A chat with Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof interview, Lost

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It’s been a long, strange ride over the course of five seasons, but if you’ve followed “Lost” all along from the very beginning of the series, then Season 5 has almost certainly felt like a pay-off for all of the waiting you’ve endured. Indeed, the staff of Bullz-Eye has voted “Lost” into the top spot on our bi-annual TV Power Rankings for the first time in the history of the show. It would seem that this accomplishment pleased executive producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, given that they cheerily agreed to chat with us about the show. It will probably come as no surprise to you that they weren’t willing to unabashedly offer up spoilers about what viewers can expect to see in the weeks ahead, but they did provide us with a few teases here and there, along with clarification on how the show settled into a groove after declaring its end date and their picks for their personal favorite episodes of Season 5.

Carlton Cuse: Hey, Will!

Damon Lindelof: Hey, Will!

Bullz-Eye: Hey, guys, how’s it going?

DL: Pretty good!

BE: Excellent. Well, first off, let me get you guys to identify your voices for me, so it won’t be such a bitch to transcribe later.

CC: Sure. This is Carlton, and I have the slightly deeper voice.

DL: And Damon has the slightly more nasal voice.

BE: Awesome. Then I’m set. Well, I don’t know if you were told why we wanted to talk to you, but “Lost” has jumped into the #1 slot on Bullz-Eye’s TV Power Rankings.

Carlton Cuse: "Negotiating the end date (of ‘Lost’) was really a critical thing for us, because we had a mythology, but we just didn’t know if that mythology had to last two years or nine years, and as a result, we were sort of paralyzed. We were stalling, and I think the audience very much felt like we were stalling."

DL: That’s very exciting!

CC: We’re flattered.

DL: Yes. That’s awesome.

BE: It’s the first time the show has ever held the top spot, I believe. It’s hovered in the top 10, but it’s never been #1 before.

CC: Who did we knock out of the top perch?

BE: “Mad Men.”

DL: Oh, wow! As a huge fan of “Mad Men,” there’s no greater honor than to at least temporarily take the spot away.

BE: So how much of a release was it for you guys once you locked down a definitive end date for the series? Or did you have enough of a vision for your end game that it wasn’t as big a deal as it might’ve seemed?

CC: No, basically, negotiating the end date was really a critical thing for us, because we had a mythology, but we just didn’t know if that mythology had to last two years or nine years, and as a result, we were sort of paralyzed. This was all around the beginning of Season 3, and we had our characters locked in these cages, and I think it was because Damon and I…we were figuratively locked in cages. Well, okay, we were literally locked in cages, too. But because we just didn’t know how much time we had to make the mythology last for, so we were stalling, and I think the audience very much felt like we were stalling. And the end date kinda helped un-jam the log jam with the network, in terms of everyone recognizing that it was probably the best thing for the show for us to work out and announce when the show would be finished.

BE: With this season, you’ve really been hitting it out of the park, so I’d say the un-jamming was very much a success.

DL: Indeed.

BE: So did you find that the writer’s strike gave you a chance to, if not actually sit back and truly write, at least consider ideas for the next season?

DL: No, to be completely honest with you, during the strike, we didn’t talk about the show at all. We took the sort of mandate of the strike very seriously, in that you can’t even talk about story without violating the guild agreement. What it did provide us with was a break between the first eight episodes of Season 4 and what ended up being the last six, so we actually got an opportunity to kind of see what everyone thought about those episodes before we came back and started writing the final six. Otherwise, it would’ve been a lot more like it was in Season 5, this past year, where the bulk of the writing was done before the show even premiered. It’s always nice to rest your brain when you’re working on a show like “Lost,” but it’s not like the hundred days that we were on strike allowed us to plot out major story points.

BE: How hard is it to keep secrets under wraps on a show like “Lost,” where everyone is constantly trying to figure stuff out?

CC: Well, I think there’s a small segment of the audience that wants spoilers and wants to know what’s happening. Y’know, there are 425 people on the show, and we shoot the show in Hawaii, and basically every beach in Hawaii is free and open to the public, so it’s possible for people who want to spoil the show to get in there and take long-lens pictures of us shooting the show and find things out. We do try very hard to keep everything under wraps. All of our scripts are watermarked, and we try to keep the show as secretive as possible, but we realize that it’s almost an impossibility. But we really hope that most fans want the experience of “Lost” to be a surprise, and that’s one of the things that’s one of the most…I mean, almost more than anything else, that’s what we’ve tried to do as storytellers: to make the show surprising and unexpected. If you go and get those things spoiled for you, you’re just not going to enjoy watching the show as much.


