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Former hobbit lands on "Lost'

Dominic Monaghan, an actor best known as one of the guardians of the ring in the Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings movies, is on the phone from Hawaii, where he has just embarked on another jewelry quest, this time searching for earrings to send his mother for her birthday. There doesn't have to be anything mystical about the earrings, but they can't be too dangly.

Along the way, there are certainly myriad obstacles. Over the course of a 25-minute interview, Monaghan is stopped repeatedly for autographs and pictures. He's also accosted by one person who knows the unassuming thespian looks familiar but can't identify him. Monaghan cops to being an actor but notes only that he's filming Lost on the island for ABC.

A minute later, the same person returns, more confident.

"Were you in that hobbit thing?"

"Yeah, that's right, I was one of the hobbits," Monaghan says, only slightly drawn out. "I was at the shop across the street looking for earrings for my mum, but do you know any other crafty shops?"

Safely away from his semifan and back on the streets, Monaghan laughs at the exchange.

"I think it's the cheesiest thing in the world to be saying "Oh, I'm an actor' and for people to go "Oh, yeah?' and for you to say "Yes, you may have seen me in such films as blah, blah blah,' " he explains. "I help them along the way, but at no point do I say, "Oh, I'm in Lord of the Rings" because that's like saying "Oh, I'm a Los Angeles Laker.' "

As good-spirited and occasionally resourceful hobbit Merry Brandybuck, Monaghan was part of a trilogy that earned billions and roared through the Oscars, running the table at this year's ceremony. In addition to coming away from the experience with fame and adoration, Monaghan quickly discovered that he had been typecast.

"Generally the more pixie-type, Mogwai-kind, Furbee-variety of characters," the 26-year-old says, explaining the roles he was offered. "There's been an assumption from a lot of casting directors that I'm a very sweet, cute, cuddly, nonthreatening, nonoffensive type of person. I think generally I am and I do have that inside me . . . but there are other things about me that I want to show people."

For many viewers, Lost will provide the first chance to see the Manchester, England, native outside of Middle-earth. Monaghan plays Charlie, a member of a once-popular rock band that had a flourish of fame before vanishing into obscurity. Charlie is skittish and needy and has a host of other problems.

"He's evolving as we speak," says the actor, who has shot seven episodes of the highly secretive series. "I'm trying to play him as a bad good guy."

A veteran of British television, Monaghan initially had reservations about returning to the small screen and making a potentially lengthy commitment to a series. He quickly realized that Lost creators J.J. Abrams (Alias) and Damon Lindelof (Crossing Jordan) were making a character that would let him stretch.

"I think we find Charlie at a crossroads in his life, and I would like to see him struggle to work out who he's going to be and how he's going to contribute to the group," he says.

Monaghan knows what he contributes to the Lost group. With dozens of mysteries still unresolved after the two-part pilot, Lost has the potential to become a cult favorite with fans every bit as passionate as the devotees of Abrams' spy drama. If that happens, Monaghan is ready to help.

"I'm in this nice position of being aware of it and being able to tell some of the younger cast members or some of the less experienced cast members that this potentially could be a life-changing thing," he says. "It can get very crazy very quickly, and if you don't have your wits about you, you can really start to get lost."

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