During the two-part pilot for ABC’s hit drama “Lost,” Terry O’Quinn’s character, John Locke, stayed in the background, one of the dozens of shell-shocked survivors wandering the beach of a mysterious island following the crash of Oceanic Flight 815.
Viewers who recognized Mr. Quinn from his appearances on “The X-Files,” “Millennium,” “Alias” and the 1987 horror film “The Stepfather,” however, could figure Locke was a man to keep an eye on.
Sure enough, by the third episode, the fan favorite titled “Walkabout,” Locke had emerged as a tough and enigmatic survivalist. The episode’s flashbacks to Locke’s life before the crash, however, revealed he was once a cubicle drone for a box company, mocked by his boss and spurned by his only romantic companion, a phone sex worker.
The flashbacks concluded with Locke being rejected for an Australian “walkabout” tour because he “misrepresented” himself. Sitting in the tour office, Locke shouts his frustrated refrain, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” and then-in the best twist in a show full of them-he rolls himself out from behind the desk, revealing he’s confined to a wheelchair, a fact artfully disguised during his flashbacks. The scene then cuts to a moment after the plane crash when Locke realizes he can walk for the first time in four years.
How was he healed? And why? As the season progressed, Locke was shown to have come to some kind of understanding with the island, becoming an ardent believer in its mysterious power. But whether Locke will emerge as the show’s villain or hero or something in between, is unclear. The only thing for certain is that Mr. O’Quinn has helped create one of the most sympathetic and unpredictable characters on television.
“I love walking the line,” Mr. O’Quinn said. “I love that people debate the character’s motives and morals, and I think the longer that goes on, the more fun it is.”
The question of Locke’s motive is also a mystery to Mr. O’Quinn. He constantly plays scenes where Locke dances around key issues, hinting at knowledge and suggesting a motive when, in truth, he’s nearly as clueless as the viewers.
“At first I thought [the producers] weren’t giving us enough information,” he said. “Then I realized it was freeing; I had less baggage. Like the character, I don’t have a past that concerned me. It’s the first time in my experience that I as an actor have accepted the viewpoint of the character I play. I let fate-in my case, the writers-take me where it may.”
As for next season, Locke will clearly continue to play a key role. Last month’s season finale concluded with a scene in which Jack (Matthew Fox) predicts, “We’re going to have a Locke problem,” setting the stage for a showdown. Mr. O’Quinn said he has no preference where the writers take his character as long as Locke continues to develop.
“I’ve done a lot of things; some were fun, but not very important,” Mr. O’Quinn said. “But there’s only been a couple times I felt like I was set free, and this is one of those times.”
Others to Consider
2004 Drama Supporting Actor Contenders
Winner: Michael Imperioli, The Sopranos (HBO)
Other nominees: Victor Garber, Alias (ABC); Brad Dourif, Deadwood (HBO); Steve Buscemi, The Sopranos (HBO); John Spencer, The West Wing (NBC)