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Cusick riding the 'best wave of his life'

Henry Ian Cusick
© Randee St. Nicholas

February 4, 2007

By Heidi Chang
Special to the Advertiser

When Henry Ian Cusick isn’t playing a castaway on the hit ABC television drama "Lost," you might spot him catching a few waves off of Waikiki.

That’s where he was recently, with a big smile on his face as he headed toward shore.

But that’s not the only reason he’s one happy guy. Ever since he joined the cast of "Lost,'' Cusick says, he’s been riding the best wave of his life.

In contrast to the mysterious character he portrays in the series, who’s full of secrets like the show itself, in person, Cusick is candid, engaging and down to earth.

"I think they’ve given me a really plum role," says Cusick, referring to his character, Desmond David Hume, in the award-winning drama series.

The story: After being released from a British military prison, Desmond ends up shipwrecked on a spooky island, living in an underground hatch for three years, before a plane crashes there, marooning the survivors along with him.

"It's a fantastic piece of writing that Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse (the executive producers of "Lost") have invented," continues Cusick, who says he’s having a lot of fun playing Desmond.

"He's three-dimensional. He’s just so rare, someone like this. He keeps on being beaten down, and he keeps on getting up and just taking those steps forward.

"He's a man of faith. Not that I would ever consider myself a method actor, but the character Desmond is with me all the time. He’s much braver than I could ever be, he’s much more resilient.”


Still damp from surfing and clad in a T-shirt, shorts and running shoes, Cusick is relaxed and at ease as he thoughtfully responds to questions, sitting on a park bench underneath a shady tree.

There’s something very calm and natural about the 6-foot, fit and thin actor, who looks like he could run a marathon. His expressive, brown eyes light up while he talks story.

Born in his mother’s homeland of Peru, Cusick was raised in Spain, Trinidad and Scotland. His family moved a lot because his Scottish father was a civil engineer whose work took them around the globe.

Growing up, Cusick attended Catholic schools and says his Catholic upbringing helped keep him grounded. His other values include "being modest'' and a positive outlook — "to get on with things, get on with life.''

Toward the end of high school, Cusick was all set to study surveying in Edinburgh when a flier from the National Youth Theatre in London (looking for participants) caught his eye. He auditioned, got accepted into the three-week course, and got hooked on acting.

Back in Scotland, the aspiring actor got into drama school — and then got kicked out. "It wasn’t the right place for me,'' he says.

Soon after, he landed his first professional acting job — as a polar bear in the Glasgow Citizens Theatre Pantomime.

"Gosh, that’s so 'Lost'," he jokes, laughing at the parallel to the series’ mysterious polar bear. Then he growls, imitating how he once ran around on stage as a "cute polar bear,'' pretending to scare little children.

"That was when theater was a lot of fun. It was about having a good time, just loving being on stage and trying things. I was fearless," Cusick reminisces. "And then you get older, and you think, ‘Oh, there’s critics’ — you’re trying to get noticed, and it becomes different."

Before long, the actor was honing his skills with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal National Theatre in London and in British film and television.

In 2003, Cusick landed his biggest film role, portraying Jesus in the "Gospel of John.''

"He brought such humanity to the role," recalls Paula Rosenberg, who met Cusick when she was a casting director.

Rosenberg, now Cusick’s manager, says she was blown away by his talent. "He was off the charts! He’s extraordinary. He’s not your typical Hollywood actor,'' she says, speaking by phone from Los Angeles. "He brings a sense of genuine sincerity to the roles, and he’s so humble and well-rounded; plus, he’s a great-looking guy, with warmth and charm.''


The actor was living in London, working in various roles, when he heard "Lost'' was looking for a character that was Scottish or Irish. He put himself on DVD, and as a result of the video audition, producers offered him the part of Desmond in Season 2.

"This is a life-changing gig,'' says Cusick, grinning.

The depth that he brought to the role did not go unnoticed.

Cusick was nominated for an Emmy for best guest actor in a drama series in 2006. It was "Lost’s'' sole acting nomination that year. And while he didn’t win an Emmy, Cusick did grab the brass ring by becoming a series regular in "Lost" in Season 3.

