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Actor has a lock on 'Lost'
Life on a Pacific island transforms Locke, the fascinating adventurer on ABC's Lost. It has done much the same for actor Terry O'Quinn.

For Locke, one of 48 survivors of a plane crash, the mysterious island has given him the chance to walk. Many consider the revelation Locke had been in a wheelchair the most riveting moment yet for the hit, which returns Wedneday (8 ET/PT) with its first new episode since March 2, featuring a Locke flashback.

O'Quinn's experience hasn't been quite so dramatic. But Lost and the accompanying move to Hawaii have been part of a great change for the 52-year-old actor and his wife, Lori. "My wife and I were going through such a bad time two years ago," dealing with family and money issues, he says. "My wife said, 'We've got to change our thinking. We're letting everything drag us down.' We made a conscious decision to become more positive."

Shortly after, Lost co-creator J.J. Abrams called to offer the role. O'Quinn, often cast as a military officer or government authority in such shows as Abrams' Alias, accepted instantly. "It was the easiest casting I'd ever experienced," Abrams says.

O'Quinn hasn't looked back. Enjoying life on Oahu, he and his wife, parents of two grown sons, recently auctioned off holdings from a home in Maryland. "It kind of is like tabula rasa," he says. The term, which means "blank slate," is the title of a Lost episode and also is associated with 17th-century philosopher John Locke, for whom O'Quinn's character is named.

It also appears to apply to Lost's Locke. With a previous existence as a box-company desk jockey erased after the crash, he rises from the wreckage as a skilled survivor with a shaman-like feel for the island.

Abrams says O'Quinn has a wisdom and depth not to mention "a great, chiseled face" and steely eyes that transfer to his characters. "It feels like he could have gone through the trenches and come out the other side."

Fans sense Locke's strength, which adds to the character's appeal. "The ladies love John Locke," series co-creator Damon Lindelof says. He gives off a whiff of danger that makes fellow survivors and viewers wary.

As Locke, O'Quinn has the "ability to look menacing and warm and friendly at the same time," says fan June Williams of Yonkers, N.Y. The character has a "Zen-like attitude which covers a pretty turbulent soul."

O'Quinn, who uses clippers rather than a razor to get his smooth pate, says he believes Locke is trying to do the right thing. "He understands some won't see what he's doing as right or may not appreciate his methods."

Tonight, Locke begins to suffer physically as he and Boone (Ian Somerhalder) try to open the mysterious island hatch. "Locke is confused. His faith is getting tested," O'Quinn says.

The actor has dropped about 25 pounds by changing his diet, swimming and walking. He's enjoying his success. "It's the first time in my career that everybody knows why they know me."

But he takes nothing for granted, knowing that producers plan to kill one of the central characters before the season's finale.

"They haven't even agreed that only one person dies. I assume when Locke dies, I'll find out when they hand the script to me."

© 03/2005, Bill Keveney, USA TODAY