14 things we learned from the ‘Lost’ PaleyFest Panel

PaleyFest is underway, and while television is not my normal beat here at HitFix, there are exceptions. For example, I've been the one recapping “Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” this season, and for the last two years it was on the air, I was also the one who was recapping “Lost.”

In both cases, it makes sense because of other interests of mine. I'm fascinated by the Marvel movie universe, and not just as a fan, but also as an example of world-building in mainstream movies. With “Lost,” I was a fan. Period. It was a show that hooked me with the pilot, and I watched every episode of the entire run either as it aired or within a few hours.

Sunday night's tenth-anniversary reunion of the cast and creators of “Lost” was, according to tonight's introduction, the single fastest sell-out that the festival has ever had, a testament to just how much of a hold the series still has on the ocean of fans that it earned over the years. It may have been controversial as it wrapped things up, but even the people who didn't like the ending still seem to be chewing on it, and in a world where so much of the media we digest is completely disposable, forgotten before the closing credits are even finished, “Lost” seems to be built to endure.

We'll have some video interviews I conducted on the red carpet for you tomorrow, but for tonight, I just wanted to share some of the moments from the panel. This is different from many of the PaleyFest panels where people are discussing shows that are ongoing and having to tread lightly for fear of spoilers. “Lost” has been off the air for four years now, and since no one announced a comeback movie tonight, there's no real “news” here. Instead, tonight was a chance for the cast to reconnect and for show runners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse to stand up in front of 3500 fans at once and say, “We liked the ending, and that's really all that matters.”

Paul Scheer was the moderator for the event, which makes perfect sense. He was a tremendously vocal fan while it was on the air, and he hosted and moderated several different major “Lost” events over the years. He spoke eloquently about his own experience of seeing the early “Missing” ads that ABC ran in the months building up to the show's premiere and about how much he loved the show.

Scheer's correct when he says that “Lost” was one of the shows that changed television. It is a landmark in terms of when it happened and how it happened and the ways it engaged a mainstream audience and a cult audience at the same time. It was a fully interactive experience that you could engage with as much or as little as you wanted, and how much fun it was to follow the show down its endless hall of mirrors. “It was the first TV show to make you run out and read a book just because the characters on the show mentioned it.”

He talked about how the Internet turned into a free-for-all while the show was on the air. “Everyone had a theory, and everyone who had a theory had a website that was built around that show. Freeze-frames were analyzed like forensic evidence.” Many of the people who were upset by the way the series ended were upset because they loved the intricacy of it all, and they wanted it to end up being some clockwork invention that connected in every way. After all, this was a show with time travel and smoke monsters and alternate dimensions that was told using an intricate series of flashbacks and, in a game-changing mid-series narrative shifting of gears, an equally intricate series of flash-forwards.

But for me, the show was an excuse to spend time watching a group of characters that I came to love, and whatever they were doing was fine. The times the show drove me crazy were when I felt like the characters did something for plot reasons and it undercut the character, but that really wasn't often. For the most part, everyone who wrote for the show did a great job of bringing these characters to life, week in and week out.

He brought out Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse to introduce the evening. Damon said, “We debated about whether or not we should show you the real finale,” which, of course, got a huge reaction from the sold-out house. Carlton led the call of “Too soon,” which got another big reaction. At this point, I feel like “Lost” is a conversation begins with the ending, but the show was so much more than just the last few episodes or the scene in the church. These guys own it. They certainly aren't hiding from talking about it, but this evening was about discussing the show as a whole.

Damon finished the introduction with, “We'll be back with our cast members, and we'll be drinking heavily, so now's the time for your questions and then the episode “Exodus: Part 1” was screened.

I haven't watched the show since the finale aired, but as soon as the episode began, I remembered all the particular pleasures that were part of being a “Lost” fan. There was a rhythm to the show, to the way they would juggle storylines, the back and forth tension between the flashbacks and the Island and the way they used certain characters to just slam-dunk the ball every single time, and the way they tossed it to commercial break with a big crazy “OH MY GOD” moment, no matter what, and seeing it again, I was immediately buzzed on that particular buzz we get from our favorite TV shows.

