Surveying the rock formation before her, Maggie Grace is ready for her next stunt. While the rocks are a bit slippery and she's not exactly dressed for climbing, the 21-year-old actress from Worthington, Ohio doesn't waver. She kicks off her gold heels, gets a firm grasp of a rock and ascends to the top with the ease and motion befitting of her name. Within seconds she is not only poised and picture perfect, but her smile seems to say, "What's next? 'Cause I'm ready for anything."
This little stunt is nothing compared to some of the antics she's been a part of as one of the stars in ABC's intriguing hit LOST, which films on Hawaii's North Shore. You know the show -- the one where 48 plane crash survivors find themselves marooned on an uncharted island and are left to their own devices to endure the elements, each other (and their jaded pasts), and a few added shockers. Those include polar bears (on a tropical island?), insane island inhabitants (they're not alone) and a supposed man-eating monster that recently gave Grace's character Shannon Rutherford the chance to "soar." "[In the scene where] the unseen monster grabs me, I wore a body harness hooked up to a pulley and basically flew," she remembers. "It was such a euphoric afternoon and I actually get paid to do stuff like this!"
But on this day, Grace is not on set and as deceiving as the photos for this issue are, we certainly are not in Hawaii. Though the waterfalls and lush greenery surrounding us are reminiscent of the island state the actress now calls home, one only has to glance at the snow-covered skylights to remember where we are. Today we are deep within the Pacific Coast room of Columbus' Franklin Park Conservatory and outside Jack Frost has welcomed Grace back to the Buckeye State with one of the worst snowstorms of the season.
"I cannot believe I was in a bikini 48 hours ago," says Grace as she surveys the peaks of snow that have formed outside the Conservatory's windows. Jealous as we are of her "office" settings for LOST, we know a few short years ago she was trudging through the slush like the rest of us. Despite the fact that she has the golden tan and locks of a HollyWood starlet, she is true to her Ohio roots and more than proud of her "tiber normal" upbringing. The eldest of three children, Grace recalls days of sledding with her siblings and taking nature hikes with her dad in Sharon Woods. "It was the essential, perfect Midwestern childhood which I recognize the more I spend time in L.A., because it's such a different culture there," she says. "The city is wonderful, very metropolitan and different, but it makes me really appreciate growing up here."
Nevertheless, as normal as Grace might consider her childhood, there were obvious anomalous facets pointing her towards something much bigger - particularly her impressive performances in local theatre productions. John S. Kuhn, the Artistic Director for Actors' Theatre and Grace's director for the 2000 Gallery Players production of The Crucible, recognized that she had the passion and dedication to advance her acting career beyond the city limits. "Even at that young age she brought a lot to her work and I think that's what has made her as successful as she has been," he says of her seemingly quick rise to fame. "She's able to make strong choices and commit to those choices, which is always hard for an actor, especially if you are dealing with material that takes you to some very challenging places." After watching her on LOST, he detects that same energy and fervor in her portrayal of the ultra-complicated Shannon.
"We all knew she had something special and that she was going to succeed," adds Rena Vesler, the Production Manager for The Crucible. "She just seemed to have it all and was willing to learn. She took direction well and was very enthusiastic and just had this wonderful sweet, personality."
A conversation with Grace's co-star Ian Somerhalder confirms that she has remained the same centered, down-to-earth person she was during those productions. "She is quite an incredible young woman," he tells C Magazine from his home in Hawaii. "Not only is she quite witty and has a vocabulary that exceeds mine, she is just amazing. We love Maggie Grace. All of us do. There is a huge place in our hearts for her."
Not too long after the curtain fell for The Crucible, Grace made the choice that eventually would lead her down the path to stardom. At 16 she packed her bags and with her mother Valinn by her side, left for the bright lights of L.A. "Everything took off from there and I've been in L.A. almost 5 years," she says. "I've worked really hard and definitely had times when I was broke and it was difficult, but I feel very blessed to be where I am a relatively short time later." In just a few years Grace has built a strong resume, which includes roles onCSI: Miami, Law & Order, Oliver Beene and a critically acclaimed role as Martha Moxley in Murder in Greenwich. Yet it was the premise of LOST that intrigued her enough to turn down more than a few roles while taking part in the auditioning process for the role of Shannon. It was a risky undertaking considering she eventually signed on the dotted line after reading only a few pages of the pilot script.
