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- Sam McPherson is responsible for this interview.
Leslie Ishii is an actress who has appeared throughout season 5 of Lost as Lara Chang, the wife of the enigmatic Pierre Chang and Miles Straume's mother. Questions for the interview were submitted via the forum, the wiki, and Twitter. The interview was conducted over email, and was posted on May 27, 2009.
Lostpedia: Were you a fan of Lost before you were cast? If so, were you a more serious fan or a casual viewer? Who was your favorite character?
I was a LOST fan before being cast. I started out watching LOST and Survivor at the same time. I marveled at how the shows were similar aside from the fact that the survivors found themselves on the islands in different ways for different reasons. Soon, I realized I lost interest, no pun intended, in Survivor and found myself just watching LOST. It is wonderful and validating that a scripted show has won such tremendous popularity. After all, it can take us to so many more incredible and imagined places and schemes than a reality show.
I would say, I'm somewhere between a casual and a serious fan. I was probably more of an isolated fan, never missing the show in the comfort of my own home, but not connecting with other LOST fans for some reason. I won't miss the show. I always Tivo if I have a "must" on the show's regular night. I didn't visit any fan websites until I was auditioning and eventually cast. The fans are so intelligent and imaginative. I wanted to do research to make sure I hadn't missed anything on the show and I learned a great deal from all of you and other sites that covered the back stories and facts of the series.
I really enjoy all of the characters for different reasons. I loved seeing Asian actors/characters on a network primetime show. This show demonstrates we are and can make progress regarding diversity in our entertainment industries. I love their on-camera work and their back story is really interesting…wonderfully Korean. I love the Sawyer character. I love how he talks. The writers have really created a wonderful and funny rhythm of language for Sawyer. Josh really embodies this language perfectly. He is so believable. He is a really generous and welcoming spirit on the set. The Juliet character, Elizabeth is wonderfully honest and present. She is a very kind and collaborative person on the set as well. I really appreciate her on-camera work. Of course, the Ben character is great. The actor really plays that fine line back and forth getting the other characters to trust him even though they know they shouldn't and they hate him. Of course, I love Francois Chau. I've known Francois and his family for some time through the East West Players Asian American Theater in Los Angeles. It was a joy to find out I would be playing his wife. And Ken Leung is a dreamboat. He is wonderful to work with and after talking for just a few minutes we realized we had so many colleagues and friends in common. I also really love Matthew Fox's work and character, Jack. I never saw Matthew on the LOST set but I worked with him years ago when he was starring in "Party of Five." I'm sure he wouldn't remember me. It was one of my first jobs in Hollywood. I had a guest spot as a nurse and I think his character was trying to get in to see one of his siblings who was ill. I can't remember exactly. What I do remember is that he was great! He was very kind and collaborative. Those first jobs and the actors you work with can leave quite an impression when you're starting out.
Lostpedia: How did you come to be cast on Lost? Are there any funny stories from the casting process?
Last August, through my agent submitting me, I was called to audition for LOST. I prepared the sides and went in. I really loved the scene that was provided for the audition. Once I was cast and given a script, I thought there might have been a mistake. I didn't see the scene I had auditioned for in the script. It is standard practice that you shoot what you've auditioned for maybe with minor rewrites occasionally. I didn't see the character name on the sides in the script either. I called my agent and they confirmed that I was in the episode and I didn't have a name, really…yet. My agents realized that I didn't know this show often has actors audition with material not in the script so as not to leak storylines. You've all seen the opening scene of this season, season five, that was the scene in the script not the scene I auditioned with. There was another scene we shot last September, as Dr. Chang is leaving the house, but they cut it. It was establishing a similar dynamic as the opening bedroom scene, in my opinion. I'm not sure if that's why they cut it, but I can see why they may not have needed it.
Lostpedia: What was it like working with the Lost cast and crew for the first time? How does working with them compare to working with the cast and crew of other TV shows?
Working with the cast and crew of LOST was great! They were always welcoming and collaborative and of course, my first episode was with Francoise, and he made me feel right at home. The hair and make-up artists are at the top of their game. Their craft is incredible. They are fun to work with in creating character and the tone of the show. Throughout the three episodes I worked on, my directors were Stephen Williams and Jack Bender. They are dreamboats to work with--so creative and collaborative. Jack Bender directed the episode where I had the most to do, the "gravely ill" Lara Chang scene and her and Mile's flashbacks. He was remarkable in how he would talk to me on a technical level as well as on an emotional level. I really appreciated his direction. He helped me capture the right touch for the emotional tone of these scenes. I didn't get the script until I arrived in Hawaii, which was just the day before we shot a number of those scenes. So, Jack Bender was critical in my ability to capture the tone and work fast as you often do in television. Both Jack Bender and Stephen Williams run a great set with talented and dedicated crews!