After the episode, Paul returned to the stage and said he'd ask questions for a while and then toss it to the audience, but cautioned the crowd. “While recent events involving a disappearing plane are interesting, please don't ask questions about that. That would not be in good taste.”

The panel was made up of, in the order they took the stage, Malcolm David Kelley, Maggie Grace, Henry Ian Cusick, Ian Somerhalder, Yunjin Kim, Jorge Garcia, Josh Holloway, and then Cuse and Lindelof. Scheer said that the previously announced Naveen Andrews and Daniel Dae Kim were unavoidably detained by shooting, and that Vincent the dog was going to show up but got the lead in “Air Bud 4.”

That is merely one of the many in-no-way-silly facts that I learned tonight. Here are some of the others.

1) Josh Holloway figured out he was famous in a Hawaiian supermarket.

The cast was asked when they first realized that the show was becoming a juggernaut, and Holloway talked about an afternoon not long after the second episode aired when he went from the gym to the grocery store on the way home, and he realized two girls were not only watching him and talking about the show, but also judging him because of how sweaty and disheveled he was. “I suddenly realized that I had to be self-aware.”

2) The cast and crew of “Lost” are all shameless kleptomaniacs.

Paul Scheer explained that the statute of limitations had expired so the cast could freely discuss things that they stole from the set over the years. Lindelof said that the cover to the hatch may or may not have fallen off of a truck, and Carlton mentioned a mysterious package that was mailed to his house containing the countdown clock from inside the hatch. Garcia said that he has two paintings in his house that look remarkably like the two paintings that Hurley made in the mental institution. Grace mentioned how fond she is of an outfit “that looked like someone was on their way to a tennis-themed prom.” And Somerhalder's departing gifts? “I left with my dignity.”

3) Maggie Grace has seen a lot of butts.

The cast discussed the physical conditions that were just part and parcel with working in Hawaii, and Lindelof revealed that they never bothered to write in rain, since they knew it would do it on its own. Production just learned to embrace it and shoot no matter what. Holloway seemed nostalgic for the times when weather would drive everyone under tents together. I visited the set of “Mysterious Island” in Hawaii, and I know exactly what he's talking about. There were a few hours during the day where rain came in and just punished the entire location, and everyone would get under tarps and wait it out and just shoot the shit. “It was the best,” Holloway said. He also talked about how they built the raft to actually work on the water, and said, “We sailed that raft halfway to Kawaii before they called us back.” He said they were told there would be a helicopter getting some overhead shots, but they never saw the helicopter so just kept going.

Maggie Grace revealed that one of the days they were shooting with the raft, she was the only one on the beach, and she was watching the guys all go in circles trying to get the shot. At one point, the guys all decided to moon her together, and as soon as she said, “I saw all these pale…”, the audience erupted and the other panelists erupted and it was lots of laughs and chaos for a moment. Cuse said that the first raft they built sank, while the second one was too fast and kept outracing the camera boat.

4) The 2004 World Series nearly destroyed the show.

Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration. Cuse did tell the story, though, of how he and Lindelof came to realize that they were better suited for working in LA and having people working in Hawaii for them. It was September of '04 and he and Damon flew into Hawaii to go to the set, and they got a rental car and drove off to find the location and as they drove, they were listening to the World Series, and since one is a Yankees fan and the other is a Red Sox fan, they proceeded to argue so much that they got lost and couldn't find the location.

5) “Chicken dinner” is code. For sex.

Asked about how crazy fans can be, Holloway told the story of a fan who he saw “one too many times.” She kept showing up on the Hawaiian location and making very plain offers to him. “She offered me a chicken dinner,” he said.

“That's code,” Lindelof explained. “For sex.”

Cuse told the story of how Terry O'Quinn used to walk to and from the set. “Which was about 12 miles,” Ian Somerholder said. One night, after a particularly strenuous day, O'Quinn didn't want to walk back, so he hitched a ride. A lady pulled over with her kids in a truck, and she put O'Quinn in the back of the truck. When they reached his street, she drove right past and kept driving and, understandably, he was concerned and asked where they were going, right up to the moment they pulled into her driveway.

