Here in Hawaii, it's no day at the beach for Dominic Monaghan. On a stark, muggy soundstage, he's tied to a chair, suffering punch after punch after hair pull. In this scene for the season 3 finale of ABC's Lost, his ex-junkie rock star Charlie has just survived a suicide swim into an underwater structure to facilitate a rescue for his fellow castaways, only to wind up brutally interrogated by two gun-wielding chicks. ''If you tell us how you got down here, we won't hurt you,'' one says. He retorts: ''I took my invisible submarine.'' THWACK! A makeup artist rushes in to paint another blood smear on his face.
''Get your Kleenex and hang on for the ride,'' Monaghan says between beatings, minutes later. ''Experience Charlie at his most heroic and selfless. Experience Charlie at his highest potential.''
And possibly experience him for the last time. In the May 23 season capper, we will finally find out if Desmond's chilling precognition You're gonna die, Chahlie! is legit, mystical manipulation, or something else altogether. Granted, the dude's already cheated death more times than Wile E. Coyote. ''The head makeup guy has said to me over and over, 'You've had more scars than anyone!''' chuckles Monaghan, 30. ''I've been exploded, beaten up, shot at, stabbed, had rocks fall on my head, gone cold turkey, nearly drowned, and been hung from a tree. They've definitely taken me to the mill.''
Fans are working him hard too, in that do you die? huh? huh? do you? way. ''There's an argument for having the heart ripped out of you,'' he says. ''But I'm a big boy. It's not going to kill me.'' Pause. ''It's not going to kill Dominic if Charlie dies.''
That's because Dominic has said goodbye to a good thing before. Born in Germany, raised in England, he found fame in Middle-earth with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. While the gig as hobbit Merry was ''insanely fortuitous,'' giant typecasting dangers loomed ahead. ''It was very important for me to distance myself from what will probably be one of the greatest jobs I've done,'' he says. ''It's like, where do you go after Star Wars?''
In 2001, he moved to a galaxy far, far away L.A. but had trouble scoring work. Darkness ensued. ''It was just a lot of drugs and drinking and womanizing and being lonely and feeling like my life was out of control,'' recalls Monaghan, who also painted and wrote songs. After churning out a few indies (Spivs, The Purifiers), he got the chance to play Lost's redemption-craving addict, which he calls ''an amazing blessing.'' Says series exec producer Damon Lindelof: ''He was looking down the barrel of a gun, like, 'All anybody's ever gonna see when I walk into a room is that I was one of the hobbits.' But that was gone from the word go. It's a tremendous testament to Dom's acting chops.''
A fan favorite, Monaghan voiced concerns to producers this season that his character was underutilized; luckily, the Desmond story was in the works. (His first reaction upon learning its resolution was ''relief.'') ''Watching his performance in the last two episodes of the season is like watching someone who's played a six-string guitar for all their performances, then suddenly they're playing a 12-string guitar effortlessly,'' says Lindelof. ''Those six strings were available all along, but you never asked him to play them.''
Turns out, Monaghan is full of surprises. He's a Scrabble-addicted surfer, a scarf-collecting Manchester United psycho-fan. He excels at pranks: He once had Lost's medic call Josh Holloway (Sawyer) and tell him to report to the set because he was a suspect in a herpes outbreak. He's obsessed with environmental issues, enough to buy a mango-tree forest in India. (''It's one of the best investments I've made, karmically.'') He writes poems; a line from one The last of the ailing souls head from their homes pops up in the finale. (Just don't ask him to wax poetic on his rumored girlfriend, Evangeline Lilly, a.k.a. Kate: ''I don't talk about that at all,'' he says of his love life.)
As if those passions don't keep him busy enough, he's shooting the horror film I Sell the Dead, starring as an 18th-century grave robber. He and Rings pal Billy Boyd are shopping a script that's ''a tribute to the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby Road movies.'' And this son of a science teacher and a nurse is talking to cable nets about hosting a natural-history show.
That last project is fitting, considering the company Monaghan keeps: lizards, frogs, scorpions, spiders, etc. At each season's end, he releases his pets back into the wilderness; he just bid farewell to his chameleon Hologram (not to be confused with previous chameleons Traffic Light and Karma). ''I took Hologram to a secluded part of the island, and I was kinda sad as I let him go,'' he says. ''But then I thought: If Hologram knew what was going on, he would be excited and think, 'Wow, this is a great chance to do whatever I want from now on, and have all these options.''' In a few days, we'll see if this chameleon's owner will also be changing colors, again.
Dominic Monaghan's Must List
The Fountain (2006)
''People either loved this film or hated it. I happen to be one of the people who was blown away by it.''
The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger (2003)
''One of the few books I've read more than once. An amazingly revitalized [take] on the love story.''
''Girls Just Want to Have Fun,'' Greg Laswell
''A beautiful, melancholy cover. I've played that two or three hundred times.''
America's Funniest Home Videos
''You're guaranteed a belly laugh when an old man falls flat on his face or a baby farts. It's hilarious.''
Costello Music, The Fratellis
''It's happy, clappy pop in the same realm as the Arctic Monkeys.... They're hitting me a lot harder than anything else right now.''