How Did ‘Lost’ Guru J.J. Abrams Find Himself In Hollywood’s Hot Seat?

'Mission: Impossible III' director reflects on big-budget film debut; reveals season-three 'Lost' cliffhanger.

J.J. Abrams just might be the living, breathing embodiment of the kid in the candy store.

Like many in his generation, he grew up a fan of shows like “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible” and superheroes like Superman. Unlike every other fan, though, he’s been afforded the unique opportunity to revitalize and put his unique stamp on each one. While his early script for Superman was left behind for director Bryan Singer’s vision, he’s knee-deep in planning for the much-anticipated relaunch of the “Trek” franchise.

Last summer, Abrams made his feature-film-directing debut with “Mission: Impossible III,” putting Tom Cruise through the ringer as he went toe to toe with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s diabolical Owen Davian. The DVD — out Tuesday — features all the usual bells and whistles of special-edition treatment, from a commentary with Cruise and Abrams to deleted scenes.

Oh, and there’s that other project of Abrams’ you might be familiar with — a show called “Lost,” the series he co-created in 2004 that continues to leave millions of fans scratching their heads and aching for more information week after week.

Abrams recently checked in with MTV to talk about the many projects on his plate, including the DVD release of his debut film.

MTV: This is what DVDs are all about — letting a little movie like “Mission: Impossible III” find an audience after it barely got a theatrical push.

J.J. Abrams: [He laughs.] Yeah. I think it’s about time for people to get access to something that’s not been marketed at all.

MTV: How did you get the gig directing “M:i:III”?

Abrams: I’d gotten to know [Tom Cruise] a little bit, but it was somewhat out of the blue. I got a phone call from my agent, who asked me if I was aware of the conversations going on. I had no idea what he was talking about. And then he basically told me that Tom wanted to see me as soon as possible. I thought that the whole thing was ridiculous, but it turned out not to be a cruel joke.

MTV: Had you been a fan of the TV show growing up?

Abrams: I loved the show. In many ways that series helped inspire “Alias,” which I think is why I got the job. Tom had become a fan of that series.

MTV: How do you approach a film like this that is made on such a huge scale?

Abrams: For better or worse, I just approach everything the same way, which is to ask, “What is the internal life of the main character?” In this movie, I just loved the idea of seeing anything about this guy in his personal, private life. Who was that person not as a spy, but as a human being? That was the big launching point for me. How do you reconcile being an everyman and also an exceptional man?

MTV: With “Lost,” you directed the most expensive TV pilot in history and then you went off and directed the most expensive debut film for a first-timer. Clearly big budgets don’t give you pause.

Abrams: When I got “Lost,” I remember people were like, “It’s the most expensive pilot ever!” I thought, holy sh–! What am I doing? And I found the way in my head to be comfortable with it was to realize that it’s one of the cheapest movies ever. Then on “Mission: Impossible III,” my producer was like, “This is the most expensive first-time film ever!” So I was like, oh sh–! What did I get myself into? And I couldn’t think of anything in my head to compare it to, to make me feel better.

MTV: In the film, everyone is after the rabbit’s foot, yet you never reveal what it is. Between us, what was it?

Abrams: In one version, it was some kind of absolutely horrific weapon of mass destruction, and then in another version, the whole thing was a ruse and it ended up not being anything. But that was a different version of the story in which the whole thing was kind of a goose chase.

MTV: It’s hard to imagine when we’re talking about a movie pulling in hundreds of millions of dollars that some can perceive “M:i:III” to be a disappointment at the box office. Was it a disappointment for you?

Abrams: Interestingly, this movie cost far less than “Superman Returns” and ended up making about the same amount globally. Now, “Superman Returns” has been accounted by Warner Bros. as a success. But Paramount has gone on record as saying they thought “M:i:III” was a disappointment. Sure, it made less than we all wanted it to, and yet I’m incredibly proud of the movie. I also feel like all of the noise that was going on about Tom was out of proportion and unfair to him. Tom is an incredible worker. He’s wonderful and he’s someone who has conviction. He speaks his mind.

MTV: Let’s talk “Lost.” How much does the show in its third season resemble what you had imagined it becoming?

Abrams: Well, in our earliest meetings, we discussed introducing the Others and having this hatch, and we did discuss exactly what was really in the hatch. We knew that there was going to be some version of the Desmond character. We knew that ultimately it was going to be the survivors of Flight 815 versus the Others, but exactly who the players would be only got clear as we moved forward.

MTV: You’ve been through the ups and downs of TV series before with “Felicity” and “Alias.” Are you prepared for those who want to tear down a show as successful as “Lost”? How do you avoid jumping the shark?

Abrams: You’re talking about the show that at the end of the first act of the very first episode had a monster in the jungle. [Co-creator] Damon [Lindelof] and I joked that we jumped the shark then. There’s some kind of odd pleasure that people get seeing something they just built up fall. And then they want to rebuild that thing. It’s a very amusing cycle.

MTV: Have you considered making a feature film out of “Lost”?

Abrams: It’s hard to imagine, just because that’s sort of what I think gets made every week. The scope of the show is that of a film. It’s at least the ambition every week.

MTV: This season the show is taking a hiatus after the first six episodes and then returning in February with 16 uninterrupted weeks. Does the sixth episode end with a cliffhanger?

Abrams: There’s absolutely a cliffhanger. It’s a very emotional one and the cliffhanger ended up working out perfectly for the end of this episode. It’s a great moment about a character that we care about. I think the story is fantastic.

MTV: You’re currently working on the next “Star Trek” film. What’s the status of the project?

Abrams: The script is being written. We have the outline.

MTV: Have you decided yet if you will be directing it?

Abrams: It’s too early to make that call, but we’re all ridiculously excited about it. It’s hard to talk about at this stage, because there’s so much still left to do, but I can say that the story is incredibly cool. To be honest with you, I haven’t been a follower of the more recent “Star Trek” films. I got to appreciate them and like them, but this is the movie I would be in line to see.

Check out everything we’ve got on “Mission: Impossible III.”

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