Exclusive Interview: William Mapother, from 'Lost'
Exclusive Interview: William Mapother, from 'Lost'
John Kubicek
John Kubicek
Senior Writer, BuddyTV
Of all the mysteries related to the ABC television behemoth Lost, one that may never be revealed is how someone as nice and engaging as William Mapother can play a character as duplicitous and sometimes terrifying as Ethan Rom on the show. Sure, our glimpses of Ethan in Juliet's flashbacks may soften his edges a bit. But there are few Lost fans out there who will ever forget the moment at the end of "Raised by Another" when Hurley tells Jack that there is one person who's name is not on the manifest – then we screen cut to Ethan with Charlie and Claire. Yikes!

This week, BuddyTV had an opportunity to talk to William Mapother in "his own skin," rather than Ethan's. In the interview, he talks about how he got into acting, getting the role of Ethan, as well as about the new show K-Ville, that is coming to Fox this Fall and on which he had a role in the pilot episode.

This is Amy Johnston, and I'm speaking with William Mapother, who many of you know as – well, he's played many roles, both on television and film, but we know him most recently from his work on Lost as the he-doesn't-like-you-to-call-him-evil Ethan Rom. He's also got some other guest work that we're going to talk about as well, so hello.

Hello, Amy.

I guess my first question is the "in the beginning" question – when did you first get into acting? Was it something that you always wanted to do? Or came upon by accident?

I was always interested in movies, and ex-girlfriends I have run into have told me in high school and college I used to drag them to every screening I could. But I never – I always imagined I'd be writing and directing, which I'm still interested in. But I took a few acting classes soon after college and went and worked as a P.A. in script development and taught high school. And I went back in on the periphery of the industry.

I moved to New York for awhile, and I took some acting classes there. And acting proved to be a lot more interesting and difficult and intellectually challenging than I had expected. And I got bit – I got bit by the bug. So I came back to L.A. and went to a two-year school and, knock on wood, I've been acting ever since.

Awesome. Now, I can't believe that I didn't know you were a Domer before.

The way you say that, it sounds like you've had some past experience with Domers.

I live very close to South Bend, so for those who don't know "Domers" are what you call a graduate of (the University of) Notre Dame. In fact, if you get a graduate degree, you are called a "Double Domer."

No, I'm not a "Double Domer" – just a regular Domer.

Do you ever get a chance to get back to Notre Dame? Do you ever go to football games or anything like that?

Oh, I do. Absolutely.

Do you really?

Oh yeah. Both my sisters went to Notre Dame as well, and my father did, so whenever we can we try to meet back for games. I'm still close to a bunch of guys I graduated with, so we try to coordinate schedules so that we get back for at least one game every Fall.

Oh, that's fantastic. You know, a car almost ran into The Linebacker.

Sure…oh, The Linebacker. The tales that inn could tell.

A car almost hit it. Almost ran into it.

What happened?

It was like a big news story. Oh, I have no idea. I'm sure it was late at night, and I'm sure there was no drinking involved.

That's almost as much an institution as the Dome and Touchdown Jesus.

Oh yeah, well it was. It was the big news on the TV for days.

That would paralyze South Bend, if they lost The Linebacker.

That would have been horrible.

For people that don't know The Linebacker, it's a little inn, very close to campus. And it's been a favorite place for students and has been in South Bend for a long time.

It's more like a dive.

It is a dive.

But it's a very historical dive.

It is a historical dive.

You have done many roles on both television and film. Do you prefer to do television over film, or film over television? Or is it all pretty much acting to you?

Well, it is all acting so far. There's been no point involved. But – they are not exactly the same. They each have their own advantages and disadvantages. And I feel about them the way a lot of actors do – look, I'm going to go where the jobs are and where the good roles are. So, I don't necessarily distinguish between them.

Film has the advantage of allowing you, generally, to delve a little more deeply into a character and have the opportunity to do more takes, because there's more time. Television has the advantage of allowing your work to appear sooner, because sometimes films can get shelved or take a couple of years to come out. And, you do television, you have the opportunity to explore a greater number of roles typically. Because film roles are fewer and far between.

So each has its advantages and I've had the good luck to have good roles in both.

You've taken advantage of both.

That's a way to say it.

Now, how did you come about getting the role of Ethan [Rom on Lost]?

That's an interesting story. In the Fall of 2002, I organized a reunion of my Notre Dame friends. We were going to rent a house on Lake Michigan, which is near campus, then go to a game that weekend. And the week before I was going to go back, I was called out of town and couldn't go and caught all kinds of abuse for it. So Fall of '04, I did the same thing. It's two years later, and they said, "You're going to make it this time?" And I said, "Absolutely. I put all this time into finding a place and organizing all of you clowns to go. I'm absolutely going to be there."

A week or two before my agent had said, "I'm working on this possible job for you." And I said, "Yeah, yeah, great, great." Because those things never come through. Well, on this given Thursday, I was supposed to fly east to Chicago, and meet all my friends. Wednesday morning, my agent calls me and says, "I got an offer for you for two episodes on this show Lost." I said, "I've never heard of it." She said, "It premieres tonight." I said, "I don't really want to." She said, "I'm telling you, it's supposed to be good." I can't pass up an opportunity for work, so I had to spend that afternoon, Wednesday afternoon, calling my friends and telling them I have to take this job on this show Lost. And of course, I caught all sorts of abuse.

So the next morning, instead of flying east to Chicago, I went west to Honolulu. My agent had proposed me to the casting director, and she had proposed me to J.J. [Abrams], who evidently recognized my work from In the Bedroom, a feature that had been out a couple of years earlier, and said, "That's the perfect guy. That's Ethan. Just bring him in for the show."

So I was lucky enough to get an offer for two episodes and then it has kind of rolled on from there. When I got on the plane the next morning, Lost had just premiered the night before, and it came out of the gate a huge hit. It was all over the papers and already a cult favorite. So I'm very lucky – I stepped on the train at just the right time.

Perfect timing. Have there been any reveals about Ethan since you first played him that have been surprising to you? Stuff that when you first played him, then later on you came back and you're a doctor.

I did not know that Ethan was a surgeon. I must have slept-walked through my medical training. That was a surprise to me.

Then all of your post-mortem appearances probably.

My post-mortems were obviously a surprise. When I first started, I didn't know anything about the Others or Dharma, and I had no idea I'd be participating in recruiting Juliet. Those were things I had no idea, and I don't believe any of the other actors did.

You'd have to ask Damon [Lindelof] and Carlton [Cuse] and the other writers how much they even knew about it. They know the direction they're headed, but how they're going to get there is something that they...

Play with along the way?

Play a little with along the way, exactly.

Have you been able to watch [Lost] fairly regularly?

Oh yeah. I'm a big fan. And that's part of the fun for me with the show. It's not always the case, when an actor is a fan of the show he's on. So while it's fun, at the same time it is a little bit odd for me to be participating in something and helping to create something that I also so much enjoy as an observer. Like, seeing yourself on the screen in an episode, I'm like "Get the hell off of there, Mapother! Let's let the other guys do their jobs so you can enjoy the show!"

"Where's Hurley? I don't wanna see Ethan!"

Exactly. "Get on with the action!" That's kind of the way I feel when my character comes on screen. In a way, it intrudes on my fandom. It's a very funny thing, to watch an episode with me. I cringe and I cheer and I yell. It's very fun.

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