“I have to show you to my husband.”

6) “Star Wars” analogies freak Damon Lindelof out.

Jorge Garcia talked about one of his favorite crazy fan theories, a guy who told him, “When the plane was still in the air, all of you were cloned, and the show is all about the adventures of their clones.”

Damon added, “Then we had to tell him, 'No, JJ, no.'”

Holloway brought up the one time he ever tried to advance his own fan theory of the show. He was talking to Lindelof, fairly early on in the show's run, and he told him, “The Island is like the Death Star.” He told Lindelof, “You got weird with me. You just sort of backed away, out of the conversation, like I'd really gotten to you. I stopped bringing up theories after that because I was afraid of Sawyer suddenly dying.”

7) Departing cast members would use mai tais to assuage the pain.

One of the most traumatic parts of being on a show like “Lost” would be to get the news that you were no longer going to be on a show like “Lost,” and Ian Somerhalder talked about being the first person to go. It's obvious that he can joke about it now. Scheer asked him how long they told him before they shot his death scene. “It was that day,” Somerhalder said, but he couldn't contain his laugh at the look of shock Scheer gave him. “No, they gave me three or four weeks notice.” He talked about being on vacation in Napa Valley on a tour of various vineyards when he got the news, and said that if you're going to get bad news, that seems like about the best possible place to get it.

The cast all mentioned that any time someone would die on the show, the celebration that night would feature lots and lots of mai tais, and just mentioning those words made all of them look wistful for a moment. Ahhhh, the mai tais.

Scheer talked with Kelley about how frustrating it must have been to have aged out of the show. “If only you'd had Benjamin Button disease,” he said, but Kelley talked about how grateful he was for the experience he had.

Fear of death was a big thing for the cast. During the second season, Daniel Dae Kim pulled Lindelof aside to tell him “I'm thinking of buying my family a house here in Hawaii. Tell me… should I buy the house?”

8) Hurley was supposed to be a repo man.

Or at least, that's what Javier Grillo-Marxuach once told Jorge Garcia. Evidently, the writing staff made up biographies for the characters that they gave to the actors, just so they'd have something to be playing as subtext. The truth is that they kept the actors in the dark for as long as they could, and that gave them room to keep working on things right up to the moment when they would need a detail for a dramatic purpose. Originally, Hurley was going to be a repo man who was so charming that people would just give him back the things that were being repossessed. The role was written for Garcia specifically, so it's not like they were thinking of a different Hurley. They had Garcia in after seeing him on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and the only pages they had for him to read at that point were for Sawyer.

Yunjin Kim did know early on that her character spoke English and that her husband didn't, even though they weren't playing any of that material yet. Like Garcia, her role was created for her. She was in some major hits in Korea, and when Lindelof and Cuse realized how huge she was, they had her in to read some Kate pages. They took their impression of her from the interview and built Sun out of those impressions.

9) John Locke became a major character because Terry O'Quinn liked his iPod.

If you were a fan of the show, one of the moments you probably remember the most was the reveal that John Locke had once been in a wheelchair, and that the Island had evidently restored his ability to walk. It was mind-blowing. O'Quinn wasn't always set for that moment, though. When they were shooting the pilot and they still didn't really know where they were going with everyone, O'Quinn would frequently walk away from the group between shots. The producers had given the cast iPods as gifts, and O'Quinn would put in his earbuds, walk away, and just sit by himself.

JJ Abrams noticed that and he pointed it out to Lindelof. “That guy's got a secret,” Abrams said to him.

“What is it?” Lindelof asked.

“I don't know,” Abrams said. “Figure it out.”

10) Lindelof and Cuse know who was in the outrigger.

When the audience got the chance to start asking questions, one guy stood up and said he had a “sort of a time-travel kind of a question,” and that if Damon Lindelof answered it correctly, he would give him a chicken dinner.

Lindelof got a huge smile on his face and said, “Wait, before we continue, let me see if I have this right. If I answer this correctly, I will have sex with you?!”

