Fantasy Island

updated 01/30/2006 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/30/2006 AT 01:00 AM EST

Some Lost castaways are obsessed with numbers—particularly the six cursed numerals that frequently pop up on the hit series. Dominic Monaghan, however, is all about the alphabet. “Dom is obsessed with Scrabble,” says castmate Jorge Garcia, who plays Hurley. “He plays it all the time—even on his cell phone at work.” Admits Monaghan: “People will say things, and I'll Scrabble what they say in my head. I'll think of triple word scores all the time.”

He's leaving Lost viewers equally spellbound. As washed-up rocker and reformed heroin addict Charlie, Monaghan has proved that his well-received turn as hobbit Merry in the blockbuster Lord of the Rings trilogy was no fantastical fluke. “He's the life of the party, but he takes work very seriously,” says Lost executive producer Bryan Burk. “Coming off the $3 billion franchise, he knew this wasn't The Dominic Monaghan Show. He's been very gracious.” Yet the actor, 29, has landed more than just a thriving post- Rings career since heading to Hawaii in 2004 to shoot the ABC series. He has also developed a hush-hush romance with Lost costar Evangeline Lilly, 26, who plays Kate.

Monaghan guards details about his personal life as if he were protecting his show's top-secret plot twists. “The one thing I can try and keep sacred and special is my love life,” he says, though the two have been photographed cuddling and kissing ever since they made a cozy appearance at last year's Golden Globes. Still, he can't resist dropping a few clues to the status of their relationship. After referencing a favorite quote about love from his idol John Lennon, he says, “When love is in your life, you feel like you're on the right track.” So it is love then? Monaghan lets a huge grin substitute for a reply. “We both have the ability to live in the moment,” he says of Lilly, “and we both are not that impressed by what is thrown at you by the industry.”

Monaghan is already painfully familiar with the fickleness of fame. Born in Berlin, he grew up on German army bases (dad Austin was a science teacher for the British armed forces; mom Maureen was a nurse) before moving to Manchester, England, at 11, where he acted in plays and a British TV series before landing his big break in the Lord of the Rings films. But on the heels of his “amazing” Rings euphoria, Monaghan found himself jobless, watching as his castmates easily landed follow-up projects. “I was depressed for quite a while,” he says. “ I understood for the first time what it meant to be unhappy.”

That depression came in handy during his Lost audition for Charlie. “ Here's someone who's only had a glimpse of fame, and then the door has been slammed in his face,” says Monaghan. The megahit series has finally busted that door down for Monaghan, who treasures his new life on Oahu. Still, he's learned to prepare himself for the run of good luck to end. “I can pick it all up and go,” he says. “Aside from my car, everything I own fits in a suitcase.”

MORE ON: Evangeline Lilly

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