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Lost’s Terry O’Quinn on the Secret to Playing Smokey-Locke

So far during this final season of Lost, we've been introduced to two new versions of John Locke: A less angry-at-the-world 2004 version and a less alive island version. Neither made an appearance in last week's episode, but ABC assures us that Terry O'Quinn fans will be pleased with tonight's Locke-heavy installment, "The Substitute." We spoke to O'Quinn about tonight's episode, what it's like playing both happier and smokier versions of his character, and how he got so good at throwing those damned knives around.

We missed you in last week's episode, but we hear there's a lot of John Locke tonight. Who or what is the substitute?
Well, it's a double entendre. Locke gets fired and he has to find other work. But, also, [Locke]'s the substitute for Smokey, or Smokey is the substitute for him.

This new 2004 timeline Locke we're seeing, he's a lot more at peace with the world.
He's got it together a little bit more; his potential for happiness seems to be higher than previously in the other universe — or whatever the hell it is.

In a just-released clip from tonight's episode, we learn from Locke's boss, Randy, that Locke is getting married in a few months.
Yes, Randy. Poor Randy, he's back; the parenthesis on this Locke story. Yes, that's the plan. He and Helen [Katy Sagal] are going to tie the knot.

And this new island version of Locke has a new trick: being able to turn into the smoke monster ...
Well, Locke doesn't have any tricks. John Locke is dead. The smoke monster has a new trick, where he can turn into Locke.

And he's afraid of some sort of powder ...
I believe it's ash. I don't know it it's some particular kind of ash, or ash in general. [Laughs.] He's not an ash man.

When making season five, when you first read that Locke would be killed, were you worried for a split second you wouldn't be on the show anymore?
Not really. For whatever reason, I made the assumption that I would continue to work on the show. It's like life: You never think you're going to die until you actually die.

Speaking of, that was a pretty intense scene when Ben killed Locke. Are there any jokes said on the set to keep the mood light?
We just tried to play the scene honestly. We rehearsed it honestly, and the crew was respectful. You don't try to lighten the mood, but on the other hand, you don't try to falsely intensify it, either. Those kinds of scenes require a lot of concentration and, generally, the mood on the set is respectful of what's being attempted.

How soon in the filming of season five did you find out about Locke's death?
Oh, not soon at all. I find out, usually, when I get the scripts. They probably gave me a warning one or two episodes ahead. I think Carlton [Cuse] or Damon [Lindelof] said, "You're going to die. But don't worry, you're not dead." So I guess I did have some warning of what was coming — maybe a week or two ahead of time — but with the assurance that I'd be back.

Did they hint at all that Locke was Smokey? So you knew to play the character a little differently?
They didn't say anything; they don't say anything. That's their choice and that's fine. They choose not to trust people with information that they think is integral to the mystery. That's the parameters under which we work, and that's fine by me. That means all I have to do is play the scene. They throw the seeds on the ground and whatever sprouts up, they can pick what they want. I assumed in season five that I was still John Locke but, apparently, I couldn't be killed.

For two seasons in a row, the big final reveal has been Locke's body in a coffin. We're hoping that doesn't happen for a third time. The have to bury him at some point, right? How long can he really last out there on the beach like that?
Well, yeah, you'd think so, right? Of course, in real time — from the time he died until he arrived on the island — I don't know how long of a time passed, then. I assume he was embalmed. He's been laying there for a week or so. He's going to start getting ripe, and I think someone's going to make a reference to that fact. When Locke made a reference to Jack's dad in the [season premiere], when he said, "They haven't lost your dad, they just lost his body." For fans of John Locke — and not that I know anything, because I don't — all that's laying there is Locke's body.

No one is better than John Locke at interrupting conversations with a dramatic knife throw.
No, no! Nobody does that better. I'm hoping that we'll get to see one or two more occasions to practice that knife wielding. I don't know if Smokey needs it or not; he's pretty capable without it. Though, as Smokey-Locke, I still carry it around and use it on occasion. I did practice it and got fairly accurate with it. More as a hobby to pass the time to get away from the craft-service table than anything else.

What's your favorite theory that you've heard about Locke?
I haven't heard many theories. I don't tend to indulge myself in the series; I'm pretty much just looking at the work. The question that I've heard — even discussed a little bit on the set — is how much of Locke is in Smokey. Is there any Locke there? And honestly, on occasion [there is], because no one has instructed me otherwise. When I started talking about Locke and wondering what Locke's last thought was, well, I decided that Smokey would be surprisingly moved by that — that there would be some residual emotion that was contained that was John Locke's. So little bits of Locke keep popping up in Smokey. But that's just my choice, it's not anything anybody told me to do. I decided it would give a little flavor to the performance, so I'm going to go with that until somebody tells me to quit it.

Photo: Bob D'Amico/ABC