By Rebecca Smith '99
When Neil Hopkins '99 auditioned for a role on the television show Lost, he had no idea of what was ahead. But now that it has become a pop culture phenomenon, the series is opening doors in Hollywood for this up-and-coming actor.
At the age of 15, Hopkins began performing in musicals at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo. He knew from his very first curtain call that acting was his life's passion. At Holy Cross, he was determined to hone his craft, so he enrolled in "Basic Acting" with Associate Professor Edward Isser.
"Professor Isser really inspired me—as he did a lot of people," explains Hopkins. "He recruited me into the theatre department and encouraged me to follow my dream of becoming an actor."
As a result, Hopkins became involved in Alternate College Theatre and department productions. His credits at Holy Cross include My Fair Lady, Guys and Dolls and Isser's award-winning production of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure.
Hopkins looks back fondly on his experiences in the theatre department, crediting his success to professors like Lynn Kremer and Steve Vineberg—with whom he remains friends. Thinking highly of him as well, the department granted Hopkins the 1999 Nellie M. Bransfield Award for outstanding stage performances throughout his four years.
Emboldened by his experience at Holy Cross, Hopkins was determined to continue his acting education. As a student at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater (ACT), he immersed himself in acting, taking classes in voice, speech and movement, and studying Shakespeare and Chekov. He earned his master of fine arts degree in 2002.
"ACT was super intense," Hopkins recalls. "Basically, I was living and breathing acting for three years. It was an amazing experience."
And the hard work has paid off. During his final project at ACT, a "showcase" in which he and his classmates performed scenes at venues in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Hopkins landed an agent. He has been working in the industry ever since. His television credits include guest roles on: Crossing Jordan; Charmed; NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service; and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. He has also appeared in the films The Net 2.0 and My Big Fat Independent Movie.
However, his biggest role to date has been that of Liam—the heroin-addicted, rock star brother of Charlie, one of the show's main characters—on the Emmy Award-winning series Lost.
"When I got the role, I had a good feeling that Lost was going to be something big," he says, "but I had no idea that it was going to be as big as it is—I don't think anybody did!"
Hopkins travels to Hawaii to film episodes. Ironically, it was during his latest trip that he first watched the entire Lost series on DVD in his hotel room. His schedule had not allowed him to watch the show during its original airing, so he used his free time between shots to catch up with the series. Although his character only appears in flashback scenes, which are filmed separately from scenes set in Lost's primary location (a mysterious island), he did spend a day on the beach with the main cast and crew, observing the shoot and hanging out with such actors as Terry O'Quinn, Jorge Garcia and Evangeline Lilly. Most of his work was done with his on-screen brother, Dominic Monaghan, whom he describes as "one of the funniest guys I've ever met."
Along with the rest of Lost fans, Hopkins has no idea if his character will reappear on the show—and he has no insights into the secrets of its enigmatic plot.
Although he is not yet recognized on the street, he does credit his role on Lost with helping him gain recognition in the industry. This winter, he tested for the lead in an ABC pilot alongside three big-name actors.
He plans to continue pursuing film work and eventually hopes to make his own movies with an established network of friends in the business—many of whom went to Holy Cross. Between auditions, Hopkins keeps busy by renovating his Santa Monica home with his fiancée.
To anyone looking to break into the entertainment business, Hopkins suggests setting career and working on not becoming easily discouraged.
"Nobody will ever care as much about your career as you do," he advises, "so the sooner you take full responsibility for it, the better off you'll be."