From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
To his girlfriend of six years, actress Barbara Hershey, Naveen Andrews is a man "full of contradictions. He's truly well-read, yet he's very street. He kind of gives off this quality of danger at times, and yet he's very vulnerable. He's extremely serious and he's very funny," Hershey says, citing the British-Indian actor's dead-on impressions of Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier and Ali G. "He's very beautiful physically," she adds.

Female fans of ABC's hit adventure series Lost can vouch for that. As Sayid, a former Iraqi army officer turned plane-crash survivor, Andrews (previously best known as the doomed Lt. Kip Singh in 1996's The English Patient) displays smoldering intensity and a hair-trigger temper. When he's not a fighter, he's a lover. On the Jan. 12 episode, Sayid embarked on an unlikely relationship with the island's resident pill, pouty Shannon Rutherford (Maggie Grace). That plotline "came out of left field," says Andrews, 35. "Go figure. Let's hope it blows people's minds in Middle America," he jokes.

Next month, moviegoing America will get to see Andrews singing and dancing in Miramax's Bride and Prejudice, a Bollywood update of the Jane Austen classic that casts Andrews as Balraj Bingley, the best friend of the heroine's suitor, Will Darcy.

Andrews's own love life has taken some movie-worthy twists, including a romance with a math teacher at his London high school that began in his late teens. Though Geraldine Feakins was 15 years older, "I must stress that we didn't begin living together until I was over 18," says Andrews, refuting tabloid reports that had them moving in together when he was 16. Their six-year union produced a son, Jaisal, now 12 and living with his mother. "We see each other every school holiday," says his dad.

In 1998, at age 29, Andrews met Hershey, then 50, a veteran of films such as Beaches and Hannah and Her Sisters, on the set of the obscure 1999 indie film Drowning on Dry Land. The two have been together ever since. "I've always liked women who are older," he says. "They seem to know who they are, and they've lived. They've got soul, and that's very attractive."

"Naveen loves women. He just doesn't exclude older women," says Hershey, 56, who has a son, Tom, 31, from her relationship with Kung Fu star David Carradine in the '70s. "Once I realized [the age gap] wasn't a problem for him, I relaxed about it."

Andrews does admit to some strains in the relationship, however, especially with Hershey off in Vancouver starring in the WB's The Mountain and himself living in an Oahu hotel near the Lost set. "It requires a constant effort to make sure you see each other," he says. "Our limit is usually three weeks apart." When they get together in Hawaii or L.A., their permanent home, "we basically shut down, and it's just us," he says. "We don't really go out on the [party] scene at all. We go to bookshops."

In L.A., Andrews, an accomplished guitarist and vocalist since his teens, also tries to work in jam sessions with former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, a pal since 1997. "He's very real. He's not caught up in all the Hollywood nonsense," says Jones, now an alternative-radio deejay.

It was Andrews's musical and acting ambitions that alienated him from his straitlaced parents, Sydney, a businessman, and Nirmala, a psychologist (both deceased). "They wanted me to be an academic," he says. Instead, he left home at 16, won a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music & Drama a year later and by 21 had landed his first film, London Kills Me (1991). His biggest, The English Patient, "was a fantastic role for me. It had an impact in that it allowed me to work in America," he says. "When I came here, people knew who I was."

Auditioning for Sayid last year, "he brought this raw, romantic energy to the character," says Lost co-creator Damon Lindeloff. "Women love him, men love him." To Andrews that means, among other things, being able to move out of the hotel suite he's lived in since filming the show's pilot last March. "I think it's part of being an actor—you don't want to commit." But now, he vows, "I am going to get a house."

Mike Lipton. Monica Rizzo in Los Angeles

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  • Monica Rizzo.