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Jorge Garcia on Alcatraz, Hurley Comparisons, and His ‘Expert’ Look

Hurley’s goofball humor and fondness for the word dude made him a fan favorite during the six-season run of Lost — so much so that the band Weezer named an album after him. Now actor Jorge Garcia is bringing his way with the comic relief to the newest J.J. Abrams–produced serial drama, Alcatraz. Debuting tonight, the show casts Garcia as amateur Alcatraz historian Diego Soto, tapped by the government when inmates from the sixties mysteriously start showing up in the present day. There’s a whole lot of darkness and dread, but also a whole lot of Garcia, who can effortlessly charm his way through the thickest of mysteries. We chatted with Garcia between takes to discuss his ability to play “experts,” his thoughts on airline travel, and the reason he hasn’t yet done a sitcom.

During the final season of Lost, you spoke at length about how you weren’t sure what your next role was going to be. Now here we are: You’re in another J.J. Abrams–produced mysterious drama. Immediately following that show, what was it that you were looking to do?
It was a weird moment of serendipity, in a way. I came back to California and went back into my acting class. I was at one point sitting in that class thinking, Well, let's see. It'll probably be a while probably before I get, like, a big job. But right now, I could probably get work playing experts of some kind. And I actually did say “experts” to myself. Then like, a day or so after that, suddenly they released a breakdown, or a character breakdown, for the Alcatraz script. And this part that I already knew they were looking at me for was described as an "expert."

What is it about you that’s so specifically suited to playing “experts”?
My appearance would have to be — it's not like I'm going to jump in and play a doctor or lawyer on just some random show. There's a certain level of expertise that you don't have to have a good haircut for. The people who excel and are obsessive about the subject can tend to let other things go, because they're caught up in their world. If you see a guy like me sitting at a computer, you know he's a really good hacker. So in that sense, I thought it was an easy sell.

Have you thought about changing your appearance to change the roles you could play?
Totally. In fact, I was anticipating getting a haircut for this part, if that's what they wanted or saw fit — just to have another way of emphasizing that this is a different guy [than Lost's Hurley].

Were you worried about comparisons?
I mean, I'm not worried about it. I'm assuming that they’re going to happen. Ever since Lost ended — actually, correct that, even while Lost was still on, people were looking for what was going to be the next Lost. So I wasn't that concerned. I figured I'm not going to be able to stop these people from trying to make a point of comparison. From the moment I got cast [in Alcatraz], I just knew it was going to be stuff like, “From one island to another,” or those types of little clichés that they'll use to describe my new job.

Your roles in dramas have all been partially comedic. At what point do you see yourself doing a full-on comedy show?
If I find one that I fall in love with, sure. I do think it's trickier to pull off. I've read a few scripts, but, you know, it's hard to get a comedy that doesn't make me want to roll my eyes at some of the jokes. Mixing humor into something dramatic seems to work better into my desires. Right now is when things are starting to change. There's a huge range of comedies out there ... there are some really successful things, but they’re just not exactly the kind of comedy that I'm excited about doing. So it's just trying to find it. I like comedy to come from a real place and not just feel so much of a setup and a punch line. I think an audience can see a joke coming a mile away, and you kind of have to sneak the comedy in. And they'll laugh from a different place.

Are you as discerning about drama? There are a lot of twists on TV that audiences can see coming.
I guess you're right. There have been times where I'm watching Saturday Night Live up here in Canada, and there will be a commercial for another show that's on later in the week. The dramatic-ness of the clip almost makes me think that it’s one of their like fake commercial bits. And then you realize, Oh, no, this is a show. Not only me, but at one point Sarah [Jones, his Alcatraz co-star] was at my house and we were watching TV together, and we both got caught by the same moment going, “Oh wait is this — Oh, no, wait … ”

You’re billed online as an actor/stand-up comic. But I can’t find a single clip of you performing stand-up anywhere on the Internet.
I don't really think of myself as a stand-up comic. I went to UCLA, and after I graduated I was dabbling a little bit in stand-up, but I never had the discipline like the guys who were there to do stand-up — who could do the same material over and over again to hone it and get it right, and to get up there and fail to become better. For me, it was a way to showcase me as a performer, and I didn't have as much of a commitment. I mean, it was fun to do, and I considered maybe it might be cool to write stuff again and do it just because of the position I'm in now.

Would you perform now?
A few months ago, a friend of mine did a fund-raiser. She was diagnosed with breast cancer, and they made a fund-raiser at the Laugh Factory. She asked if I could perform in it, and I hadn't really done that in, like, seven years, at least. But she was the person to ask to get me back onstage and to make it happen. And then after I say yes I'm like, “Oh, crap. Now what am I going to do?” But it was good. It made me go, “All right, maybe I shouldn't shut out this part of my creativity completely.”

It’s a chance to talk about things you can’t talk about in other ways.
Totally. It's also just that you need to be willing to share things about yourself. And the fact that I’ve been thrust into the public circle with the success of Lost makes me a little more gun-shy about talking about stuff that's now very embarrassing.

But you blog all the time and have hosted multiple podcasts, so you seem to be willing to share certain things.
Yeah, it's just like, if I'm willing to blog about it, it's worth writing material about it. But I just think about those things that I wouldn't want to blog about. Those would probably be the things that I'd really want to look at if I was going to try to work on stand-up.

What do you make of people’s fascination with Hurley? You’ve been on the cover of a Weezer album, and the character was always a fan favorite.
I don't know what made it happen. At one point, early on in season one, like around episode ten or eleven, Damon Lindelof was flying out to Hawaii, and he was talking to one of the flight attendants. He told her that it was Lost and she said, “I love Hurley.” He was really impressed at the fact that she already knew character names so soon on the show. On another show, it'll be like, “I like the guy with the glasses.” That was a good sign that they liked us. And there's an element to Hurley that — he wasn’t trying to be a hero. He was, in many instances, the audience’s window into the world. He would comment or ask questions that were on people’s minds, like, “What’s that thing knocking down all the trees back there?”

Do you get apprehensive about plane travel?
No, I don't get freaked out at all. I'm actually mellow — if it's particularly turbulent, I always try to check in on the flight attendants. Because as long as they're not panicking, I continue going along. It'd be a really strange twist of fate if that's how I, you know, meet my end. But I'm pretty good at letting go of stressing about situations that I have no control over. There's nothing I can do on a plane when it's in the air that's going to improve our chances of landing, so I go back to my crossword and hold my drink out so I don't spill anything.

Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage