gia) and ephemeral (Significant Others). But trying to convince her of such a possibility is akin to coaxing answers from an Other. ''Oh, God, I can't even imagine in any way, shape, or form that I'd ever break through,'' she says incredulously. ''I'm such a chameleon; I don't think there's enough people can latch onto. I think of myself as an oddity.''
The daughter of Dallas lawyers, Mitchell grew up a theater-nerd loner. ''I never had any big Hollywood dreams,'' she says, sprawled out barefoot on an East Oahu beach near the home she shares with her improv comedian husband, Chris, and 1-year-old son, C.J. ''There was nobody going, 'You're gonna be a star!' It was more like, [sweetly patronizing] 'Oh, you do love it, don't you?' I had terrible acne, frizzy hair, and I was scrawny and paunchy at the same time.... I definitely didn't take Hollywood by storm.''
More like intermittent showers. After studying theater at London's British American Drama Academy, she landed on the soap Loving in 1994, but was fired a few months later (''I was hated, maliciously hated, by the fans''). She gained attention as Angelina Jolie's bisexual lover in the 1998 HBO movie Gia and as a lesbian psychiatrist on ER two years later. Before, in between, and after, there were short-lived series (L.A. Firefighters, The Lyon's Den) and big-screen supporting parts, like the stern principal-turned-Mrs. Claus in The Santa Clause 2, a role she reprises in the new release The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause.
Christmas came early this summer when Mitchell auditioned for Lost and impressed producers with her reading of the interrogation scene, in which Jack stands on a table and yanks on a chain while Juliet tells him to stop. "The scene is basically, 'Get off the f---ing table because it's futile!' but somehow she made it seem like a mommy talking to a small child who's banging his head against the wall," marvels Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof. "There was something so disquieting about it." The producers were also taken with her arm cast; a fall from a ladder had left her with a fractured wrist and broken toe, the latter of which she reset herself. Exclaims Mitchell: "I'm telling you, I'm a weirdo!"
Mitchell who is an avid reader and boxer likes her characters even more convoluted, which intrigues Matthew Fox (Jack): "She's so simple and pure, and at the same time subtly plays so many complex things underneath that are so right on." In other words, cryptic becomes her. "The fact that we can't read Juliet is creepy," Mitchell says. "She's so good at reading other people that she knows how to block you from reading her. I like the tremendous amount of freedom in there." While, naturally, Lost's producers haven't informed her of Juliet's endgame, the actress reveals, "She hangs in the balance for quite a while. She's drawn to Jack, but she's massively torn."
That nuanced struggle is endearing Mitchell to Lost fans, although "I don't think they're going to try to steal my [clothing] like they do to poor Evangeline, or try to take pictures of me like they do to poor Josh," she says. "It just feels like maybe I'm actually going to be able to continue to play a role that fascinates me.... It's like, Okay, this is cool. It's a moment." Dare we say a nice, badass one.
Elizabeth Mitchell's Must List
The new ABC regular lost no time telling EW about her all-time favorites.
"Good Lord, he's just the hottest thing. And I don't mean physically, though of course he is. He's got a passion to the way he works that I am drawn to."
'Truly Madly Deeply'
"It's a simple little movie and it makes me cry every time. Plus, I love the cello."
'Achtung Baby,' U2
"There's not a lyric I'm not in love with. It sounds trite, but I use Bono's lyrics to click into my more obsessed characters."
"His fantasy is moving, his ideas are great, the ideology is interesting." She recently reread Lewis' The Screwtape Letters.
'Pastel Blues/Let It All Out,' Nina Simone
"'Chauffeur' is one of the hottest, sexiest songs ever. The way she sings it, the rhythm it's gorgeous."