BE: I was very happy to see Hurley address the time-travel headaches of this season.

DL: You’re not the only one.

BE: But, of course, it’s also been a good excuse to bring back a few more guest stars from previous seasons.

DL: What, the time travel?

BE: Yeah.

DL: True. But the fact of the matter is that the show has always been a little bit of a time-travel show, in that for three seasons it was flashbacks, and then last season it was flash-forwards. So the idea that you were hopping around time in a non-linear storytelling fashion allows you to bring back characters who are dead and, in some cases, buried. But now that the show is not just doing time travel in terms of the way the story is told but time travel is the story itself, it opens up even more doors. So when an actor reads that they’re getting killed off on the show, they’re basically, like, “Okay, but…should I still bother to show up next week?”

BE: So was the time travel aspect something that you’d had in mind from the very beginning, or was it something that came up on the fly?

Damon Lindelof: "Hopping around time in a non-linear storytelling fashion allows you to bring back characters who are dead and, in some cases, buried. Now that time travel is the story itself, it opens up even more doors. So when an actor reads that they’re getting killed off on the show, they’re basically, like, ‘Okay, but should I still bother to show up next week?"

CC: No, I mean, I think that, if you actually look back at the show, there are some big hints about time travel. Obviously, we started with the flash before your eyes. We saw Desmond, sort of as a result of getting zapped when the hatch imploded, had an ability to sorta kinda see future events and then ultimately started consciously traveling. And we had Sayid listening to a radio broadcast, and as he’s spinning around, we’re hearing ‘40s radio music, we saw a glimpse of the statue with four toes. We sort of felt like we’d laid the pipe so that it wouldn’t be unexpected when we made time travel more overt. So it was something that we’d known about from very early on, but it just couldn’t be deployed until we got within striking distance of the end of the show.

BE: Even with all of the people who’ve popped up during the course of the season, has there been anyone who you’d wanted to bring back but hadn’t been able to manage because of scheduling conflicts?

DL: You know, not so much anymore. Certainly, back when we were doing 23 or 24 episodes a season and we ran from September to May, that sort of a scheduling conflict would be a huge issue for us. But now, because we’re able to shoot over a wider range of time before the show actually has to be on the air, we have a lot more latitude with actors’ availabilities. Fionnula Flanagan, for example, who plays Eloise Hawking, is a regular on the Showtime show “Brotherhood,” and she was not available for us when we needed her at the end of Episode 2, and she was barely available for what ended up being Episode 6, the one entitled “316,” but we shot those scenes at a later date and slotted them in appropriately because it was so important to the story to have Eloise Hawking be that character. So we’ve been lucky so far in that there has not been any story that we wanted to do that got hamstrung by actor availability.

BE: Okay, I’ve got a series of reader questions now, so brace yourselves.

CC: Uh-oh.

BE: Is it possible that the so-called “Losties” could be stuck in some sort of time-loop where they keep time-traveling and never age?

LostDL: Huh.

CC: I mean, one of the things that we really try to do very studiously is avoid confirming or debunking theories. That’s sort of the great social aspect of “Lost,” that you get to sort of sit around and say, “What’s this thing?” You make your own interpretations. For us, it’s a huge part of the show, and we leave things intentionally ambiguous so that those kinds of conversations can arise and take place. So I’ll just say that it’s a very interesting theory, and we will neither confirm nor deny its accuracy.

BE: Are we ever going to discover what Richard’s relationship to the island is?

DL: Richard Alpert? Absolutely.

CC: Aren’t they divorced, but they still have feelings for each other?

DL: Yes, that’s exactly right. They’re divorced, but he has visitation rights on alternating weekends and also two weeks during the summer.

BE: Awesome. And I’m sure that’s exactly the answer they were looking for.

DL: Yeah. (Laughs sarcastically) But, yes, we will learn a lot more about Richard and why it is that he is wrinkle-free.

BE: Whose idea was it to slide in the line about “your friend with the eyeliner”?

CC: You know, I think it was just one of those things where…y’know, one of the things that we’ve learned as writers is that, if people are making certain observations, then it’s better to address them. And people were asking, “Is that guy wearing eyeliner?” And the answer is “no, it’s just a particular reflection,” but since we had about five people ask us that, we thought it would be funny to throw it into the script.

BE: I was at the TCA panel when someone called ya’ll out on that.

DL: Yeah, some woman asked that question, and we were, like, “Well, thank God we had Sawyer mention it!” That episode had already been shot a few episodes prior to the asking of the question, and it was very tempting to say, “Oh, just keep your eyes peeled, we’re going to deal with it in the show,” but then it would’ve spoiled the surprise.

