Alias. Lost. Fringe. Mission Impossible 3. Cloverfield. Star Trek. All in all, writer/director/producer JJ Abrams had a pretty sweet decade. That’s why we at Entertainment Weekly named him one of the Entertainers of the Decade in our Best of the Decade issue, on stands now. In particular, 2009 was a peak year for the 43-year-old Abrams thanks to Star Trek, a global box-office smash that revitalized a lagging pop culture franchise. Abrams — an unabashed Star Wars guy — had been a Trek shrugger himself, but fell in love with the world the more he worked on it. “I didn’t feel like I could relate to any of the characters,” Abrams tells EW. “I didn’t feel cocky or self-confident like Kirk. I wasn’t as logical or rule abiding as Spock. I wasn’t grumpy as Bones or as wide eyed as Chekov. I didn’t have the intelligence of Scotty or the reliability of Sulu. I knew I wasn’t Uhura. I was none of these characters. Looking at the whole group, they were all wonderful archetypes, but I didn’t feel a bond with any of them. But working on the movie I fell in love with all of them. The torment of Spock. The full-of-potential-but-unrealized Kirk. The strength of Uhura, the wit of Scotty, the bravery of Sulu, the innocence of Chekov — I loved them all. It took working on it for a long time to not just love them, but become them.”
Of course, a guy like Abrams doesn’t do it alone, and he’ll be the first to tell you that his decade’s impressive body of work was produced in partnership with a crack team of collaborators. Producing partner (and friend since childhood) Bryan Burk has worked on all his projects. Matt Reeves, who co-created Felicity, directed Cloverfield, which was written by Drew Goddard, a Lost and Alias scribe. Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci — who worked as writers and producers on Alias — wrote the scripts for Mission and Trek and co-created Fringe. “It’s very easy working with them,” says Abrams. “We have a great shorthand. Things get done quicker working with them because we speak the same language and have enough of the same references. Like any great collaboration, they push you to places you never expected and get you’re the results you wanted but couldn’t have achieved on your own.”
Another key member of Abrams’ Trek team was Damon Lindelof, who co-created Lost with him. The basic premise for the show — castaways marooned on an island; a dramatic gloss on Gilligan’s Island that melded both Survivor and Castaway — originated with ABC. Abrams and Lindelof met when then-ABC president Lloyd Braun paired them up to take a crack fleshing out the idea. “I met Damon on a Monday,” recalls Abrams, “and over the next five days, we worked on an outline for the show with two other writers, Jesse Alexander [also an Alias vet; he’s now the creator/exec producer of NBC’s upcoming sci-fi drama Day One] and Jeff Pinkner [yet another Alias vet; he’s now the exec producer of Fringe]. By Saturday, we were working on the pilot.”
Although Abrams is so identified with Lost, he takes pains to credit the show’s success to its chief storytellers, Lindelof and executive producer Carlton Cuse, who joined the series right at the start of season one — right after Abrams decided to basically leave his just-launched enterprise to direct Mission. “Frankly, where Damon and Carlton and Jack Bender [the show’s lead director and Hawaii major domo] have taken the show could only have been hoped for back when we were first brainstorming the world and tone and characters. Whenever anyone says ’I love Lost,’ I always emphatically say that it’s all Damon and Carlton and the work their team has been doing.”
For more from Abrams — including more ruminations on Alias, Lost, Mission Impossible, Fringe, Star Trek and his in-development spy drama Undercovers — check out the Best of the Decade issue of EW, on sale now.
Photo Credit: John Spellman/Retna Ltd.