When Terry O'Quinn isn't playing the elusive character John Locke on the acclaimed ABC show Lost, you might spot the angular, bald actor picking up groceries at The Giant across from the Maryland State Fairgrounds, eating scrambled eggs at Miss Shirley's in Roland Park, or taking a swing on the greens at Greystone Golf Course in White Hall.
After all, he's one of us, a Marylander, since the mid-1970s. And when Lost— a convoluted saga about a group of plane crash survivors who find themselves on an island full of mysteries—wraps up filming its sixth and final season in Hawaii this spring, O'Quinn, 57, will be back in his Timonium townhouse with his wife of 30 years, Lori. He'll be hanging out with friends and just being a regular guy, at least, until his next project.
There's already buzz about another TV show, perhaps pairing O'Quinn with Michael Emerson, who plays the nefarious, bug-eyed Ben on Lost. The new series, in one possible scenario, would feature O'Quinn and Emerson as suburban hit men juggling family issues, according to the TV Guide Magazine website.
It makes sense. The two actors have a soul-searing on-screen chemistry, though O'Quinn wouldn't confirm any specifics. "I have a couple of plans. It's a secret," says the actor, who spoke by phone from Hawaii while filming the waning episodes of the series. "It involves TV. I love television."
Even before the Lost finale airs May 23, a wistfulness lingers in O'Quinn's voice when he talks about John Locke, the enigmatic role he's lived and breathed for so many years. There are similarities between Locke and himself, he says.
"He's looking for something to believe in. He's like me in that he wants to be appreciated," says O'Quinn. "He's an amplification of everyone's desires."
But is John Locke good or evil? "Yes," says O'Quinn with a chuckle. "It's the most honest answer. He could be one of The Others."
Anyone who has followed Lost—or tried to—knows that The Others are a hostile, ragtag tribe of people on the island. Of course, for John Locke, the plot has gotten more complicated this season since the Smoke Monster—a roiling, undulating tube of blackness—has assumed the appearance of his supposedly dead body.
(If you're a novice watcher, don't even try and understand. In fact, regular viewers usually have no clue what's going on either. We're waiting for answers, ABC!)
At the time of the phone call, O'Quinn didn't know what was in store for his character. "They don't tell us anything. . . . I'm just a few episodes ahead of you," he says.
When O'Quinn leaves his popular TV persona behind, he'll slide into civilian life in Timonium with just a few minor tweaks.
"I think he's pretty grounded," says his wife Lori, a Reisterstown native and accomplished horse rider who reined in her husband when he needed riding lessons many years ago for a movie role. She acknowledges, though, that there is a period of adjustment when he returns to Baltimore after working in the limelight. "He comes back, and [I say], 'Let's get the trash out. Pick up this.' I have to whip him back into shape," she says, joking, sort of.
But by all accounts, the affable actor with the cat-ate-the-canary grin is not a prima donna, despite having appeared in more than a hundred stage and screen roles, and especially since he's become a household name—and even a heartthrob—in the compelling Lost, for which he won an Emmy in 2007.
"He is, still is, terrifyingly handsome," says Irene Lewis, artistic director at CenterStage. "There's a whole bedroom quality to the man."
Lewis, who came to CenterStage in the early 1990s, directed O'Quinn in plays here and in New England during his younger days. She mentions Watch on the Rhine ("He was quite brilliant in that") and The Glass Menagerie ("It was sort of a translucent performance").
The actor's appeal crosses generations, she says, sharing how her 22-year-old niece, a college senior, is a big fan of Lost and particularly of O'Quinn. When the student e-mailed him, he wrote her back. "He's just a person. He doesn't let [stardom] affect him," Lewis says.
O'Quinn downplays his Lost magnetism. "Josh [Holloway] and Evie [Evangeline Lilly], the young and the sexy, get a lot more attention," he says modestly. (He's referring to the actors who play the hunky Sawyer and gorgeous Kate on the show, a star-crossed pair if there ever was one.) Lewis and O'Quinn have stayed friends over the years. She would love for him to appear in a play at CenterStage. "I wrote him and said, 'Before we're in wheelchairs, will you come back?'" she says.