By Bill Keveney
The Lord of the Rings movies and ABC's Lost are divergent tales, but they have more in common than meets the eye. Both are runaway hits. Each features filming on a verdant Pacific island that allows for adventurous off-day activities.
"I love having the opportunity to surf," says Dominic Monaghan, speaking from Hawaii where he is part of the Lost ensemble.
And, of course, both share Monaghan — who came to renown as the hobbit Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck in the Tolkien trilogy — and his exceptionally devoted fan base.
That last common point has been a boon for Lost (Wednesdays, 7 p.m.), which drew its largest audience to date, 18.7 million viewers, for a Nov. 3 episode that focused on Monaghan's character, drug-addled Charlie. According to ABC, that's not a coincidence.
"We saw that over the summer, when we would do events. Dominic was mobbed by fans. They were burning up the Internet," says Lance Taylor, who oversees ABC's scripted shows.
For the 27-year-old, who was born in Berlin and grew up there and in England, some of the differences between the productions and characters offered the most appeal.
After becoming so identified as an adventurous hobbit paired with friend Pippin (Billy Boyd), Monaghan now plays a troubled rocker, one of 48 people stranded on an island after their plane breaks up in flight.
"It was important to me to choose something contemporary after the amount of fantasy stuff I've been involved with," he says. Also, "I wanted something I knew was going to appeal to the audience." He got that. Lost averages more than 17.5 million viewers, making it the second-most-popular new show of the season (behind ABC's Desperate Housewives).
Although some fans were skeptical when Monaghan chose a TV role, they quickly embraced Lost and the very different character of Charlie, says Cyndi Haulk, who runs The Dom Project (www.dominic-monaghan.us).
"I have not come across any Dominic fan who is not also a fan of Lost," says Haulk, 35, of Charlotte. "I know that many people started watching Lost because of Dominic's involvement, but I think people kept watching because it's genuinely good."
As much as Monaghan liked Lost's concept, he also admired the vision of one of its creators, J.J. Abrams (Alias). The feeling must have been mutual, because the Charlie character originally was to be a 45-year-old has-been rock star. With Monaghan in mind, the role was remade into a younger one-hit wonder.
Monaghan is enjoying Hawaii, where he resides with his pet chameleon, Karma. He likes his Lost colleagues, but generally keeps to himself off set. But he still retains close ties with his Rings mates, with whom he spent three years filming in New Zealand.