"'Lost' is everything I ever wanted," says Cusick, who’d been hoping to land a regular spot in a good TV series. (He had been seen on American television, in a recurring role in "24.")

"You’re working on a beach, and if not, you’re working in a jungle. It’s really idyllic, a really beautiful place to live and work,'' says the actor, who had never been to Hawaiçi before "Lost."

Despite the uncertain future of any character on "Lost," Cusick says, he’s glad he moved his family from London to join him here.

"I knew they’d love it," he says. "I thought for one year, it would be a great life experience for all of us. Usually, when I’m working, I’m away from home."

For now, the family is renting a home near a beach on the Windward side. On his days off, Cusick is often out in the ocean, or running, playing soccer and enjoying what Hawai'i has to offer, along with his family. "Being able to go surfing, and fantastic weather — it’s great for the kids," he says.


"Lost" is broadcast in more than 200 countries, and is especially popular in Asia, France, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Cusick has his own ideas on why the series is so appealing. "Lost" is completely groundbreaking," he says. "And I’m so pleased for it, because I love mythology, and I love sci-fi.

"Lost" touches on so many things — this hidden island, this sort of Atlantis. It’s got the whole shipwreck-type thing, like Jules Verne. And the possibilities are just huge. We can go anywhere we want with this!"

He thinks the show's success has influenced other shows, like "Heroes," and helped revive an interest in serialized dramas. "Lost" is one of a handful of shows in this era that "define a moment in television," like "Dallas," "Dynasty" and "Magnum, P.I.," he says.

Cusick also likes the fact that viewers get to see a lot of the world when they watch the series.

"You could be in Iraq with Sayid or Nigeria with Eko. You could be in Australia with Emily, or you could be in Scotland, possibly with me, or London, depending on where or when my flashback ever happens. You don’t see that in many television programs.

"Also, it’s just so nice to hear a mix of accents in one show. I don’t know of any other show that has such a wide variety of accents and no one blinks an eye," says Cusick, who’s fluent in Spanish and speaks English with a Scottish accent.

He notes that "Lost" was the first American prime-time network show to feature people speaking in their native language, with English subtitles. "It's challenging and great TV, and it’s also really brave of them to do that ... to be able to go to so many different countries in one episode, and have them all filmed in Hawaiçi. I think a lot of producers would look at a script like that and go, ‘Forget it, it’s not going to happen.'"


Now 39, Cusick says he loves working on "Lost," as part of the ensemble cast, and embracing the show’s challenges.

Because the actors may not get the script until a few days or a day before shooting their scene, Cusick says, there’s not much time to prepare. "So you just have to trust in the writing. The writing is really the star of the show, and the idea is really the strength of the show,'' he says — "and the casting." Then he laughs.

"It can be "kind of scary," he says, knowing your character could get killed off or written off anytime.

"I'm appreciating it and enjoying it for what it is." he says.

Cusick says even he was surprised when he read the script for the Season 2 Finale, "Live Together, Die Alone,'' and it looked like Desmond was going to die. To his relief, the producers told him he’d be coming back.

In that episode, when it looks like the island is starting to self-destruct, Desmond risks his own life in an attempt to avert catastrophe. (Fans will recall that he turns a fail-safe key in the hatch.)

"That was his chance for redemption. He was trying to save Locke and the people on the island. One last good deed,'' explains Cusick.

Like his fellow actors, Cusick is not allowed to comment on current story lines. But Cusick says viewers will find out what happened when the hatch imploded — and Desmond’s clothes were blown off — when "Lost'' resumes. He hints viewers will learn more about his "ability to get flashes of a possible future,'' and says his story line is "really brilliant."

"I wish I could tell you more, but I can’t. I’d get fired!'' he says, laughing.

Reflecting on the path he’s taken so far as an actor, Cusick is grateful. "Sometimes it is feast or famine.'' And right now, he says, breaking out into a big smile, "I’m having a pretty good feast.''

Also: Cusick's big break

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