Monday, January 24, 2005

Jorge Garcia plays Hurley, whose story will be told in an episode of "Lost" airing next month.

Big man
on the beach

Jorge Garcia brings
humor and humanity
to ABC’s hit "Lost"

If one afternoon you see a large, smiling man with shaggy hair floating on his back in the azure waters off Lanikai, it's probably Jorge Garcia, who portrays the oh-so-affable Hurley on ABC's hit series "Lost."

"I'll just float and stare at the (Mokuluas) for a long time and think to myself, this is not a bad way to spend a career, not bad at all," he says during an interview at a Kailua restaurant near his home.

Stars Matthew Fox and Evangeline Lilly might get most of the press, but for Garcia, "Lost" is a breakout moment.

"I love my character," he says. "I'm not the best-looking person on the show or the smartest, but everyone loves Hurley because he keeps a level head through everything. He can be funny and angry and dramatic."

Perhaps art is imitating life.

"I don't really have any enemies, and I like people," Garcia says.

As he leaves his rusting Toyota and walks to the restaurant's front door looking very Hurley, a man and a woman yell out the character's name and wave. Garcia stops to chat, poses for a photo, then talks to the woman's friend on her cell phone.

"Part of the business," he says later. "We're all just people."

This is why Garcia has broken out as one of the show's most popular stars.

"Jorge is fun to be around all the time," co-star Lilly says. "If there's a mean bone in his body, I haven't seen it."

But Garcia hope the series' writers will show Hurley's dark side in upcoming episodes.

"Aside from being able to do some great comedy on 'Lost,' it's also giving me some real moments where I get emotional or serious or take charge," Garcia says. Creators J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindeloff "now know what my range can be and see my character more than one-dimensional."

In a recent episode featuring Hurley, writer Bryan Burk decided to completely change the ending to give the character an emotional turn.

"The closing moment has just a shot of my face and my reaction to something," Garcia said. "It was something very serious, and they're letting me do more of it."

Exactly what Garcia hopes for his career is "still undeclared, a little foggy," though he takes inspiration from greats such as Jackie Gleason and John Belushi. "It's really simple," Garcia says. "I want to make some memorable moments like the stuff that touched me."

Jorge Garcia, left, does not have the highest profile of the stars of "Lost," but he has been getting around, recently being interviewed on "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

The actors might see scripts two or three shows in advance, but they still don't know "Lost's" deeper mysteries, including their own back stories and the island's much ballyhooed monster.

"My back story is still being put together, and even when I find out what it is, I can't tell anyone," Garcia says. "What's so cool is that audiences have gotten to know what I am on the island, so they may be more understanding when they find out what I was back home."

Is his history dark?

"I hope so," Garcia says. "Hurley is so always the good guy, and I hope along the way something happens where there's something he's been hiding."

Garcia said viewers will learn more about him in the 18th episode, to air next month. The producers have clued him in on the major event in his past, but he won't give it up.

One line of Hurley's -- "I'm known as something of a warrior myself" -- has fueled speculation on the Internet that the character could be anything from an undercover spy to a Dungeons and Dragons player.

"I didn't realize anything important about the warrior comment until I read all the attention it was on the Internet," he said. "So it got me thinking, well ..."

Garcia does offer one hint, secondhand, on another "Lost" mystery, the beast: One of the characters, Locke, played by Terry O'Quinn, has seen the monster. The cast watched that episode at O'Quinn's Pupukea home.

"So we're all asking, 'Terry, what did they tell you it was supposed to be?' " Garcia says.

"They told him, 'What I was looking at was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.' "

Garcia grew up in the heart of Southern California. He recalls seeing photos of himself in grade school, and "it definitely looks like I wanted attention."

He acted in school plays, then enrolled in UCLA as a communications major to get a degree "and appease my parent's worries," he says. Then he attended a lecture by Dustin Hoffman, who told an anecdote about Sir Lawrence Olivier, in which he asked the actor if he felt like returning to the craft.

"I don't have it anymore," Olivier said.

Hoffman asked, "What is this 'it' thing everyone talks about?"

"It," Olivier says, "is 'look at me, look at me, look at me.'"

"Well," Garcia says, laughing, "that was pretty much me."

He worked for nearly six years at Borders Books & Records in West Los Angeles while pursuing an acting career and did a few commercials.

"I would have to take these long lunches, like two hours, to go to auditions," he said. "I kept pushing that line, and they started busting me on it."

Fortunately, Garcia had a sympathetic supervisor -- a wannabe musician -- who had his own dreams.

Eventually, Garcia was cast to shoot a pilot. Then came a six-year run on "Becker" and Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

He auditioned for "Lost" before the Hurley character even existed. "I read pages for the Sawyer role," he said. "I think I was the first one cast."

Garcia knew he wanted whatever role it was.

"Hey, it was J.J. Abrams and filming in Hawaii," he says. "That pretty much sealed the deal for me."

Garcia enjoys learning in stages about each character. "J.J. and Damon like to explore the relationships between the characters stuck on this island," he says. 'It's like all of us who didn't know one another before and are in this sorta lab, and the writers observe us. Maybe we're an experiment."

Living in Kailua, where several of the actors reside, has kept their notoriety low, though they still get recognized.

"I walked into a store yesterday, and this woman yelled, 'Hey, Hurley!' then ran over to give me a hug," he says.

"It's a bit romantic to go somewhere and do something well and have fun and not be distracted with other stuff.

"All I gotta do is ... play my little songs on the piano and just concentrate on that."

When Garcia leaves the restaurant, another fan -- this one in his 60s -- stops to shake Garcia's hand and tell him how much he enjoys "Lost." When he sees the actor's well-used car, he asks, "You drive that?"

"It's a great car, and no one ever thinks of breaking into it," Garcia says.

"Sometimes when I'm driving, I pull to the side of the road and look at the scenery and think about where I was a few years ago and where I am now," he says. "I think about the quality of 'Lost,' my part, the great cast, and I always smile. I say to myself, I've done what's referred to as making it."

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