Actor drops a few clues to season finale By TOM IACUZIO Staff Writer
For a "Lost" fan, talking to Michael Emerson on the phone is a bit like talking to the devil, if the devil was extremely polite, a gifted actor and had an Emmy win under his belt.
We had a chance to talk with the actor, who portrays Benjamin Linus on the hit ABC drama, about his Florida beginnings, his penchant for playing bad guys and what we can expect in next week's season finale.
Q. First off, congratulations on a stellar performance this season on "Lost." Our readers were very excited about the opportunity to hear from you.
That's exciting, thank you. I'm glad he's working for you. I think the character is really well written. I'm happy that whatever my bag of actor tricks is, it seems to be appropriate for this role.
Q. Now I heard you taught at Flagler College in St. Augustine. Is that true?
Yes, I taught drawing there as an adjunct for two years in the early '80s. This was before I was an actor. I had just moved south. I was working as a magazine illustrator in New York and then I moved to St. Augustine where I was just sort of working my way out of that line of work. It was a wonderful time and really highly educational for me.
Q. You were really big in the Jacksonville theater scene. What was that experience like?
That's really where I got started. I wasn't a kid anymore. I had moved south due to a romantic entanglement that also went south. I was high and dry living in St. Augustine. I did a couple of plays in St. Augustine and then I moved to Jacksonville. I was piecing together a living 40 different ways.
Q. The character you play started out as Henry Gale and was only supposed to be around for three episodes. How did you feel when you learned that the paycheck would be a bit more steady?
As soon as I got the script, I thought this is a really intriguing character and he's mysterious enough that they ought to let it run for a while. I guess all of us guest spot actors though have this kernel of a dream somewhere that we're gonna make such an impression in our little guest spot that somebody's gonna want to keep us around.
Q. You've played Zep Hindle in "Saw," won an Emmy as serial killer William Hinks on "The Practice" and now Ben Linus. Are you drawn to these bad guy roles?
No, but somebody is drawn to the idea of me playing them. I don't know who that is and I'm not sure whether to thank them or give them a smack. In my life on the stage, I'm usually in funny plays. It's a little bit of a mystery to me. That seems to be what's so interesting about the character that there is that manipulative genius angle but also a bit of vulnerability and compassion. Yeah, I think as season four has progressed, Ben is being moved inch by inch towards the more sympathetic end of the scale. Something's going on there. I've always maintained, sort of half in jest that eventually Ben would be the good guy.
Q. How familiar were you with "Lost" before you were cast in it?
I was fairly familiar with it. I mean the fanatic in our house was my wife (Carrie Preston). She never missed an episode. I'd sort of catch some while she watched and I was doing dishes or something.
Q. And she wound up playing your character's mother in your flashback episode.
That was kooky. It's great to have your spouse on the set with you, although we didn't have any scenes together, and now she's a bona fide member of the "Lost" family. And I'm thinking maybe that's not the last time we see her. Something has to be revisited there in Ben's childhood.
Q. You often talk about the balance of the island. What do you mean by that?
Well, the show operates on a lot of levels. But it operates in this sort of allegory. It's a tale of sin and redemption. All the characters have some wrong or some dark chapter of their past and it must be sort of atoned for. Nothing happens on the island without some kind of cost. For example, if Ben is somehow able to activate the smoke monster, I don't think that comes for free. I think he has to give something up. We don't know what that is yet, but I don't think it's something he can do three or four times a day.
Q. You've gotten some of the best lines on the show as far as I'm concerned, from "Destiny is a fickle bitch" to "See you guys at dinner." What has been your favorite, if not line, then scene since being on the show?
They do give me some good stuff. The lines are always cooler than the moment would suggest it should be. I'll tell you something that was fun. I had a scene with Hurley (Jorge Garcia) last week where we shared a candy bar. Hurley and Ben sitting on a log at night sharing a candy bar. It makes me laugh just to think about it.
Q. What lengths do producers go to to prevent spoilers on a show like "Lost"?
Sometimes they go to crazy lengths. The script in the finale had blank pages. There was a secret scene. There usually is at the end of the season. But they went a step better this year. When they filmed the secret scene, they filmed three different versions of a moment in it so that even the people that were on the set will not know how the season ends.
Q. I read a rumor that you were actually in the secret scene this season.
I might be.
Q. What kind of reaction do you get from fans on the street?
Mostly people react to me with pleasure but in general it's a kind of guarded pleasure. They are happy to see this face and voice that they know belongs to a character that they enjoy but part of them can't fully disassociate me from the part I play. So they worry a little bit that I might actually be somewhat dangerous.
Q. Do you ever just shoot them that patented Ben stare?
(pause) I don't even know what you're talking about.
Q. So when "Lost" ends, do you think you'll find your way back to the stage?
Sure, yeah. I must. I need to get on stage before "Lost" is over or I'm going to get so rusty . . . it will be embarrassing.
Q. With the schedules of both you and your wife being what they are, does that cause a lot of headaches in your marriage?
It makes it a lot tougher. It means a lot of flying. It's not all that difficult, we just have to make it a priority. You learn about yourselves as a couple as you go along. It's the same stuff I think every working couple goes through.
Q. Finally, can you give us any ideas on what we might expect in next Thursday's finale?
Well, violence. Casualties. Retribution for past crimes. It's so violent and so full of machinery. That's all I better say.
For more with Michael Emerson and his answers to some compelling reader questions, visit news-journalonline.com. The two-hour season finale of "Lost" will air at 9 p.m. May 29 on ABC-TV Channel 9.