In ABC’s new supernatural-horror drama 666 Park Avenue, Terry O’Quinn plays the proprietor of a prewar apartment so appealing (good views, great closet space, and the location …) that its prospective inhabitants seem willing to do anything — perhaps even sell him their souls — to nab it. Willa Paskin spoke to O’Quinn for New York Magazine’s Fall Preview issue. Herewith, a longer take on what he thinks of his new role as (maybe?) the Devil; his old role as Lost’s John Locke; and, oh, that little show’s totally normal series finale.
So, are you playing the Devil? Or what do you think your character, Gavin Doran, really is?
I don’t know. I don’t know if he’s the Devil or not. The writers might offer to tell me things; I prefer to not know them. I think Gavin is certainly on speaking terms with The Man.
When you said you don’t want to know, you mean you basically want to find out when the audience finds out? Or, obviously a couple of weeks before them?
Yeah, I like to work on a need-to-know basis. There may be a situation that comes up where that changes, but I’d like to not have extra baggage. It might sneak in there and color something that I’m doing, and I don’t want to tip anybody off. A lot of times the audience, they’ll make guesses based on what they’ve seen; they might be right and they might be wrong — but I’m not going to help them.
Why’d you want to do 666?
I think the character looked like it had a lot of potential. In the pilot, he’s kind of one-note.
But I think if the thing goes at all, he’s gonna have to develop some layers. And, uh, it’s fun to play bad guys. They have better secrets, they hold a lot more things closer to the chest.
Were you eager to get back to do television? I mean, it’s a huge commitment.
Yeah, I like working in television, a lot. I really enjoyed my time on Lost. I like developing that hint of family with people. I mean, if you’re on a happy set. If you’re on a set where there’s some sour apples, then I don’t like working in television.
On the subject of Lost: Since that was such an epic experience, how did it impact what you’d do next?
It made it very challenging for whatever I was going to do next. I mean, in reality, I don’t have the expectation of this — I don’t think anything’s going to be Lost. That was a one-off phenomenon, I think. It would be putting too much of a burden on 666 or anything to have those kinds of expectations. On the other hand, you know, things can take off. I’ve seen things that I didn’t think deserved the attention they got, get it. And the other way around. So, I don’t have expectations at all. Be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.
You must know that people are divided over the ending of Lost. A lot of people hated it.
Yeah, it doesn’t bother me. I think a lot of people who were into that show, or invested in that show — they decided among themselves whether they were satisfied or dissatisfied with the show.
Do people bring it up to you a lot?
I mean, I’ve had people approach me about it. The funny thing was my reaction to the ending and the experience of shooting the ending was strangely unemotional. Because we were shooting the last month and I think we were all preparing for this experience to end and it was a big, pretty intense experience. And I think we sort of had — or at least I did, only speaking for myself — one foot out the door. At least emotionally. When people say, “What do you think?” — and I do get asked that a lot, by the way: “What did you think of the ending?” — I say, “I guess we all went to heaven.” I don’t know. [Laughs.] I didn’t ask the writers to give me the clear answer of what every single thing meant. And I tell people it was clearly about a journey. I was aware in around season four that they had so many balls in the air that they were going to let a few drop. [Laughs.] So I was okay with that.
You were more clear-eyed than all the fans.
I mean, that’s understandable and God bless them for caring. I think that’s wonderful people kind of thought I was betrayed. I thought it was great.
You and Michael Emerson were going to do a pilot together briefly. What happened with that project?
Well, it went a long way; I was really excited. Warner Bros. bought it and then NBC bought it, and then a script was produced. But nobody was happy with the script and it kind of got shelved. I mean, I wasn’t happy with it, Michael wasn’t, and I think the network wasn’t too; it kind of got shelved and we were waiting for something to happen with it and Michael’s Person of Interest came along and he called me and … we’re working on other things but we told each other, “If we’re still alive when we stop doing this, we’ll do something like that.”
Did you have a lot of pilots to choose from this pilot season? Like, how many scripts did you get?
I looked at probably five or six or something like that. But it goes by so fast; you want to work, you want to take one, so it’s like you don’t get to pick and choose and say, “No, send me some more” — because it’s over. So if you see something and it looks pretty good, you go, “Well, I can only see the surface of it, but I better grab it because who knows what’s coming next?” I was happy to do 666 because it looked like there was a final character. There’s so many gambles: You don’t know who the writers are going to be, how they’re going to handle it, how they’re going to develop the character of the story, who they’re going to cast, who’s going to direct it. All these pilots are sort of skin deep.
You’ve been acting for so long, but you’ve become much more famous later in life. Do people recognize you much more now for your older work than they ever did? Were they spotting you in all the stuff you did before Lost?
Yeah, that happens all the time now; people will say, “I was watching The Cutting Edge, and I didn’t know you were in that.” It’s funny to be discovered by a lot of people who didn’t know you before. People always used to say, “Do you shop at Home Depot?” or “Does your kid go to such and such school?” They want to know why they know me, even if they don’t know my name. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, by the way; I think it’s nice to be kind of anonymously famous. It takes some of that burden of expectation off you.