BE: In Episode 509, “Namaste,” there’s a woman seen standing behind Sun. Was it a production error?

DL: (Long pause) We don’t know what you’re talking about.

BE: Fair enough. And at the risk of asking a question you’ll choose not to answer, why didn’t Sun travel back in time with the rest of the Oceanic Six?

CC: The show will answer that question at some point.

BE: At least two people belligerently demanded to know the whereabouts of Rose and Bernard.

DL: That is an excellent question, and in addition to “where is Vincent,” it’s probably the question that we get asked most about the show. And, “Where’s Faraday, and why aren’t any of the other characters asking about his whereabouts?”

BE: That was next on my list.

DL: I figured. (Laughs) Suffice it to say that the whereabouts of all of these characters will be addressed very specifically in the coming weeks.

BE: So prior to, or at least during, the season finale?

DL: Yes. Within Season 5, the whereabouts of all of those characters will either be discussed or determined.

Carlton Cuse: "One of the things that we really try to do very studiously is avoid confirming or debunking theories. That’s sort of the great social aspect of “Lost,” that you get to sort of sit around and say, ‘What’s this thing?’ You make your own interpretations. For us, it’s a huge part of the show.”

BE: Will we ever find out why Libby was in the mental institution and if she knew Hurley pre-island?

CC: No, we feel like we resolved Libby’s fate, and for the fans that are still obsessing about Libby, maybe at some point someone will write sort of a “Star Wars”-like novel about the story of Libby, but we don’t consider that to be a major story thread for us.

BE: This may be along the same lines, but…will we ever find out what Boone was trying to tell Shannon before he died?

DL: Oh, you mean what were his dying words going to be had he made it another five seconds? I don’t think we’ll ever find out, because Boone is dead and so is Shannon, so if ever something was moot in the history of the show, it would be that.

BE: Will Walt play a role in the future?

CC: Uh…I think that we will not comment on that because, y’know, to say anything would be to say too much.

BE: Are we ever going to see more of the front of the giant statue?

DL: Why, you didn’t like his back?

BE: Sorry, we need more.

DL: What about his side? Or what about an overhead view? Let’s negotiate here.

CC: The problem is wardrobe, really. When it comes to statues, a lot of them are naked, it takes a lot of cloth to cover them, and Standards and Practices are trying to find a garment that’s appropriate to cover the statue before we can show it.


BE: So it’s kind of a Doctor Manhattan thing, then.

DL: That’s exactly right. Except that “Watchmen” was rated R, and we’re on ABC. So, you know, you will not be seeing the statue’s fifth toe, if you know what we mean.

CC: (Bursts out laughing)

BE: Will we be seeing more of the statue before the end of the season?

DL: (Hesitates) Before the end of the series, right, Carlton?

CC: Uh…we will see it before the end of the series.

BE: One of the other writers wanted me to compliment you on your use of the rarely-utilized “romantic square,” with Jack, Sawyer, Kate, and Juliet.

DL: We actually refer to it as the quadrangle. That’s a lot more fancy than the square, but I guess a four-sided shape is a four-sided shape.

CC: No, because the thing about the quadrangle is that sometimes the lengths are closer than others, and that’s actually a more appropriate metaphor, because sometimes two sides can be much closer than the other two sides, whereas in a square, the sides are always at the same distance.

DL: Wow, I’ve never heard such geometric precision applied to intercharacter relationships.

CC: That’s pretty much my entire knowledge of math in, like, two sentences.

DL: If only that were true.

BE: There’s much talk on the ‘net about a death which will “rock the fans the way Charlie’s demise did.”

DL: That certainly wasn’t a quote by either of us.

BE: No, I believe it was from someone quoting someone else, who was probably unnamed to begin with.

Damon Lindelof: "We don’t really like to talk about characters deaths because all of the focus goes to, ‘Who’s going to live and who’s going to die?’ But I’m willing to venture that the online community doesn’t know as much as they think they know about the way that we’re ending this season"

DL: All we’ll say is that we don’t really like to talk about characters deaths because all of the focus goes to, “Who’s going to live and who’s going to die?” But I’m willing to venture that the online community doesn’t know as much as they think they know about the way that we’re ending this season. Carlton and I have been particularly devious in conjunction with some of the actors, in terms of misleading certain fates. So my guess is that, even by the end of the finale, people will be questioning the veracity of these online postulations. I would not feel comfortable saying anything a death rivaling the impact of Charlie’s.

BE: So does the talk of Mark Pelligrino reportedly playing Jacob fall into the same category?

