'Star Trek's' Damon Lindelof on 'Star Wars' Influences and His 'Fatal Flaw' (Q&A)
The writer of summer's "Star Trek Into Darkness" and "World War Z" reveals how Matthew Broderick inspired him to attend film school, why he has no plans to direct and the "Lost" question he tires of answering.
THR: Looking back, are there any Lost stories left in you?
Lindelof: No. Because of the way that the show ended, one of the things that we talked about for years was, "Is there a way that we can end this show that will literally make it impossible to do Lost stories with these characters in any meaningful way?" And the answer that we kept coming to was, "Well, if we kill everybody off, we can do that." It started as a joke. Then we began to embrace that idea. The more that we talked about it, the more that we loved it. The wrinkle is, if I heard that somebody else was doing Lost, would I be OK with that? Or would I say that I’m so terrified that they’re going to screw it up that I have to come in and screw it up myself? That is a question I do not know the answer to. That’ll be the test because sooner or later that is going to happen. There shouldn’t more Lost because it was successful, and it’ll make more money. There should be more Lost because somebody has a f---ing awesome idea. Someone comes forward and says, "I just figured out a really killer way to do some more Lost." I haven’t had that idea, so it shouldn’t be me.
THR: Some days it feels like Twitter was invented so that people could shout at you about the Lost ending even now, three years later.
Lindelof: I love the Lost ending. I stand by it, but there are a lot of people out there who hate it. I want those people to know that I can see that they hate it, and I want people who love it to know that there are people out there who hate it. The conventional thinking is that it’s universally hated, and that’s not necessarily true. The loudest people are the haters. I’ve never taken a formal poll, but it’s divisive, to say the least. I feel like when I’m getting heckled, you cannot ignore the heckling. I cannot live in a world where I pretend not to hear those voices. When someone says something that really hurts me, I have to retweet it to let it go. To say, “I read this, I can’t keep this inside so I have to throw it back into the water from whence it came.” I got a lot of tweets; amazing personal tweets about people who loved the show and were changed by the show. I will never retweet those tweets because they’re just for me, and I want to keep them.
THR: You seem drawn to work that deals with faith. Is TV the last place you can tell those kind of stories?
Lindelof: There are multiple canvases in which you can have those conversations, but they are literary canvases. But it does feel like TV is more suited towards going deep because you don’t have to hammer the audience with thematic intent in the way you do in a two-hour-long movie; where it becomes very clear what it’s about. You can Trojan-horse those ideas a little more indirectly. … There was an episode of Lost called “Man of Science, Man of Faith”; there had already been 25 hours of Lost. What’s interesting about TV and writing, from my vantage point, is that I try not to be too conscious of what I want to be talking about. I didn’t realize that that was one of the big deals in the show until we got to that point in the show. If you had asked me, very early on, what Lost was about, I would’ve said, "It’s about redemption." Because all the characters were supersecretive about their pasts, it gave them an opportunity to reinvent themselves. That was the interesting idea driving the show. But it very quickly got either put aside or complemented by the other thematic ideas -- the most pervasive of which was the science and faith idea.
THR: Was faith a big part of your childhood?
Lindelof: It was a part of it. My father was an atheist by the time I was born. He was raised Lutheran, in the Midwest, in Indiana. His folks were both religious, and he bounced on it. And a very interesting atheist , because he believed in the supernatural. Not that he was a cultist, but he believed in ghosts, aliens and all sorts of things. My mom is still practicing Jewish, and I was raised Jewish. The arrangement was that when I was bar mitzvahed, I’d never have to go to temple again; as long as I could go through my bar mitzvah. I think my mom felt like, 'Just get [Damon] in the door, and of course [he’ll] want to be Jewish.' That bar mitzvah was the last time I set foot in a temple for many, many, many years. I still have the positive association, culturally, with my Jewish identity; religiously, it was a complete and utter disconnect. As I went through college, I think it was cool to say, 'I don’t believe in God.' But I wasn’t ever comfortable enough to say I was an atheist, so I embraced agnosticism, which just sounded like a cooler thing to call myself. Then, when I got married, my wife was/is a practicing Catholic. I went to church with her a couple times [and] liked it a lot -- the sense of community there and the devotional energies applied. For some reason, because it wasn’t my religion, I was able to embrace it without taking it literally. My wife had been pushing me to reconnect with Judaism and expose our son to it. All that felt good. I always wanted to have a good relationship with religion; but I’ve always also been in search of what my own belief system was. The pivotal thing that happened, right before Lost got created, was my dad died -- an atheist. And it’s true, what they say, that there are no atheists in foxholes because although he didn’t verbalize this sentiment to me, I was there in the moment that he died, and it was very clear to me that he would’ve been more comforted if he had a belief system. When he died, it was a profound spiritual experience for me. Not just emotionally. Then, I created Lost a year later and, still reeling from the loss of my dad, had to cope with that. When you don’t have the religious institution to fall back on, you don’t get to sit shiva, you don’t get the funeral at the church. … Every time someone would say to me, "He’s in a better place, now," I would have to say, "Well, he didn’t think so." In the spirit of my dad, I must debate. I wanted to believe that he was in a better place, so I channeled a lot of those feelings into the Jack Shepherd character on Lost who was basically flying back to Australia with the casket of his dead father and was struggling with the same idea of wanting to embrace a system by which he could find comfort but was unable to do so for a variety of reasons. If you had asked me in 2004, was I grieving my father? I would’ve said, "He died a year-and-a-half ago; I’m bummed and I miss him, but no I’m not grieving him." But I was.
THR: What’s the first thing you wrote, post-Lost?
Lindelof: It was Prometheus. Lost ended in May 2010, [and] I went to Italy for a month with my wife and son. We left on June 1 and came back right before July 4. A day or two after July 4th, I got a call from my agent at CAA, who said: "Ridley Scott is about to call you. Are you free?" I was driving on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, and I slammed on my breaks -- because that’s what you do. So I pulled over -- he called in like five minutes. Ridley Scott doesn’t introduce himself when he calls. He’s like, "Hey dude." That’s what he always called me -- not sure if he knows my name. He goes, "I’m sending you a script, will you read it tonight?" and I’m like, "Sure, Ridley." He didn’t tell me what it was, but we all had an inkling that it was the Alien prequel.
THR: You ended up doing a massive amount of press for that movie; odd for the writer, of all people, to be one of the most visible faces.
Lindelof: Me being out in front of the movie was because Fox was getting a shitload of press requests, constantly. And Ridley just didn’t want to do all that stuff. I wasn’t necessarily comfortable being thrust into the spotlight, in that regard. I just wanted to make an alien movie with Ridley Scott. More importantly, it’s not my vision; it’s Ridley’s vision. This isn’t to shirk any responsibility that I had for Prometheus. I shared screenwriting credit, and I earned it. I have an executive producer credit, and I feel that I’ve earned it. But at the same time, a director, particularly a director like Ridley Scott -- it’s called a Ridley Scott film for a reason. So, suddenly I’m part of the stage show. I’m not going to lie to you, that feels awesome. It feels awesome standing next to Ridley Scott and being a part of this story. Independent of how people feel about the movie, that part of it was great. Any time they want to give the writer credit … the downside of it is: You’ll also get the blame. But I think it was worth it.