Dominic Monaghan is calling from paradise. Currently residing on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, The Lord of the Rings star is shopping for a birthday present for his mother. An avid surfer, he is enjoying his time on the tropical isle, but this is hardly a vacation. Instead he is starring as Charlie, a washed-up musician who survives a plane crash and must start a new life on a deserted island on ABC's Lost, one of the fall's most anticipated television shows. The brainchild of Alias creator J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof (formerly a writer/producer on Crossing Jordan), Lost features a large ensemble cast and some ongoing mysteries that are sure to keep viewers guessing. Little is initially revealed about Charlie—the bass player in a one-hit-wonder band whose members, he insists, are still together and due for a comeback—and early hints indicate he's hiding a pretty big secret.
Occasionally during our interview he stops to chat with a passerby who recognizes him from his role as the mischievous Hobbit, Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck, from the Rings trilogy, and the actor is always gracious and friendly. He relished his time on the epic and remains close with his co-stars; three of the four hobbits will be reuniting in Hawaii for New Year's Eve. But he is clearly excited about his new project. Monaghan won the role of Charlie, even though the role was originally conceived for an older actor. "He was supposed to be a has-been rocker whose band had fallen off the map, like, 15 years earlier, but Dominic is 25 years old," Lindelof told Back Stage West. "So, he came in and read and just brought this great sense of humor to everything, [so] that we just rethought the character and said, 'Well, what if he wasn't an ex-rocker, but he was a one-hit wonder, and he just didn't realize it yet.'"
Having starred in one of the most successful franchises of all time, playing an artist who peaked too soon might seem like tempting fate to some actors, but Monaghan dismisses such a notion. "You know what, I didn't think about that until probably about halfway through," he admits. "This could have very easily been me; it could still be me. I could go from working on one of the most successful films of all time, and then my career could disappear. I did have a year after making The Lord of the Rings when I wasn't working, and I was kind of dealing with these same emotions of what to do next." During that year, the German-born and British-raised actor had moved to Los Angeles and was just like any other struggling actor—albeit one with a series of hit movies on the horizon. "I had a year of being kind of down and depressed and pissed off, and I did a bit of soul-searching," he recalls. "It was probably one of the most gratifying years of my life, looking back now, because I grew so much. I came out the other side a lot stronger and ready to get on with life."
While most people first took notice of him in Rings, the actor has been hard at work in the business for almost a decade. He was 17 when he landed a regular role on the British series Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, which ran for four seasons. So he was hardly an overnight success at the time he was cast as Merry by director Peter Jackson. "I'm not really comfortable with the idea that people think, 'Oh, these lucky guys just came out of nowhere and got this gig on the greatest film of all time,'" he says. "I had to support years and years of working for something; I had to pay dividends. I worked for nine years so that I could get the opportunity to actually audition for Lord of the Rings." Many of those early jobs remain some of the actor's fondest. "Some of the work that I did, that I'm really proud of, has probably never been seen by anyone, because it's a small film or a tiny role in a play in Manchester somewhere," he says. "One of the big things as an actor, that you're explicitly aware of, is that you're only as big as the last great thing that you did."
For that reason, he has been picky about the roles he's taken post-Rings and wasn't actively looking to do a TV series. "I was in the middle of reading a lot of film scripts, and I actually said to my agent that I didn't think I wanted to do television until something really special came along," he says. That something special turned out to be Lost, which he says he was "blown away" by. Although he had never seen Alias, he rented the DVDs and met with Abrams, which sold him on the project. He has high hopes for the series, which was dubbed the "best new drama" by Entertainment Weekly, but he also knows nothing is a surefire hit. "Some of the greatest shows only last one season while Beverly Hills, 90210 ran, what, 12 seasons?" he says, with a laugh. "You never can tell."
Asked what his favorite part about doing the series is, Monaghan says he believes the best is yet to come. "I think once the show has been on the air awhile, the thing I'm going to enjoy more than anything is talking to people on the streets and finding out what they like about the show on a week-to-week basis," he enthuses. "Feedback is so accessible when you're on a weekly show. I think that's going to be amazing." Considering that the actor has been besieged by fans for the past four years, it's refreshing to hear that he has yet to tire of it. "I've had enough interactions with people along the way that if I was going to get pissed off at it, I would have been pissed off by now," he says. "I really don't mind; it's nice to have people come over and know what you do and be nice. It's always a really positive thing, it never becomes intrusive—unless you're in the middle of eating or someone starts to put their hands on you and won't let you leave."
Should his series get lost in the shuffle this fall, he has several film projects to look forward to. He'll play a "complete loser" in the crime comedy Spivs and a rock 'n' roller in the dark drama Shooting Livien, and then he'll appear in a kung fu movie called The Purifiers, based on the 1979 cult classic The Warriors. He is also co-writing a screenplay with his Rings co-star Billy Boyd about the discovery of America, in which they will star. "Billy and I spent a long amount of time together, and the producer of Lord of the Rings approached us a few times and said, 'You guys should really write something, because the way you guys speak is really inspiring, the kind of banter you have with each other,'" he says. "Billy and I both really enjoy writing together. We don't have a lot of time, but we're going to get together in the new year."
An advocate of creating his own work, Monaghan says, "I'm acutely aware that, as an artist, you need to try to immerse yourself in art to stay artistic. I try to get involved with any type of art and throw myself in with both feet. They say if you're working, you'll continue to work. If you keep being artistic, art will keep throwing itself towards you." And during those dry spells, the actor recommends remembering that you are not alone. "I think it's important for everyone to know that it's not just you that is going through this feeling of 'Should I give up?' or 'This industry is pointless and soul destroying.' It is. It is tough and a hard industry to be in, but everybody's experienced that, and if you persevere and you keep your head down and your eye on the prize, life has a funny way of working out," he says. "Also, time is a very interesting phenomenon. Just at the right time, at that perfect moment, it's all just going to make sense. So just stay positive; [that's] a really important thing." With that, the actor makes an impulse buy of a pair of gecko earrings and is back to the beach.