Terry O’Quinn on ‘666 Park Avenue’

The former 'Lost' star reveals the simple secrets that make him so mysterious on television.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Terry O’Quinn leads the cast of ABC’s “666 Park Avenue” as Gavin Doran, the owner of The Drake apartment complex. If it wasn’t clear from the creepy title, the first few episodes of the show revealed that Gavin has something to do with collecting spiritual debts from the residents.

We’ll find out more each week, but earlier this year, we got to talk to O’Quinn when he joined the show in presenting to the Television Critics Association Press Tour.

CraveOnline: This is the first chance I’ve had to ask you, what did you ultimately think of the end of “Lost?”

Terry O’Quinn: I don’t really know too much about it. I think we were so exhausted. Honestly, I thought we all went to heaven. But I think “Lost” was completely about the journey and not about the destination. I know a lot of people weren’t satisfied.

CraveOnline: What did you think when people said you were perfect for this role?

Terry O’Quinn: I always think it’s casting against type. I always figure we go, “Well, if somebody’s truly evil, we have to find somebody who’s somewhat charming.” That’s the way I’m going to think about it.

CraveOnline: When you’ve worked with certain writers for so long, like the writers of “Lost” and “Hawaii Five-O,” is it a big adjustment to find different rhythms?

Terry O’Quinn: Yes, it’s hard, yeah, because you tend to fall into patterns. So I’m trying to find out who this guy is and somehow try to make him a little bit different. I’m not sure how to but I’m going to try to.

CraveOnline: What is the process at the beginning of the journey?

Terry O’Quinn: The beginning is you’ve got one suit of clothes and you’re going on a long trip. You don’t take all your baggage with you when you go. You begin to accumulate baggage as you go. So I’m waiting to get things, little tiny elements of my character that I can fill in to make it be whole.

CraveOnline: Did you do a backstory on Gavin?

Terry O’Quinn: No, I didn’t. And I don’t. If somebody wants to tell me something or if there’s something in the script that I can [use], but I try to use what’s written rather than make things up.

CraveOnline: Do you always accumulate baggage as a strategy for building your characters?

Terry O’Quinn: I don't think it’s a strategy. I just think that’s the way it’s always happened for me. It comes from scripts and it comes from they put something into a script that I wasn’t aware the character was capable of. Then that gives me another layer.

CraveOnline: Do you believe there are really haunted buildings like The Drake?

Terry O’Quinn: I believe that people believe they are. I’ve never had the experience, I don't know.

CraveOnline: You’ve never been frightened in a strange room?

Terry O’Quinn: Oh, I get frightened. I’m easily frightened. I don’t watch scary movies if I can avoid it. I’ve had no experience of it and I hope I never do.

CraveOnline: Was your relationship with Vanessa Williams there from the beginning or did it grow?

Terry O’Quinn: Yeah, she’s a doll. I didn’t know quite what to expect. I didn’t really know Vanessa but she’s a sweetheart and she’s a pro so I think we’re going to have fun going to work.

CraveOnline: Both in “666” and “Lost” you didn’t know a lot about your character to start. Have you gotten used to working that way?

Terry O’Quinn: It’s a way I kind of enjoy. If you have a movie script, you know everything from top to bottom. In this, hopefully we’ll go long enough that you can get comfortable and discover new things about the person. Then you take what you discover and apply it to the next script. I don’t like carrying more baggage than I need. I always overpack. I try not to do it when I’m acting.

CraveOnline: Have you learned anything in the first few scripts that you’re surprised by?

Terry O’Quinn: I mean, it’s all kind of a surprise at the beginning. I think part of the first bit of it is trying to tell some story to get us all on our feet, but once we get on our feet after two, three, four episodes, hopefully I’ll begin to get more of an idea, the wholeness of this person, get more comfortable in it.

CraveOnline: Do you have some good memories of all the different shows you did as episodic guest stars on the way up?

Terry O’Quinn: Interesting ones, all the way back from “Moonlighting” to “Remington Steele” to “Star Trek.” Just interesting people, just remembering those faces.

CraveOnline: Has it been very different being a regular on shows in the last few years?

