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‘Lost’s’ Andrews finds himself at home in L.A.

Actor rebuilds career in America, starts relationship with Barbara Hershey
/ Source: The Associated Press

Naveen Andrews is a few paces from a wind-swept beach, with nothing but a glass of water to sustain him.

But that water is sparkling and imported from Europe, Andrews is wearing a snappy black leather jacket and the coastline outside the restaurant in which he sits is part of a well-located stretch of Southern California.

Andrews, it turns out, isn't "Lost" at all. The star of ABC's hit drama about plane-crash survivors stranded on a mysterious island said he found himself when he came to Los Angeles.

"I never really felt like I had anywhere to call home because I didn't feel, even though I was born in England, I didn't think of London as home," Andrews said.

Los Angeles is routinely bashed by outsiders, and some insiders, as freakishly overgrown urban sprawl with too many freeways and too little of a great city's heart. Andrews sees it differently.

"It kind of has an element of rootlessness, and it attracts rootless people," he said.

On this recent visit home from "Lost," which films in Hawaii, Andrews took time to promote the ABC miniseries "The Ten Commandments" (9-11 p.m. EDT, Monday and Tuesday) in which he stars with Dougray Scott and Omar Sharif.

It was work that first brought Andrews to Los Angeles and love that kept him here. He and actress Barbara Hershey played opposite each other in the 1999 film "Drowning on Dry Land," a road picture about a cab driver and the woman who takes him for a ride.

"We met, we ended up having a relationship and that's why I stayed," he said.

They're still a couple, and he's never had second thoughts about leaving his native England behind, Andrews said.

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"It was bloody awful, to be honest," he said. His Indian ancestry, he said, left him largely disenfranchised in a country that remains dominated by "small-minded" attitudes toward race and social class.

America "has its problems. But there's a sense of possibility here. ... In England, the class system is about a thousand years old and it's not going to change any time soon. You don't feel that here.

"Here, it's an economic class system ... But it doesn't feel that you're going to be trapped in it forever, like you do in England. You feel like you can break out of it," said Andrews, who trades his English accent for a Middle Eastern one in "Lost."

The actor, 37, candidly concedes that his behavior contributed to his deep unhappiness.

"I'd basically, virtually, killed my career in England. I used to drink and do drugs and whatever, and in all fairness they (British producers) had to deal with that," said Andrews, who gained attention with his role in 1996's "The English Patient."

He found he needed to be "somewhere else, a street that didn't have a bloody pub on it," Andrews said. "Over here, that kind of excessive drinking is frowned upon. It's not good form to be walking around the streets drunk."

Andrews said he embraced sobriety "easily and happily" at the same time he met Hershey.

Various projects followed, including 2004's "Bride & Prejudice" (in which he took a dashing, Bollywood-style turn on the dance floor). Then he landed the role of Sayid, the former Iraqi military officer with a dark past and improbably sexy hair, in "Lost."

Andrews said he's glad to be part of a successful enterprise ("It's great to have a job") and was pleased with a recent plot twist in which Sayid and a fellow castaway fell in love.

He'd decided from the start that Sayid "had a lot of soul and was a romantic. The things they (the producers) gave him, they were important things, like technically he was very able, an ex-member of the Republican Guard, but all of which to me was very boring."

So Andrews doesn't see himself as a macho action man?

"Good God, no," he said, a response accented with a hearty laugh. "I can't change a light bulb. You think I'm joking. Barbara does that."

He relished the improbability of the love affair between his character and Shannon (Maggie Grace), a self-absorbed American blonde, which he'd suggested to producers.

"I said, 'Wouldn't it be crazy if your Iraqi from the Republican Guard has a relationship with somebody who looks like Miss America?'" he recalled. "If they'd met any other way, there's no way anything would have come of it."

The romance was cut short when Shannon was accidentally shot to death, becoming one of a several characters killed off on "Lost."

Andrews called her death "brutal and completely unnecessary. I fail to understand, actually, why they feel this need to get rid of people."

Does he get nervous about Sayid's future? "Nothing I can do about it. So why should I worry about it?"

He's playing another military man in "The Ten Commandments," Menerith, a fictional character who's part of the Egyptian pharaoh's army and stepbrother to Moses (Dougray Scott). The miniseries, directed by Robert Dornhelm and produced by Robert Halmi Sr. and his son, Robert Jr., will be followed four nights later, April 15, on ABC by Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 epic version.

Andrews, who was raised as a Methodist, said the miniseries' view of Moses highlights how unlikely and dogmatic his professions of faith might have seemed to his contemporaries. It's a timely depiction, the actor said.

"We seem to be the victims of religious dogma, both from the Christian right here and of course in the East with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism," he said.

But the primary goal for any project, he said, is "to tell a story, a good one. That's what we have with the Old Testament and the New Testament, good storytelling."