How ''Lost'''s Naveen Andrews has conquered his demons. From a turn in ''The English Patient'' to a role on TV's ''Lost,'' Andrews has also conquered the odds

By Missy Schwartz
Updated March 08, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST
Naveen Andrews
Credit: Naveen Andrews Photograph by Robert Maxwell

Naveen Andrews does not like Bollywood. Hates it , actually. ”It’s propaganda to keep the whole caste structure in place,” he says, sitting in the lounge of a Manhattan hotel. His admittedly ”extreme view” of India’s over-the-top musical cinema did not, however, turn him off to Bride & Prejudice, Gurinder Chadha’s Jane Austen-meets-modern India extravaganza in which he plays a singing and dancing Mr. Bingley. ”I’ve never played anybody so full of joy.” Besides, he adds with a devilish grin, ”I’ll do anything for a job.”

These days, of course, Andrews doesn’t have to. As Sayid, the tech-savvy former Iraqi soldier from ABC’s hit series Lost, he’s a bona fide American TV star. ”People have responded to the character, and I’m grateful,” says the British actor, 36, in his twangy South London accent that’s nothing like Sayid’s. ”I’m able to cope with things that I don’t think I could have 10 years ago. How successful [the show] has been — I would have gone mad when I was younger.”

Given Andrews’ tumultuous past, it’s a wonder he didn’t wind up in the deep end — or worse. Born in London to Indian immigrant parents whom he describes as ”very violent,” he left home at 16 and, like many teenagers, started dabbling in drugs and drinking. (His parents are now both dead.) He ”got by” living with friends and in squats until winning, at 17, a scholarship to London’s prestigious Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where Ewan McGregor was a classmate. ”It was a place to be for three years,” explains Andrews, who also sings and plays guitar. ”I’d heard it was glamorous, you know, there’d be girls.” And women: At 18, he moved in with a teacher 15 years his senior; five years later, they had a son. By now, he was abusing substances regularly, yet somehow managed to build his résumé. In 1995, Anthony Minghella cast him as The English Patient‘s mine-defusing lieutenant, and two years later, he starred in Mira Nair’s erotic drama Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love as a lascivious, smacked-out 16th-century king. Shot in India, the film was, Andrews recalls, ”my Rolling Stones 1972 tour. I was on everything. In India, the heroin is pure.”