Arts & Culture

Lost and Found

TV actor and Timonium resident Terry O'Quinn says goodbye to his Lost character John Locke as he plans for the future—and perhaps a return to CenterStage.

When Terry O’Quinn isn’t playing the elusive character John Locke on the acclaimed ABC show Lost, you might spot the angular, bald actor picking up groceries at The Giant across from the Maryland State Fairgrounds, eating scrambled eggs at Miss Shirley’s in Roland Park, or taking a swing on the greens at Greystone Golf Course in White Hall.

After all, he’s one of us, a Marylander, since the mid-1970s. And when Lost— a convoluted saga about a group of plane crash survivors who find themselves on an island full of mysteries—wraps up filming its sixth and final season in Hawaii this spring, O’Quinn, 57, will be back in his Timonium townhouse with his wife of 30 years, Lori. He’ll be hanging out with friends and just being a regular guy, at least, until his next project.

There’s already buzz about another TV show, perhaps pairing O’Quinn with Michael Emerson, who plays the nefarious, bug-eyed Ben on Lost. The new series, in one possible scenario, would feature O’Quinn and Emerson as suburban hit men juggling family issues, according to the TV Guide Magazine website.

It makes sense. The two actors have a soul-searing on-screen chemistry, though O’Quinn wouldn’t confirm any specifics. “I have a couple of plans. It’s a secret,” says the actor, who spoke by phone from Hawaii while filming the waning episodes of the series. “It involves TV. I love television.”

Even before the Lost finale airs May 23, a wistfulness lingers in O’Quinn’s voice when he talks about John Locke, the enigmatic role he’s lived and breathed for so many years. There are similarities between Locke and himself, he says.

“He’s looking for something to believe in. He’s like me in that he wants to be appreciated,” says O’Quinn. “He’s an amplification of everyone’s desires.”

But is John Locke good or evil? “Yes,” says O’Quinn with a chuckle. “It’s the most honest answer. He could be one of The Others.”

Anyone who has followed Lost—or tried to—knows that The Others are a hostile, ragtag tribe of people on the island. Of course, for John Locke, the plot has gotten more complicated this season since the Smoke Monster—a roiling, undulating tube of blackness—has assumed the appearance of his supposedly dead body.

(If you’re a novice watcher, don’t even try and understand. In fact, regular viewers usually have no clue what’s going on either. We’re waiting for answers, ABC!)

At the time of the phone call, O’Quinn didn’t know what was in store for his character. “They don’t tell us anything. . . . I’m just a few episodes ahead of you,” he says.

When O’Quinn leaves his popular TV persona behind, he’ll slide into civilian life in Timonium with just a few minor tweaks.

“I think he’s pretty grounded,” says his wife Lori, a Reisterstown native and accomplished horse rider who reined in her husband when he needed riding lessons many years ago for a movie role. She acknowledges, though, that there is a period of adjustment when he returns to Baltimore after working in the limelight. “He comes back, and [I say], ‘Let’s get the trash out. Pick up this.’ I have to whip him back into shape,” she says, joking, sort of.

But by all accounts, the affable actor with the cat-ate-the-canary grin is not a prima donna, despite having appeared in more than a hundred stage and screen roles, and especially since he’s become a household name—and even a heartthrob—in the compelling Lost, for which he won an Emmy in 2007.

“He is, still is, terrifyingly handsome,” says Irene Lewis, artistic director at CenterStage. “There’s a whole bedroom quality to the man.”

Lewis, who came to CenterStage in the early 1990s, directed O’Quinn in plays here and in New England during his younger days. She mentions Watch on the Rhine (“He was quite brilliant in that”) and The Glass Menagerie (“It was sort of a translucent performance”).

The actor’s appeal crosses generations, she says, sharing how her 22-year-old niece, a college senior, is a big fan of Lost and particularly of O’Quinn. When the student e-mailed him, he wrote her back. “He’s just a person. He doesn’t let [stardom] affect him,” Lewis says.

O’Quinn downplays his Lost magnetism. “Josh [Holloway] and Evie [Evangeline Lilly], the young and the sexy, get a lot more attention,” he says modestly. (He’s referring to the actors who play the hunky Sawyer and gorgeous Kate on the show, a star-crossed pair if there ever was one.)

Lewis and O’Quinn have stayed friends over the years. She would love for him to appear in a play at CenterStage. “I wrote him and said, ‘Before we’re in wheelchairs, will you come back?'” she says.

