Michael Emerson gave a brief interview with DocArzt of BuddyTV. Here's the transcript and the link that follows will give you access to the sound clip.
BuddyTV: How far ahead in filming are they at this point?
Michael: Let’s see, it’s a 23-episode season. They’re filming…the 19th episode starts work Thursday morning and you will see episode 12, I think, Wednesday night. We’re about 7 episodes ahead of what’s airing.
So, I’m going to put you on the spot right away. There’s a big rumor that the finale this year is going to be a Ben-centric episode. Is that something you can confirm or deny?
I don’t know the answer to that question because I’ve only seen the scripts up through, in fact I don’t know that I’ve seen 3.19 yet. I mean, I wouldn’t rule it out but I would be surprised because that would be a heck of an episode. If you’re going to tell the Ben Linus back-story then you’re going to have to give away some stuff, as you know. They’ll have to dig in and really sort of reveal some things about life on the island and the Dharma Initiative and who the heck are the others?
Have they shared much of that information with you, as an actor, as to where the bodies are buried?
No, no, nothing like that. You know I occasionally see the writers socially and I trust them to come up with something good all the time. I’m not sure; I don’t really know how far in advance they plan the story lines. But usually the first I hear of a development in the plot is when I get the script.
So there has been, since you debuted on the show, this long-running transformation. How do you manage that as an actor? Do you have a central identity for Ben at this point or are you still kind of just doing it script by script?
Well, I do sort of play it script-by-script or scene-by-scene. I mean he sort of is who he has always been. Whatever arc or transformation has taken place in him is sort of story driven or I should say, writer driven. By that I mean it’s more a thing perceived by the audience in context than a change in anything I’m doing, probably.
Obviously I think at this point the audience relates most with the in-charge, head Other, Ben, but you’ve also played him as frail, vulnerable, sinister.
Oh that’s true. But he has been vulnerable at times and he has been frail. He has recently been very frail, what with being a surgical hostage the way he has been. And yet there’s a kind of constancy about his personality.
And that’s an interesting point as well with the story. With John Locke and Rose, they were both cured, obviously, by some mysterious power on the island we would assume. Ben did not have that privilege. Do you know the reason for that?
I don’t know. It’s something to speculate about isn’t it? Has he always been sort of immune to the charms of the island or has he recently lost something that he had previously, I don’t know. But I’m guessing that when we find the answer to that question, it will unlock a lot of secrets.
This week it’s finally getting settled that Ben is not the magnificent Him that brought the Others to the island. Was that something that you were aware of?
No. I’m surprised like the viewers are when I read something that suggests that he answers to someone. I was intrigued by that. I’m wondering where that’s going.
So when Ben says that the Others are the “good guys.” Should we take that that there are bad guys on the island and are we going to see them at some point?
I take it to mean that at least in Ben’s mind, they are fighting some kind of good fight and that there are wicked people or wicked powers that they’re fighting against. But those wicked powers haven’t been very clearly identified yet. Although in coming episodes we’re going to be begin to get a trickle of evidence about the warring parties.
Ah, so there may be another party involved?
Yeah. There may be lost-aways and Others and also, someone else. I’m not sure who that is yet.
One thing I’ve wondered for a while because I read that your wife is a Lost fan. How has this impacted her suspension and disbelief, knowing that you’re on the show?
Well for a long time she wanted to be a purist, you know, and wouldn’t allow me to give her any spoilers. Eventually it’s just my access is too great and you know occasionally I just let things slip about an upcoming episode. Now I think she rather enjoys sort of having that inside entree, which I’ll tell you is not very much. Usually I may be a couple of episodes ahead of what the viewers are looking at. Only because we took that hiatus this season are we that far out in the front on the filming. That wasn’t true last season. Last season it was like this mad dash to have an episode ready for airing, you know? Now we’re a little bit ahead. By the time we get to the finale we’ll just be barely making it again, I’m sure.
This coming season I understand is actually going to air in January…
Well that might be a good thing. Then you don’t have to sort of tease the viewers into interest twice in a year, you just get them revved up once and then you show them a new episode every week. That’s probably the simplest way to do it and keep your momentum going. You don’t have to sort of jump-start it again in the winter like we did this season.
Fans really love your scenes with John Locke…
Yeah, those are some of the most fun to play too.
…given that you were mostly confined in the Hatch in Season 2 and then in Season 3 you’ve been on the Hydra Island, there’s still a lot of the major cast that you haven’t worked with.
Yeah, about half of them I think.
Is there anybody in particular you’d like to work with? Are there going to be some more interactions coming up?
Wow, you know I’d love to play with everybody in the cast at some point. It would be an interesting confrontation between Ben Linus and you know, Jin for example or Claire. Those would be sort of, people from two different worlds. I guess all of them are, but that would be fun. It’d be fun to do a scene with Dominic. I never get to work with him. I never get to work with Jorge. That would be interesting because Hurley has a sort of immunity to power figures or people that are articulate in a way. He can usually turn a conversation into his style of conversation rather than the opposite.
At this point, can we expect to see any of those scenes coming up?
I’m trying to think. What have I filmed? For the next while you’re going to see sparingly. You’ll see me in two weeks and then you won’t see me for a couple and then you’ll see me again and you won’t see me for a couple. So I don’t really have that many episodes in the can right now. I only play with characters you’ve already seen me with. But that could change this week because I haven’t seen the new script yet.
