SANTA MONICA, Calif. — "Wicked" is Rebecca Mader's favorite word. She uses it to describe Meryl Streep, with whom she shared a scene in The Devil Wears Prada. Also among the "wicked": Kate Walsh, whom she appeared alongside in Private Practice's first episode. And perhaps the most wicked of all: Josh Holloway, one of her new actor pals on ABC's Lost (tonight, 9 p.m. ET/PT).
Wicked is "the British version of awesome," explains the U.K. import who plays archaeologist Charlotte Lewis — one of four new explorers on the increasingly mysterious (and crowded) island.
And what's the name of that sexy polish on Mader's fingers and toes? She blushes. "You're never going to guess what it's called," she says with a giggle. "It's called Wicked!"
Pretty wicked herself, Mader is focusing full time on acting after working as a model in the U.K. since she was 18. The Cambridge native, 28, once worked in a L'Oréal ad campaign as "the redhead" alongside Beyoncé, and she still sees her face on hair-care products back in England.
She acknowledges that she landed in a deep funk after her first TV series, last year's legal drama Justice, was canceled and her TV pilot of Mr. and Mrs. Smith failed to become a series.
Then, just as she was about to make a return trip to Europe, a voice inside told her to stay put in L.A., where she landed a Lost audition with producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. "I was not going to leave that room until I made them fall in love with me," she says.
And fall in love they did. Her deal: recurring for the current season with an option for a series regular slot in Season 5. She appears in all the remaining episodes that were shot before the strike, and with the strike now resolved, Mader is looking forward to reuniting with her new island friends.
"From the minute I walked on the set on my first day, I felt welcomed," she says. "I was nervous about them being cliquey. You can imagine they would have been, 'Oh gawd, another new person.' But it was like I've been there forever."
She has engaged in squirt-gun fights with Emilie de Ravin (Claire) and traded dirty jokes with Holloway. And Michael Emerson (Ben) apologized after having to shoot her on her very first day.
"There I was, lying on the floor of the jungle with Terry O'Quinn (Locke) kneeling over me" she says. "I had just watched all 69 episodes on DVD and felt like I was suddenly inside the TV show — a really amazing moment."
Mader, whose mother, Jenny, works in a department store, and father, Gary, practices real estate law, split last year from her husband of three years. "Great guy, just wasn't meant to be," she says with a shrug. She also just parted ways with her entertainment-attorney boyfriend, whom she brought with her to Hawaii. Her one remaining companion: Bella, a 1-year-old Shih Tzu who barks every time Lost dog Vincent appears on screen. "I think she might be jealous," Mader says.
Strictly forbidden from revealing upcoming plots — including how the heck her character came upon the remains of a polar bear in the middle of a Tunisian desert — Mader teases, "I do know a lot more than you." After shooting this season's eighth episode, even she does not yet know her character's true intentions: "There is some crazy stuff the audience is going to discover."