With the meteoric success of ABC’s castaway drama “Lost,” the career of journeyman actor Josh Holloway, who plays bad-boy con artist Sawyer, has gone from near-zero to off the charts in a few short months.
The 35-year-old former model is still coping with all this newfound attention.
“It’s been fun,” he says in his deep, Georgia drawl, “but it’s still shocking at times. I still enjoy it a bit. I haven’t been in it long enough to get jaded.
“Nothing in my life has ever just happened. I’ve had to seek out my directions in life, and they normally are long and arduous before it gets fun and exciting.
“This was the same, and I expected it to be so. I think it’s human nature; we need the pain to enjoy the glory.”
Holloway’s experience on “Lost” is hardly the first time that an actor in his mid-30s has suddenly catapulted to stardom. George Clooney did it in “ER,” and more recently, Julian McMahon did it in “Nip/Tuck.”
And while he’s now a confirmed movie star, Harrison Ford was about that age – and making ends meet by working as a carpenter – when he got the role of Han Solo in “Star Wars” in 1977.
“Really?” Holloway says when told this. “He’s a big inspiration for the character of Sawyer. I love him, Harrison Ford. That’s what I used for my prep.
“I wanted Sawyer to be a cross between Han Solo and maybe Wolverine – a little more edge and anger to him, but with the lovable scoundrel that Han Solo was.
“It’s such a brilliant character. I love playing, not a bad guy, but a scoundrel. That’s the key, to be the guy that you love to hate, not the guy you hate, or else, in the nature of this show, I would have been dead already.”
And, since series co-creators J.J. Abrams (“Alias”) and Damon Lindelof keep hinting a major character will die at season’s end, Sawyer could be dead yet.
“And I still could be,” Holloway says. “They remind us of that constantly.”
It’s not that Sawyer hasn’t had his close calls. When he’s not reading such books as “Watership Down,” annoying physician and self-appointed castaway leader Jack (Matthew Fox) or exchanging double entendres with enigmatic fugitive-from-the-law Kate (Evangeline Lilly), Sawyer busies himself with stashing away whatever usable items he can salvage from the wreckage of the show’s doomed Australia-to-Los Angeles flight.
This hoarding got Sawyer into trouble with Jack when, just out of spite, he refused to say whether he had needed medicine. Jack then turned to castaway Sayid (Naveen Andrews), a former Iraqi Republican Guardsman, to employ torture to get Sawyer to talk.
“I really liked it,” Holloway says about filming the scene. “I knew it was going to be difficult physically, but I like that kind of stuff.
“I like getting beat up a little bit. It’s normal. I grew up in the country with three brothers, and gosh, all we ever did was to come home with something my mom had to fix.
“So the torture was great, but it was torture, because I’m 35, and I spent 14 hours, two days in a row, on my knees. It was grueling, yelling – I lost my voice. At one point, I hyperventilated a little bit. It was very interesting, as an actor, to go there.”
Regarding the question of whether there are any more like him at home, Holloway says, “They’re all computer heads. They’re very intelligent. The brother right under me is a nuclear physics major from Georgia Tech, so they’re all brainy. I can barely send an e-mail.”
He does, though, get a taste of home when he’s hanging out with Fox – who, according to fellow cast members, likes to let it all hang out.
“Oh, Matt is unafraid,” Holloway says. “He’s just secure with himself and his family, and he is not afraid to be nude – not out in public, but if he’s around his house, he doesn’t care, and I love him for that.
“He reminds me of my dad, because my dad was a total nudist. We grew up on a dirt road, way out in the country. No one can see you, so Dad was just walking around naked all the time. So Foxy reminds me of Dad.”
While Holloway may get a little nostalgic for home, he doesn’t miss modeling.
“I have nothing bad to say about the industry, because it provided me with exactly what I wanted it for,” he says. “I traveled extensively and made some cash. But it’s just not fulfilling work.
“Oh, Lord, we made a joke that you carry away your modeling stick so you could whack yourself on the head a few times right before they shoot, so you don’t have a thought and get that far-off look in your eyes. It’s really just from being smacked, that’s all.”
When Sawyer gets that look in his eyes, it’s usually because Kate is around. In the torture scene, she took him up on his offer of information in exchange for a kiss that seemed to go on longer than strictly necessary.
“I was looking at that,” Holloway says, “going, ‘Well, shoot, Hollywood kissing’s supposed to have tongue in it – or is it?’
“I liked it. It went well. When I watched it and saw the tongue action, I was like, ‘Oooh, maybe we shouldn’t do that,’ but my character, of course he’s going to go for it.”
As for the big, two-part finale in May (the final part is reported to be 90 minutes, with the last 30 almost commercial-free) and the mysterious death, Holloway says:
“The last three episodes, they’re going to answer some questions and create more, but they’re going to move the story forward. In the season finale, they’re not even giving us a script. We only get our scenes.
“We work for the CIA, I swear.”