Exclusive Interview: William Mapother, from ‘Lost’
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.
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.
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.
So did you watch the Season 3 finale?
So, the whole "flash-forward" thing, did that kind of freak you out?
Well, it surprised me, like it did a lot of people. I had no idea it was coming. I'm as interested as anybody else is in where it's going.
Did you think that Charlie's death was some sort of an "island justice" because he killed your character?
Oh Amy, that's cruel. I swear to you that had not crossed my mind.
Oh, but it has now!
But does that mean that - we've just seen Sawyer kill two people in cold blood. Does that mean in two seasons we're going to lose Sawyer?
Well, I don't know.
I'm just saying, if you take that and run with it, then well, I don't know.
I just thought that – there was so much with Dominic [Monaghan] coming off of Lord of the Rings and going to Lost. He had his own personal fan base. Then there was the "hanging of the hobbit" – which is what you did.
Wait a second, Amy. Sorry for interrupting, but I'm going to make the first correction of the interview – how do you know Ethan did that? Not only did it occur off-screen, but Charlie's never said that Ethan did it.
So he shot you because you took Claire?
And not because you tried to strangle him?
Well, he cared about it. It's not as if I refused him a stick of gum. But you remember how obsessed he was with Claire in that first season? And his flashback was about how he'd dropped the ball and had not been responsible previously in his life, before he got to the island. So, my taking Claire hit a little button on ole Charlie.
So you were just the button pusher?
I was the button pusher! I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Dr. Rom missteps. But just to clarify, I don't think its ever been made explicit that Ethan's the one who hanged Charlie.
You're just gonna keep telling yourself that.
Amy, Amy, Amy, Amy – feet on the ground, please! Please stay in touch with us here on Earth. You can only assert that which has been on-screen. That which you've seen.
And Lost is SO based in reality.
Well, if you're going to argue these things that occur off-screen, there's no end to it.
Well, there's gotta be some interpretation.
You can say, in your opinion – if you want to throw in those four, five syllables, I'll totally grant you that freedom. In Amy's opinion, Ethan's the one who hanged Charlie. Granted.
I'm sure I'm not the only one with that opinion.
There are a lot of people who believe George Bush is an alien. Does not make it any more true. I don't know. That's a different interview. Go ahead.
Obviously, K-Ville [new Fox TV show coming this Fall] has not premiered, but there have been previews and gee, you're in them.
I don't know how much you can say about your character – I don't know if there is much. But was that actually filmed in New Orleans?
Yeah, we shot it in New Orleans. I hadn't been to New Orleans in a long time. We shot it in March, I believe. And it made me wish I had been in New Orleans more recently, specifically before [Hurricane] Katrina and then more recently after Katrina to help. It's a gem. It's an absolute gem. For anybody who hasn't been there, I strongly encourage them to go. It's one of America's most beautiful cities, and unlike any other city in America. Vastly different than the rest of ours.
So we shot it in New Orleans, and the story is actually set there. It's about two policemen, and one of them is trying to keep people in the city. You know, because so many people have left after the hurricane. And K-Ville refers to how some residents refer to it since Katrina. Katrina Ville.
My character is the head of security at a casino, and also part of…a security firm which has done some work for the Homeland Security Department and maybe the FBI. They've done some work in New Orleans; they've also done some work over in Iraq. He appears to be involved in some dealings that may not be "above-board," let's say.
Completely shocked. But you know, I think it is one of the things that I've always loved about your work and the roles you do, because there is literally some kind of a switch. And I've met you in person and I've seen the switch "flipped" and it kind of freaked me out. You can be this totally normal, nice, easy-going guy and then SNAP. It's fantastic to watch.
But wait, when you met me in person, what do you mean you "saw it in person"? What did I…
Well, you attacked me with a pen.
I think for those who weren't there, I think there should be a little clarification.
It was at a fan party, and we were posing for a picture, and I said, "Pretend to attack me with the pen." And you did, and it was scary! Stop laughing at me!
I'm not laughing at you, Amy.
It made an impression, how's that?
I made an impression, that's fair enough. You know, this show Lost affects a lot of people, and my character happened to be in a certain way, again, in the right place at the right time, in terms of revealing the first person on the island who hadn't been part of the crash. You know, it made an impression on a lot of viewers. And particularly that "look" – the shot of me right before the end of that episode, when it was revealed that I wasn't on the manifest and then I took Claire and Charlie.
So, I'm certainly not laughing at you. It's only funny to me because, you know, I'm in my own skin and I'm not a violent, angry person. My friends and family say, "How do you play those sorts of roles?" It's only amusing that I can have that sort of effect on people.
Well, obviously it is benefiting you in the work department, so don't knock it.
It is. I'm lucky enough that I'm getting work that isn't entirely of that color.
Yeah, you definitely get both sides of the coin.
I did another pilot his year called Skip Tracer with Stephen Dorff and directed by Stephen Frears, who got nominated for directing The Queen. I played a small comic role as a brother who is fighting with his half-brother over their father's hat. Their father passed away and they are fighting over his father's prized possession – a hat from Bonanza. It was Hoss' hat – this big cowboy hat.
And I just finished one thriller, an indie thriller called Hurt, and I'm about to start a horror film set in the Old West called The Burrowers. That's going to be a lot of fun. We're starting in about a week in New Mexico. I play a guy who goes after some kidnapped settlers.
So, I'm fortunate enough to get a wide-range of roles, but you're right, people seem to trust that I can, how'd you put it, "snap" if necessary.
Bring the scary, pretty much is what you do. You bring the scary.
I "bring the scary" – that's funny. I'm going to give my agent that phrase. That's funny.
"William Mapother – he can bring the scary." I'm getting t-shirts. And bumper stickers.
Well, let me ask you...what attracts you to Lost? What do you like so much about Lost?
Even before the show started, I have been a huge J.J. Abrams fan. More specifically, I was a huge fan of Alias. The genius of writing – I'm a big fan of good, well-scripted shows that I can't predict what's going to happen. I have a very logical mind and I can watch a show and figure out what's going to happen before the end a lot of the time. Which is okay sometimes, but sometimes it gets kind of boring.
I like when people break the rules – when they take you outside the box, and it's fun and enjoyable. That is something J.J. does – in spades. So I was already a big fan of J.J.'s before I came to the show, and have watched it since Day One. The acting is just absolutely amazing. The sets, the music – I mean, I'm just a big fan of it all around. I've been involved with the fandom and it is really some of the most dedicated fans, as well as some of the more overly-dedicated fans. There are some that can be really out there, but it's been such an amazing experience. The people who are involved in that show are just really some of the most outgoing, gregarious people you've ever met.
Yeah, they really are.
And I don't think all the fans appreciate that. I know I am part of a good little select few that get that. But those people love what they do, and don't ever think that they are going to give you something that isn't 100 percent of what they felt they could do.
Yeah, it really is a terrific group. Very dedicated, very talented, very professional.
Yes, very much so. Well, I don't want to keep you too long.
Not at all, I've enjoyed talking to you.
Well, I really appreciate you calling me, and like I said, I've met you in the past; I hope to see you again in the future. It's always a pleasure.
Well, thank you, Amy, I feel the same. Call me any time, and we can have a chat whenever you like.
Alright, well thanks for talking with me.
And I look forward to next season.
So do we all!
Bye. Thank you.
-Interview conducted by Amy J. Johnston., BuddyTV Staff Writer
(Image courtesy of ABC)
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