BRITISH ACTOR Dominic Monaghan is best known for playing the jolly hobbit Merry Brandybuck in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but the 29-year-old has broken away from his clean-cut image to cut a rugged, stoned appearance as Charlie Pace in Lost. And his latest role as a drug-addicted, fading rock star in the award-winning TV series couldn't be further from reality. 'He tries to be brave, but he's a little scared - he's strong and weak,' Monaghan says, referring to the way his character takes care of pregnant co-star Claire (Emilie de Ravin) on the one hand, but craves drugs on the other. 'He doesn't make the same decisions I would. He doesn't think and act as I would. Charlie doesn't know where's he's heading. It's the character that's least like me.' Lost, which was created by J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof, premiered in Hong Kong last June. The first episode is about a plane crash on a deserted island, and what follows is a gripping tale of survival. The series won an Emmy award last year and a Golden Globe last month for best drama series. The part of Charlie appears tailor-made for Monaghan, although the only similarity between the Manchester-born actor and the character he plays is their love of music. 'I play the guitar and a little piano,' he says. 'I'm not especially gifted in either, but I enjoy the semi-meditative state they take me to.' Monaghan attributes his early interest in acting to Harrison Ford. At the age of eight, he was captivated by Ford's Han Solo. While his brother and friends played outside, he'd watch Star Wars over and over again. 'Han Solo was a real inspiration,' he says. 'I saw something in him that was so fantastic, so real, genuine and cool.' Monaghan grew up in Berlin, where he became fluent in German, and returned to Manchester when he was 12. 'We moved pretty much every four years,' he says. 'That had a big impact on my childhood.' In Britain, he studied English literature, drama and geography, then made his television debut when he was 18 in detective series Hetty Wainthropp Investigates. For his film debut, Boomber, he appeared alongside established actors such as Rutger Hauer and Martin Shaw, and performed on stage in the British productions of The Resurrectionists and Annie and Fanny from Bolton to Rome. But it was his role as the gentle hobbit in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) that made his name - even if it hasn't brough much work. New Zealand, where the trilogy was filmed, had a big impact. 'They have many great ideas about the environment, elderly people and education,' he says. 'It's an inspiring and forward-thinking nation.' The films led to solid friendships with Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins), Billy Boyd (Pippin Took) and Jackson - but they haven't resulted in any Hollywood deals. 'I didn't work for a year and a half after Lord of the Rings,' Monaghan says. 'I was confused as to where I'd go next.' Although he would have preferred to work in film, things opened up when he got the role in Lost. 'I had my issues about working on television again because I was more into film. But this is a high-quality series and it's a bit like a mini-movie.' Monaghan persuaded the producers to transform his character from a 45-year-old has-been rocker into a confused young musician. 'I just said, 'Wouldn't it be more fascinating if [Charlie] had a glimpse of success?' And after that the character evolved into someone of my age,' he says. In the next season, Charlie will become a more worthwhile member of the team as his relationship with Claire develops, but his battle with drugs is an ongoing problem. 'For a long time, Charlie is reactive,' he says. 'In the [second] season, he'll try to control his destiny.' Monaghan now spends most of his time in Hawaii shooting Lost, but has moved his home to Hollywood from Britain. '[Los Angeles] is an artistically inspired place to be. There are lots of lunatics in the city, with lots of ideas. There are all these crazy people who go to Hollywood. People have genuine emotions when they're this crazy.' Monaghan keeps himself busy - but not at Hollywood parties. He says he'd rather work out, and spend time at home or with friends, including Rings star Viggo Mortensen. He's also been working on a script with Boyd about men who go backwards and forwards in time, and plans to pitch it to various studios. The success of Rings and Lost has propelled Monaghan into the international spotlight, but he's wary of the press and prefers to keep his personal life as private as possible. For instance, although he's been with his girlfriend, Lost co-star Evangeline Lily, for more than a year, they made their first public outing only last month, at the Golden Globes. 'I don't speak to the press about my private life and I never will,' he says. 'The press in America and different parts of Europe make up complete gibberish about my life.' But he loves talking about the Beatles and even bears a tattoo of a quote from Strawberry Fields Forever: 'Living is easy with eyes closed'. It's a motto he says he firmly believes in. He thinks people are happier when they're not overly influenced by others. '[John Lennon] was a messed-up individual, but he was able to channel his anger into music and art,' he says. 'He tried his best with what he had. If you go through life not being aware and open, your life will probably be easier because you won't be influenced by others.'