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J.J. Abrams: Entertainer of the decade

The man behind ”Lost,” ”Alias,” and ”Fringe” looks back at his most beloved creations from the past decade

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As he approached the close of the last decade, J.J. Abrams found himself at a crossroads. He was a successful screenwriter (Regarding Henry), hotly sought after for tentpole flicks (Armageddon) and franchise properties (including an unproduced version of Speed Racer). And yet, he says, ”I felt I had lost my way as a writer.” He credits his wife, Katie, for giving him the advice that transformed his career: ”She reminded me that I needed to write about things I cared about — things that mattered to me.” In 1998, this led him to co-create Felicity, the story of a young woman who bucks what’s expected of her and forges her own destiny, for better or worse — and for Abrams, it led to much better. Putting his stamp on the century’s first decade with defining entertainment like Alias, Lost, and Star Trek, Abrams, 43, has become a Hollywood power player with ”next Spielberg” buzz thanks to an uncanny knack for blending capture-the-imagination ideas, emotionally riveting drama, and relatable, memorable characters. His future includes expanding beyond hard-geek cool: 2010 will see the Harrison Ford/Diane Keaton romantic comedy Morning Glory, which he produced, and a new TV series about married spies called Undercovers. As he approaches the end of this decade, Katie’s lucky husband, now a father of three, says he’s still lost — but in a good way. ”As long as you have a sense of who you are, what you believe in, and know your proper, humble place in the world, then being lost moment to moment isn’t so unhealthy, because life becomes a journey of great discovery,” says Abrams. ”I feel happily lost right now.”

J.J. Abrams looks back at his most beloved creations from the past decade:
Alias (2001-06)
”On Felicity, I found myself desperately missing enemies. There was no law or crime or vampires or spies or aliens. The worst things that could happen to Felicity were heartbreak and bad grades. One day, I remember saying, ‘If only Felicity was a spy, it would be the most kick-ass show.’ Sydney Bristow was the person we all want to be in our most trying or scary moments. I was drawing from the strength I was grateful for in my wife — someone who is incredibly confident and opinionated, while also vulnerable and human.”

Lost (2004-present)
”ABC approached me about doing a drama about castaways on an island. They wanted to get a pilot into production, like, insanely quick. I called Lloyd Braun on a Friday and said, ‘Look, I have an idea, but you’re not going to like it.’ I pitched him that the island wasn’t just an island, that it had a sci-fi Michael Crichton vibe and a Twilight Zone vibe. There would be a hatch, but I had no idea what or who was in it. It was going to be weird and out-there, and I thought I was talking him out of it — and he said, ‘I love it.’ On Monday, I met Damon Lindelof for the first time. By Friday, we had an outline. About 14 weeks later, there was a pilot. It was crazy.”

Mission: Impossible III (2006)
”Ethan Hunt had never been one of us. He had always been a superspy, but my conceit was ‘What is that person like when he goes home? What does home even look like for a guy like that?”’

Star Trek (2009)
”I had never been a fan of the Star Trek TV series. I wasn’t sure I wanted to direct a movie, but I agreed to produce one because I felt if it was done in a certain way, I would want to see it. Once we had a script, I suddenly saw that Star Trek had all the things I loved about movies. It had great characters. It was romantic. Funny. Full of action and spectacle. Sweet and full of heart. And I realized: Why am I looking for other projects that have those qualities when I already have that right in front of me? It was a question of falling in love with the Star Trek world and then realizing I’d be jealous of whoever directed it if I didn’t.”

Fringe and the future
Fringe [which debuted in the fall of 2008] is one of the weirdest shows on TV, and I’m proud of that. Walter Bishop is such a great character to work with because he says all the crap you think but don’t say. The new show I’m working on, Undercovers, is a genre I’ve worked in before, but with a much lighter sensibility. Felicity had elements of humor but was never steeped in it. Alias was a spy show, but it had an impenetrable mythology. Lost is intricate and dramatic, and Fringe, as I said, is just weird. But Undercovers is pure escapist entertainment, and more overtly fun than anything I’ve done before.”


”The fun for me is creating characters with real vulnerability who get thrust into extraordinary circumstances — whether it’s a young woman going to college in New York or a damaged doctor going to an island inhabited by a monster.” — J.J. Abrams

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