O’Quinn would also like to reconnect with his theater beginnings. “I keep telling her, telling myself, I want to get back to CenterStage,” he says. “I intend to.” Lewis has her doubts “now that he’s hot,” she says.

But a curtain call could be tempting. After all, his performance in Tartuffe in the 1970s at the Baltimore regional theater was life changing in many ways. It brought O’Quinn, a Michigan native who had been acting in New York, to town and eventually led him to his future wife.

While he was here, O’Quinn, who had changed his name from Quinn earlier in his career, was offered a role in the movie Heaven’s Gate after he told a casting agent he could ride a horse. “Of course, I couldn’t,” says O’Quinn, laughing. “So I had to learn to ride.”

He ended up at Wood Gait Farm in northwest Baltimore County, where his now-wife Lori (Franklin High class of ’75) lived with her parents. He became the pupil.

“I’d put Terry on a horse, put him in position, and he would hold it.” Lori recalls. “It was very cool teaching him. He was determined.”

O’Quinn learned his lessons well. He took on the role of Captain Minardi in Heaven’s Gate, a Western that starred a slew of big names like Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Jeff Bridges (a newly minted Oscar winner for Crazy Heart), and John Hurt. But the movie is probably best remembered as being one of the biggest box-office bombs of all time and the end of director Michael Cimino’s (The Deer Hunter) career. (Obviously, it didn’t impact O’Quinn’s future.)

At the horse farm, Lori wasn’t sure what to make of the guy who would become her husband—a theatrical-looking, almost effeminate figure perched in a saddle. “He had this little Shakespeare beard thing,” she says. “He was a tall drink of water, a thin, little thing.”

Then, they fell in love. She was 22. He was 27. There’s a reason for their long relationship, says Terry: “Don’t act on bad impulses.” He doesn’t elaborate.

Today, Terry and Lori are the parents of two sons in their 20s, Oliver and Hunter. They raised the boys in Reisterstown before selling that house about six years ago to move to Hawaii. Their Baltimore roots always bring them back.

“We’ve lived in 20 places, and every time, we came back to Maryland,” says Lori. “The last time, we said, ‘That’s it. That’s our connection.’ We’re always going to be connected to Maryland.” Terry concurs: “I’ve adopted Maryland as my home.”

He’s come a long way, literally and figuratively, from his days in small-town Newberry, MI, where he was one of 11 children in a close-knit, Irish-Catholic family. He was bitten by the acting bug in high school, he says, after watching Franco Zeffirelli’s film Romeo and Juliet. He started acting in theater at Central Michigan University, though he didn’t graduate. “College was a bridge to where I was going,” he says, sounding very much like his character John Locke.

Nowadays, his celebrity follows him.

“When I first met him, I was a little apprehensive,” admits Doug Elseroad, a golf buddy who lives in Owings Mills. “But he’s down-to-earth, low-key, and unassuming.”

Elseroad and his wife Jane (who has known Lori since their school days) often spend time with the O’Quinns. They visited the couple in January at their other home on Hawaii’s North Shore while the last episodes of Lost were being filmed. “It’s really funny,” says Jane. “He’s just Terry to me.”

O’Quinn took his Baltimore friends on location and introduced them to the Lost ensemble. “The cast made us feel comfortable,” says Jane. “We had an opportunity to meet Sawyer, Josh. He’s a funny, funny guy with a million-dollar smile.”

It wasn’t the first time that Baltimoreans visited the Lost set. Last year, Duff Goldman—of Food Network’s Ace of Cakes and Charm City Cakes—and his baking crew fashioned an island cake with miniature Lost characters to celebrate the show’s 100th episode. O’Quinn missed the cast party because he was filming elsewhere. But he salvaged a memento. “I have the little sugar figure [of John Locke] in my refrigerator,” he says.

Back at home, the O’Quinns and Elseroads pal around together, going to the movies, playing board games like Say Anything (which encourages players to reveal what they think about numerous topics), or listening to Terry strum his guitar. He’s a diehard Neil Young fan (as well as a big Ravens follower, he says). When they go out in Baltimore, Terry is often recognized, Jane Elseroad says.

But O’Quinn doesn’t mind. “It’s pleasant,” he says. “I’ve been around long enough. I count my blessings. It’s a sign you’re doing well.”