CC: Y’know, obviously, Mark Pelligrino has been cast on the show, but to start making assumptions about what he’s going to be doing on the show…I think people are getting ahead of themselves. All we can say is that he’s an awesome actor and we’re very excited about him being on the show. But we think people will be surprised at how his character and story unfolds.

DL: I heard that Sir anthony Hopkins was going to be playing Jacob. That’s the rumor I heard.

BE: I’ll see if I can’t keep that going.

DL: Okay. Good luck with that. (Laughs)

BE: All right, this one is a little complicated, but it has the potential to be revealing. If you had to pick one book for “Lost” fans to read to understand what’s going on, should it be “Slaughterhouse 5,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” “A Separate Reality,” the “Narnia” chronicles, or “Valis”? And I have to admit that I’m not familiar with the last one.

DL: It’s a Philip K. Dick book. Um…I think my own personal poll would align with Carlton, which would be the “Narnia” books. A, it’s a series of books that sometimes tracks the same characters but sometimes abandons those characters to track entirely different characters, and B) it’s a more epic story that builds toward an equally epic conclusion. There will be many parallels, we feel, between that universe and the “Lost” universe when all is said and done.

CC: Especially when it comes to fauns.

DL: Oh, what a big spoiler!

BE: Is there any flashback from one of the earlier seasons that didn’t work as well as you’d intended when you originally came up with it?

Aaron PaulCC: Well, we were very excited in the writer’s room and then obviously proceeded with the idea of doing a flashback about how Jack got his tattoos, but that was not an episode that, when we looked at it, was a high water mark of the show. That was the episode where we were more convinced than ever that we must negotiate an end date, so we didn’t have to find out how Jack got his athlete’s foot. That was the point in the series where we were feeling like…it was at the point where we negotiated the end date where we were able to sort of deploy ourselves deeper into the mythological timeline, and that was enormously helpful. The realization was that those flashbacks were finite. The first ones, where you find out that Hurley’s a lottery winner or Kate’s a fugitive or that Locke was in a wheelchair, those were really exciting, but when you get down to the fifth or sixth one, they become exponentially less compelling. So for us, the Season 3 flashbacks…that was sort of the turning point for us, that particular story.

BE: And, lastly, what’s been your favorite episode of the fifth season thus far?

DL: Personally speaking, I think “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham” was the one that was the coolest for us to write, and just on a purely acting level, I think Terry (O’Quinn) was incredible. When we first talked about and wrote the scene where, basically, it starts as a man about to hang himself and ends with him getting murdered, it’s one of those scenes where you’re, like, “Wow, is there any way that we’re going to be able to make this work?” And I think it’s a testament to Terry and Jack Bender, who directed the scene, that it doesn’t seem like the most ridiculous thing ever. Obviously, Carlton and I and the writers have known about Locke’s visits to all of these characters since Season 3, because in the Season 3 finale, Jack is showing Kate the obituary and he’s been to the funeral home, so he’s mourning Locke’s death. And Locke’s death is what’s compelling him to shout out, “We have to go back!” So we’d been sitting on this episode for so long that, when it finally came time to tell the story and write it once all of the piece had fallen into place, it was, like, “Whew!” It was like the desk was never clean until we got to do it. It’s a script that I’m personally very proud of, and I really liked the way the episode turned out.

CC: You know, I would say that, when you talk about episodes of the season, we’ve seen an episode that…well, it’s going to be the 14th episode of the season. It’s called “The Variable,” and that’s a pretty damned good episode as well. We’re very excited about it and proud of it. And it also happens to be, coincidentally, the 100th hour of the show. It wasn’t as though we…we didn’t set out to do something particularly special for the 100th hour of the show, but this particular episode came out really well, and we’re very excited for the fans to see it. Obviously, I don’t want to say anything specific about it, other than to look at the title. But it’s one that we think is going to be very well received. I agree with Damon, though. I think that “Bentham” is my favorite. But if I had to pick another one, I would say “The Variable.”

BE: Oh, one last one for you, Damon: since you’re going to be one of the writers, are we going to see Khan in the new “Star Trek II”?

DL: Uh, no comment. But way to sneak that in there.

BE: (Laughs) Figured I’d save it for last. Thanks for talking to us, guys. I really appreciate it, and I know I speak for all of us when I say that we’re psyched to see the rest of the season…and the series…unfold.

CC: Thanks a lot!

DL: Thanks! And please pass along to everyone at the site and all of the fans who frequent it that we are enormously flattered and feel very grateful to hold the top spot, and we will do everything we can to live up to that lofty ideal.

BE: We’re keeping our fingers crossed for you.

DL: (Laughs) Thanks.

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