I have to say, I think there is something special about the fact that they shoot this show in Hawaii. They are away from the usual Hollywood scene. To get to locations you drive into the jungle and past pineapple fields, through lush mountain passes, and along side the gorgeous coasts. This puts you in a spiritual and creative mindset like no other set I've been on. There's a great deal of wonderful history at the Hawaii Film Studio lot as well. No wonder LOST captures this incredible, mysterious and ominous feeling.
Lostpedia: In "Because You Left," were you aware that the baby was Miles? If not, when did you find out?
No, we did not know the baby was Miles in "Because You Left." I recall getting picked up from the airport and going straight to a wardrobe fitting and the driver said, "The real question is: Who is this baby?" So, everyone was curious and as you know, it wasn't revealed until the thirteenth episode, much later. I didn't know for sure until I had arrived to shoot "Some Like It Hoth," and I received my script when I arrived at the studios. I read it as I was waiting to go into a make-up and hair test to create the look of "gravely ill" Lara. It was a page turner! I couldn't read it fast enough. It was fun to read.
Ishii plays a gravely ill Lara Chang in "Some Like It Hoth".
Lostpedia: In "Some Like It Hoth," your character was seen gravely ill with a disease. Were you told what this disease was? If not, what do you think it was?
No, I wasn't told what the disease was. It wasn't named in the script. But I do recall working with Steve LaPorte, the head make-up artist and he seemed to be creating a look that was "like" or "similar" to cancer. I played it like it was cancer. But this wasn't really confirmed. This wig could definitely be the hair of a cancer patient. There has been talk of other people and mother's dying of cancer on the island, right? Hmmm…makes you wonder… . We'll have to see if they address this in season six. Fingers crossed.
Lostpedia: Do you think that there is more story left to tell with Lara? Will we be seeing her in the future? Do you think she is dead?
I would love it if there is more story left to tell with Lara. Most of us working on the show know that you don't know what your future is on the show. These writers are so brilliant at never writing themselves in a corner. It's fantastic how unpredictable this show is for the most part. That's why we keep watching, isn't it?
I keep holding out and keeping in mind that we never "saw" her die, so maybe she's not dead. However, even if she is dead, there could still be more story to tell with flashbacks, etc. On this show, if we saw you die, you can still come back. Then, I recently read from a fan, that perhaps Miles was talking to me and I was already dead in that scene. This is very interesting. I didn't get that impression when we shot it, but, I wouldn't, as the character, necessarily make that distinction. That doesn't seem to be the tone of the show or the way Miles talks to dead people. The person usually appears dead as a doornail when he can hear them talking to him. After this finale, we'll see what happens with the "time" element. It will be interesting to see what time frame(s) they land in and/or what is historically different depending on how they deal with "time." I look forward to seeing how Mile's storyline wraps up. It is one of the most interesting storylines with the use of the flashbacks and flashforwards. I really have loved playing Lara Chang. She has been a great character to play and I am so curious to learn more about her.
Lostpedia: What acting roles do you have planned for the future?
First, I will make an appearance in the new film version of "Fame." I worked with a wonderful Thai American director, Kevin Tanchorean. I am also in rewrites for a full length contemporary theatrical comedic play called, "Painting By Numbers." This play is inspired by the Jane Austen novel, "Persuasion." I have a major deadline because there will be a public reading of the play at East West Players Asian American Theater on June 30th. All are welcome if you find yourself in the Los Angeles area at that time. My writing partner and I are really pleased with this draft and are looking forward to casting the reading and hearing this version of the play.
I am currently directing a project with the East West Players Conservatory students. They are wonderfully committed to their creativity and I am so glad to be able to share my craft and to help them discover and develop their own. Speaking of craft, I will also be spending time in New York this summer studying and brushing up on my own craft as an actor and teacher. I am excited to have the opportunity to work with and learn from the major/leading voice teachers, such as Catherine Fitzmaurice, who have founded the major voice techniques for performers in the United States and around the world. I love working on my craft and continuing to make discoveries in the work. Parts like Lara Chang with such a wonderful range of scenes depicting different times in her life are great challenges. I am grateful to have gotten to make so many interesting discoveries about her. I hope the fans have enjoyed those discoveries as well.
Fans can also find my lastest goings-on at my blog.
Lostpedia: Thank you for your time, Ms. Ishii.
Thank you, Sam! I hope this works for you and the fans.