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Mark Pellegrino and Carlton Cuse on ‘Lost,’ ‘The Returned’ and Yes, That Finale

A&E’s “The Returned” marks a reunion for executive producer Carlton Cuse and star Mark Pellegrino, who last worked together on the final season of “Lost.”

Variety asked them about their memories of the show that redefined network TV.

Carlton, why did you want to work with Mark again?

Cuse: I love so many of the actors who were in “Lost.” I thought a lot of them were really great and they didn’t get the chance to show everything they could show in the course of that show. Mark played a very stoic, mythological figure on “Lost.” In “The Returned,” he plays a very flawed, human guy. He gets to do stuff he couldn’t do playing Jacob on “Lost.”

Mark, what is it like working with Carlton?

Pellegrino: Carlton is like a kid, a super-intelligent kid who is always learning all the time. When you see someone who has the stature of Carlton, being a creative beast and always searching, always interested in new ways of approaching an idea — that’s what I really love about him, his openness and artistry. I don’t use that word lightly.

Mark, how does “The Returned” compare to “Lost”?

Pellegrino: It’s great to start on something from the ground up, because no matter how long you’re doing something, walking onto a set that’s been established for five years, with actors who know each other, with a crew that knows each other, with a show that’s become iconic, it can be nerve-wracking. I wanted to make the character as simple and honest as possible, which is a very different vibe. So it’s nice to start at the beginning and find your rhythm in something. And it’s nice to know if we keep going, I can keep finding my rhythm and keep exploring with this character. Carlton’s the kind of creative guy that wants that and is open to that.

What lessons did you learn from “Lost”?

Cuse: Every show you learn lessons from, the good and the bad. The best lesson out of “Lost” is that the audience is intelligent. They don’t have to be spoon-fed stuff. It’s proof positive that you don’t have to play to the lowest common denominator. Not everything has to be explicitly defined to audiences. You can give the audience a lot of credit. There is an audience that wants to be challenged and engaged by storytelling. Storytelling doesn’t need to be simplistic.

How do you feel about the “Lost” finale, looking back now?

Pellegrino: For them to tie things up might have pissed me off. To get the sense that this story was a redemption story for people, that in itself means a great deal to me. I know a lot of people don’t feel that way. A lot of people come up to me on the street, “So they’re all dead?” I tell them my point of view. They seem to be still struggling with the issue. ‘Lost’ is a story about something deep and spiritual. And it’s a good thing that people are still struggling with that story. I hope maybe “The Returned’ in some small way can contribute to the argument of the poignancy of human life and make people not take for granted things.

Cuse: I fully expected that we would be criticized. There was no version of the “Lost” finale that would make everybody happy. There was no version of the ending where we could have answered all of the unanswered questions of the show. If we had tried to do that, it would have been really didactic and boring. And instead, we reached into our hearts and we wrote the character ending of the show that we really wanted to write. The show was about people who were lost on an island, but it was really about people who were lost in their lives, who were searching for redemption and for meaning. We attempted to tackle those big questions. What are our lives all about? And what matters? It is the version that we wanted to do. And I stand by it. I think that anything meaningful and good involves taking a risk. And taking a risk involves failing. And none of that actually scares me. You have to take risks.

Carlton, you said recently you thought the show would continue. How so?

Cuse: It’s a very valuable franchise for ABC. So I think at some point, I don’t know when, some enterprising writers are going to say, “Hey, we’ll do a story in the ‘Lost’ world.” I don’t begrudge ABC’s right to make money with their franchise. But Damon and I told the story that we wanted to tell. We have no plans to re-enter the “Lost” world.

 “The Returned” premieres March 9 at 10 p.m. on A&E.

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