Terry O’Quinn: Somewhat. What’s been different is I gain in seniority and maybe a little bit of gravitas and confidence. More than anything it’s confidence. I feel confident. I feel like on the set I know what I’m doing. I’m probably more comfortable there than anywhere. It’s where I function best.

CraveOnline: Having been a guest on so many shows, do you find that now that you’re the lead, you make guest stars feel more at home?

Terry O’Quinn: I try to. When I call somebody a pro, I think there are lots of rules but professional behavior is very simple. You’re prepared to do your job and you’re respectful of your coworkers and that includes the guests who come on the show. You try to help them in any way you can and you try to do good scenes with them and appreciate them for being good actors who are trying to do their best work.


CraveOnline: Do you think that confidence is something casting directors see when they cast you in these leader or nefarious roles?

Terry O’Quinn: I think part of it is. Maybe that’s apparently how I’m perceived. You know, I’ve gotten cast in a lot of military roles. On “The West Wing,” the general of the joint chiefs and I don’t feel that way. I don’t feel like a commander of men but if that’s how people see me, that’s fine with me. I’ll try not to let them down.

CraveOnline: Is there a certain look, when you wear a uniform or just put on a suit that conveys that?

Terry O’Quinn: Apparently. I don't know what it is but I’m happy with it. All I’m trying to do is stay fit and remember my lines.

CraveOnline: Is there something about these mysterious roles in reading the scripts that draws you to these roles?

Terry O’Quinn: Actually, the role of "Lost" didn't start out that way. I think in the last couple seasons it turned into that. That being said, I find these kinds of characters have a lot of secrets, better secrets. Good guys are a little bit more wide open. These people are a little more mysterious. Even if you don't know what the secrets are, you can play it that you have a lot of secrets, and that's pleasant.

CraveOnline: Having lived in Hawaii for both “Lost” and “Hawaii Five-O,” was it tough to relocate to New York?

Terry O’Quinn: No, no, no. I always take roles because of the roles, not because of the location, and then that working in Hawaii was a big fringe benefit. And at that time, I probably would have taken any role, to be quite honest with you. I was happy to get that job. J.J. Abrams called up and said, "I have a role," and I said, "I'll take it." 

It's just it feels like a trip. People say did you expect this or did you expect that? I have no experience of expecting any of these things. It seems like a very curvy road, and I can see as far as the next curve and that's where I'm going to go.

I'm going to go to the next curve and then see what's around that one. And you know, around the last one there was New York City and that's a big surprise and it takes a bit of adjusting. I mean, if you're not used to living in that city in particular or any city that intense, I have moments of panic where I go this doesn't ever stop.

CraveOnline: What’s something in New York that takes adjusting to?

Terry O’Quinn: Well, if you haven't shot on a street in New York, that's an experience that every actor should have, I think, because it certainly is an exercise in focus and concentration. Because there are those people who don't want to stop their day and will cross the street and don't care what you're doing or if you're making a movie or how you are or who you think you are.

And then there's the tour buses going by, snapping pictures and going "Hey, Locke!" when you're in the middle of a piece of dialogue, so it's a trip.

CraveOnline: Are you in a set for most of “666” or a real location?

Terry O’Quinn: We're shooting in a lot of locations. We have some sets made in Brooklyn, and we're using them, but we're out shooting on the street. We're using Manhattan a lot.

CraveOnline: What does it feel like sometimes when you're surrounded by some of the splendor?

Terry O’Quinn: It feels foreign to me personally. It's something new and different, and I'm trying to accumulate this character and to get used to those settings and to make them feel normal and natural to me. 

CraveOnline: Do you believe there’s evil?

Terry O’Quinn: Yeah, in everybody, yeah. We all have our own, I think. It's in your color wheel. Just depends on how strong it is in yours. That's my opinion.

CraveOnline: Gavin may be in charge, but there’s some speculation already that it’s the building that’s evil and Gavin just works for it. Is that on the right track?

Terry O’Quinn: My theory, and it's just a theory, but my theory is that Gavin's kind of a sharecropper on the plantation of evil. He plants the seeds. He only gets half the harvest. He has to feed some back to the building, but he gets his share and he uses people to his own ends. My feeling is he has to also satisfy those ends. I like that.