Friday, May 04, 2007
Interview With Lost's Michael EmersonI always thought Michael Emerson was a good actor and a great villain ever since he joined the cast of "Lost" as Ben Linus, leader of The Others.
But Emerson is a better actor than I thought. If you expect him to be creepy and evil like his alter ego, you couldn't be more wrong — he's a very pleasant fellow with a good sense of humor.
I spoke with Emerson because his wife, Macon-born actress Carrie Preston, will appear in the May 9 episode of "Lost," in which she plays Emily, the mother of the Ben character in a series of flashbacks.
But I took advantage of the opportunity to speak to Emerson about what it was like to be a member of the cast of one of TV's most talked-about shows, especially since he started out as a guest star whose part grew and grew.
Emerson got the role in part because of his Emmy-winning work in 2001 on "The Practice."
Though Preston was reluctant to do an interview initially because she was worried she might reveal too much of what happens, Emerson was more comfortable talking about the show, although he said revealing something is also in the back of his mind.
"It's hard to tell," he said. "I'll say something, then I always wonder, 'Can I say that?' But I've never heard of a big reveal anywhere."
Perhaps part of the way the producers of the show ensure its secrecy is by keeping the rest of the cast as in the dark as the viewers. Emerson said he and the other stars have no idea what is coming up next, and often spend as much time trying to figure out the show's meaning as do the fans.
"It's very much a mystery to the cast," he said. "We only know what is going on when we get the script in our hands. We don't know what is going to happen in two or three or four episodes. The writers might give you a clue, but they tease you with it. They'll say something cryptic like 'Be ready for a big change.' You get greedy to get your hands on a script, because you want to see if you live or die."
Death has been a big part of the series during its three seasons, killing off castaways Boone, Shannon, Mr. Eko, Ana Lucia, Libby and Arzt. TV Guide is reporting four more deaths this season on "Lost" following the killing of Locke's father this past Wednesday night. Is Emerson worried about Ben's survival?
"Luckily, the season finale is pretty much in the can," he said with a laugh. "Anyone who is alive in the finale will probably live on into next season."
Just because the finale is shot, however, doesn't mean that what will happen still isn't a mystery to Emerson. He said only the actors involved in the final scene know how the season ends for sure - the rest of the cast has a blank page on their scripts.
"Only the regulars involved know," he said. "We're sitting around trying to figure out what is going on. I can say there is a big revelation in the final episode this season, but only the actors involved have seen it. I'm going to have to tune into the season finale!"
Emerson and Preston met 12 years ago working in a production of "Hamlet" together as part of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. As a couple, they worked together in "29th & Gay," which Preston directed, and "Straight-jacket." Other movies Emerson has done include "Saw," "Unfaithful," and "The Laramie Project." On the TV side, he has had guest roles on "Law & Order: SVU," "Without a Trace" and "The X-Files."
Emerson said he and most of the cast try to avoid reading the various Web sites and message boards devoted to "Lost."
"I think most of the cast tries to keep their distance from that," he said. "It kind of blurs the boundaries a little bit. If you go there, you have to use your e-mail address, and suddenly you're a pen pal to the world. It raises some privacy issues. Most of us have friends who check on things.
"One of the reason I don't look at the chat spaces is that even if you look at just one, it can be annoying or discouraging. There might be a thread saying, 'Is Michael Emerson the second- or third-ugliest man on TV?' Who needs to hear that?" Emerson added with a laugh.
The only problem with Emerson's success on "Lost" is that it ties him up for long periods of time, making it difficult to do other work.
"It's interesting to have a stable job after having an unusual life as a gypsy actor," he said. "The show shoots in the mid-Pacific, away from other opportunities. It's all 'Lost,' all the time. It's a little bit of a tradeoff."
But for Emerson, playing Ben has its own rewards. Even though the character is shrouded in mystery, he is able to take a straight approach into playing him.
"I'm surprised such a thing has happened for me," he said of Ben's popularity. "I knew it was a good character from the first time I read it. But I was surprised the way he took off.
"(The writers) came up with a good thing, because they had not put a face on the enemy. It was something people craved. ... I play pretty much everything straight. The story is the context on how they apply the mystery."