I know one thing that they’re saying is that the playing field is going to change a lot over the next couple of episodes. Is that something you’d agree with?
Oh yeah. Yeah, because episode 13, there’s some role reversal that takes place there. Someone that’s used to being in power is dis-empowered and someone sort of takes charge in an interesting way in that episode. Yeah, yeah that’s fair to say, that’s accurate.
I have some fan questions. I’m going to read them word for word. Did Ben and the Others know what would happen if the button wasn’t pushed or did they think it was just part of a Dharma experiment?
I think they knew in general what would happen, but not in particular.
Do people come up to you on the street and ask you questions as if you are the character, kind of like this person did?
(laughs) People do that, yeah they do. Another thing people like to do is come up and give me capsule criticisms of the show, you know. I remember in Honolulu, a couple from New Zealand stopped to tell me that since I had come on the show that they had stopped watching it because it had gotten too dark, too scary. They didn’t feel like it was a hopeful and humanistic story like it had been originally. I said, “Well, wait a minute, I’m going to call J.J. [Abrams] and pass that along.”
Are people pretty respectful of you when you run into them in public?
They are, they are. It’s interesting. It has a little something to do with the character that I play. I see when Josh and Jorge are in public and people feel like they’re pals with those characters, you know, Hurley. People feel like they can go up and slap them on the back and buy them a beer and that kind of thing. But people are a little more formal with me and I think it’s just because of the character that I play. You know, people keep a sort of polite distance from me and they tend to say, “excuse me” and call me Mr. Emerson (laughs).
The next reader question: Last season there was a scene where your character said, “If I told you about them, you have know idea what He’ll do and He’ll kill me,” obviously speaking of the mysterious Him. At that point did they know that you’d go on to play the leader of the Others? Did you know that you were going to have this authority position with the Others or were you really playing that from the vulnerable standpoint?
Well that was one of those days where I had to have a little chat with the director. Already by then, even that early on I thought, “there’s more to me than meets the eye.” I said to the director, because the director came and said, “I need you to be really terrified of Him.” And I said, “Okay, I’ll do it, but what if I’m Him?” And he said, “I can’t talk about that,” and walked away from me. So we played it as if there was someone that Ben was terrified of. You can either chalk that up to him being a good actor, if the Him in question was himself, or maybe there is somebody out there. I think there’s somebody else coming down the line. In fact, there almost needs to be. This whole dance we’ve been doing on the border of whether Ben is a good guy or a bad guy, I think the presence of someone more powerful and more malevolent will make that really nicely ambiguous again. If our sympathy suddenly shifts toward Ben, that will be interesting.
To a lot of fans it seems like the Others are doing what they are doing as an act of self preservation, not that they want to be kidnappers but that they have another force working against them.
I agree. I’ve always felt that. You know when you play a villain, you kind of have to make a positive back-story for yourself. It helps you live with the character you’re playing and justify things. So that was sort of where my head was at from the get go. I think it’s being sort of played out and I think it’s proving to be true.
Certainly you can see most of the Others being redeemable characters. We’ve already seen that with Juliet and even with Ben. We’ve seen just enough of a soft, humorous side to him to be able to accept him in a hero turn for sure.
Right. I mean you see him as a father and as a member of a book club and stuff like that. And you think, “God, that doesn’t exactly sound like an evil mastermind.” Doesn’t it feel like they have something on their plate that is so scary and so important that they have to take fairly drastic measures that sometimes appear to be wicked?
He could be the nice Dad next door that lives next door that just happens to work for Wetworks CIA, you just don’t know.
Yeah, exactly, that kind of thing.
This final user question: Is there one thing that you can tell us about your character that you wish the viewers knew?
Wow, that I wish the viewers knew… Oh. Something that’s been sort of at the back of my mind and sort of simmering underneath my playing this season is that he’s a romantic. And that he longs for a different life than the one he’s leading. He’s trapped in a kind of life. He’s a man either born at exactly the right time or exactly the wrong time and he has to push on. He has to play the hand that he’s been dealt but he may not be crazy about it. I think he wishes for a softer life and softer relationships (laughs).
Now that he is aware of a romantic entanglement between Jack and Juliet, is that going to be a major factor for your character in the upcoming episodes?
I don’t think Ben lets emotions get in the way of his work very much. I think that’s just one more sort of sad item to add to the list of regrets in his life. If only it could have been different.
Can we expect to see Ben in the forth season at this point or is that an unknown?
That’s an unknown. I would like to be seen in the forth season. Sort of truly and technically speaking, I don’t think anyone could say for sure until about the same time this season wraps up. I mean you can count on certain lead characters to be there as long as the show is there. But I don’t know, I’m waiting to see. I’d like to figure out what to do with myself for the rest of my life if this isn’t going to go on! You just don’t know. It is a gypsy life, I swear.
If you didn’t get a fourth season, are you being offered a lot of villain type roles at this point?
I’m not getting a lot of offers of any sort to tell you the truth. Partly it is, I suppose maybe people call my agents and inquire about my availability and they hear from my agent that my availability is zero. I’m sort of tied up working on this show. There may be some little opportunities, maybe drips and drabs of film work could come up, but they would have to fit neatly into the sort of Lost framework. It will be hard to tell whether there’s life after Lost until Lost is really done.