Looking back, it was obviously a well-calculated risk, especially since ABC recently named LOST as its #2 new show of the season and co-creators J.J. Abrams (Alias), Jeffery Lieber and Damon Lindelof (Crossing Jordan) are still firmly at the helm. "We hoped that it would be a success and we had a bit of an auspicious beginning with the critics so we were all crossing our fingers," says Grace. "It's just such a surprise to have it go to the commercial end."
To this day she and the rest of her numerous co-stars, including Somerhalder (Rules ofAttraction), Matthew Fox (Party of Five), Terry O'Quinn (Alias) and Dominic Monaghan (Lord Of The Rings) are only a few steps ahead of the audience in terms of the plot. Even Somerhalder, a.k.a. "Boone," admits that the entire cast is guilt of trying to dissect the future of their characters. "We're definitely on a need-to-know basis," he admits. "We don't know what's going to happen, and the reality of it is, it's us at the end of the show saying, 'Holy Crap! What do you think if this happens?' We're guessing just as much as the audience and we're only a couple scripts ahead of the shows that are running."
It's those motivating factors that make life stimulating both on and off screen for the cast. "Our performances are certainly not allowed to be over burdened because we don't know some of the more poignant details [about the storyline]," says Grace. "So it's been an interesting guessing game." What's even more out of the ordinary is that each person on the show knows secrets about their costars' characters that even they are not aware of. "I know things about Ian's character that he doesn't and he knows things about mine that, I don't," reveals Grace. "That's part of what keeps it fun!
No matter how many different-ways we ask, Grace doesn't dare give up any of those details to us. The only thing we are privy to is that while Grace is the antithesis of Shannon, she does envy her opportunity to wipe the slate clean. "The island is this great leveler and [the characters] have to rediscover [themselves] and see if [they] can survive in this new reality," reflects Grace. "Shannon wasn't able to fu~ction in the real world; she just wasn't a functional person. In this world she just doesn't want to deal with any of it, but she's starting over. [To start over] would be a gift."
Back on the "real" island, Grace and the rest of the cast have created a little utopia of their own, spending time together surfing, hosting parties and just hanging out; even when the cameras are not rolling. "We're all from cOlnpletely different backgrounds and are avery amazing group," she says of her newfound circle of friends. "Just the fact that you can work a 16-hour day with people and still want to go out to dinner afterward and spend more time with them is amazing."
But, with all great relationships comes room to challenge those close-knit ties with healthy banter. Recently the basis of Shannon and Boone's love-hate relationship on the show was literally uncovered. Not only are they not blood siblings, as previous episodes implied, but before they boarded that ill-fated plane they let things get a little out of hand. Ok, a lot out of hand. It was at first an uncomfortable scene for two friends to carry out but Grace decided to take an unusual approach to the otherwise awkward monlent.
"When you must kiss one of your best friends it's a very strange moment, and way too good of a practical joke opportunity to pass up," she reveals. "On the last take, I filled my mouth with warm minced raw onion and garlic and pushed it into his. He ran off set and gagged." Seems everyone on set was in on the joke, except for of course Somerhalder.
"I'll tell you this, when Maggie wants to go there, she really goes there," he says of Grace's razor-sharp wit. As amused as he was, he has been threatening payback ever since.
As part of a predominantly male cast, it's no wonder. Grace is staying at the top of her game. "I've learned how to be a guy's girl," she laughs. "It's a bit of a sausage fest and pretty male dominated [on the set]." Yet who could pass up the chance to have multiple guys watch out for you on a tropical island, as well as, provide you with a plethora of their "worldly" guidance -- free of charge. "They are full of good and bad advice and they are like my big brothers," she says. "It's hard enough with one brother and now I have nine. God help the man I date."
As our day with Grace comes to an end, it's evident she's learned how to hold her own amidst a cast of practical jokesters and protectors, but she has also managed to carve a considerable niche in Hollywood. All of this achieved without compromising the good-natured, sweet personality she is most remembered for in her hometown. "There have been very few constants in my life for the last five years, but I've learned to revel.in the spontaneity and instability," says Grace. "It was trial by fire, rejection, going very nearly broke many times...but I've learned to keep really great people in my life even when we're all traveling constantly, and to strive for a sense of balance, to not lose perception of the larger picture and a sense of where I'm going and why."
In the meantime, Grace is ready for her next stunt - a drive home in the Ohio weather.
LOST airs Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. on ABC.