The guy's question was about the infamous scene in which several characters are on a boat, and people on another boat take some shots at them. We never see who those other people are, and theories abounded on who it could be, most of them involving some pretty crazy time travel ideas.

Damon began, “I have to give you some level of satisfaction without answering your question, which is the 'Lost' way.” He went on to explain that they actually did write that scene for the final season. They finished it, and they sat in the writer's room with everyone else, and they basically said, “This is cool, but it would be much cooler if we never answered it.” Lindelof said that the funniest part of the story is that in that same meeting, he said that at some Q&A in the future, someone would stand up and ask him to explain who was in the outrigger, and that hook, that need to have that answered, was exactly what they were hoping to do.

He said that the scene still exists. They have it. And that maybe someday down the road, they would donate that to a charity auction so that some lucky fan could buy it and do with it whatever they please.

11) Some of the Easter Eggs fans discovered weren't Easter Eggs.

Carlton Cuse talked about what a pleasure it was to see people find the Dharma Initiative logo that they hid on the shark, and how that made him realize people were looking at everything and finding everything.

Lindelof suggested that in some cases, fans even found things that weren't there. He specifically mentioned a few frame grabs where someone found a Dharma Initiative logo on the wreckage of the plane from the pilot episode.

Problem is, they didn't have that design when they made the pilot episode. They didn't even have a name for what they thought of as a “group of hippies who did something on the Island.” That came during season two, when they finally got a handle on what they wanted to do with Dharma. That image from the pilot is not foreshadowing. It's an accident. That may have even been photoshopped. I certainly don't know at this point where that image began. It was one of a million viral “Lost” moments over the years as some “clue” became super-important.

12) Kissing Maggie Grace sounds disgusting.

Ian Somerhalder began his story with “I made out with my sister once.”

This really is a cast of charismatic people, and with a deeeeeeep bench, too. Somerhalder doesn't get enough credit, something that's been true since “Rules Of Attraction” at least. He had a good time on the panel tonight. He talked about shooting the hot day of making out with Maggie Grace, scene after scene, for a whole day. Finally, the day ended and he was getting ready to go home to rest after being worn out from the demanding and miserable physical labor of the aforementioned making out.

The cameraman announced there was a hair on the gate, though, and they needed to do one more take. Somerhalder didn't realize that he was being pranked. He just begrudgingly marched back in to make out with her some more, and as action was called, he laid one on her.

But between takes, Grace took several long deep drags on a cigar, filled her mouth with minced garlic, and strapped an oversized athletic cup into her pants. She passed Somerholder the garlic, breathed a big wall of cigar stink, and pressed her unusually padded crotch into Somerholder's leg.

And there was much rejoicing.

13) They hated Nikki and Paulo before you did.

No one directly asked them about Nikki and Paulo tonight, but it was obviously a subject that was on their minds. Paul asked them if there were any mysteries that they introduced early in the show that ended up paying off in a very different way than they originally planned.

Carlton talked about how they liked the idea of answering the question several people online had asked: what about those people who are always in the background on “Lost”? Why aren't we learning about them at all? What are they doing while the main characters are battling the forces of good and evil in the past and the future? They wanted to have a Rosencrantz and Gildenstern, and on the page, they thought they pulled it off. By the time they sat down in the editing room, they were six or seven episodes deep.

Their first reaction? “Uh-oh.”

They know that the audience felt like they cried out in protest of Nikki and Paulo and that's why they were written off the show, but Damon asserted that “we hated them way before anyone in the audience did.”

14) Ian Somerholder does not respect the authority of the Reality Police.

Set off when someone complained about something on the show not being “realistic,” Somerholder returned to the subject of Boone's death and pointed out something that's bothered him since it happened.

“We all feel 30,000 feet from an airplane and survived. But Boone fell 30 feet from a Beechcraft and died. So don't you go calling the Reality Police.”

Damon nodded sympathetically and explained, “Boone was very brittle.”

Overall, it was a night that served as a nice reminder that the show was often silly and brash and bold and crazy, and that the journey was the thing.