Archive for September, 2011
September 19, 2011
By BARBARA CHAI
Michael Emerson doesn’t do any social media, but he does have a smartphone with GPS, so he can be found at anytime if the need arises, he said recently, reflecting on the theme of his new TV series, “Person of Interest.”
The Emmy-winning actor is best known for his portrayal of cult leader Ben Linus on “Lost.” In “Person of Interest,” which like “Lost” is produced by J.J. Abrams, Mr. Emerson plays Mr. Finch, a mysterious billionaire and computer genius who invents a pattern-recognition program that can identify people who are about to be involved in a violent crime. He and an ex-CIA officer, played by Jim Caviezel, undertake a vigilante mission to stop these crimes from happening.
A native of Iowa, Mr. Emerson now divides his time between Los Angeles and Manhattan. The 57-year-old actor got his break acting on the New York stage when he played Oscar Wilde in the off-Broadway play “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde,” to critical acclaim. “Lost” took him to Hawaii for a few years, so he was drawn to “Person of Interest” in part so he could work in New York again. “I could work and sleep in my own bed and have more of the life I had before ‘Lost,’” he said.
Mr. Emerson spoke with the Journal about his new show, the end of “Lost,” and filming in unexpected places in New York.
How does filming in so many locations in New York shape the show and your character?
I think it helps me to know how vast and in a certain sense, uncharted, the city is. There are so many lonely backstreets, so many boarded-up buildings, so many spaces that you don’t even think about. Like high-rise office buildings—there’s not necessarily an office on every floor. Some floors are just big, open, empty spaces, and it’s eerie, and it’s a great place to set a scene from a vigilante thriller like ours. It’s interesting to film amongst the throng of people on a New York street. Sometimes Jim and I will be doing a scene on Fifth Avenue in the middle of the day, and people are streaming around us but they don’t know the cameras are rolling because the cameras are far away or hidden in a van. It helps you feel like a mole or someone who is on a secret mission, since the work has a privacy about it.
Has it been a challenge to break out of your well-known “Lost” role and become Mr. Finch?
I wrestled with it before we started shooting. I still think about it but I decided I was making myself crazy by setting an unrealistic standard of differentiation. It often didn’t serve the scene or the moment or the piece of writing. So I thought, I need to go back to the way I’m most accustomed to working, which is not thinking about a description of my character. I’m just going to play the scenes. Some bit of Benjamin is a bit of me. It’s undiscardable, I think. It’s just something about the way I talk, or maybe the way I think about scenes, that can’t altogether be let go of.
What is it like to be in “the J.J. Abrams family”?
I think you do have the feeling that you’ve signed on and become part of an enterprise that is keen on storytelling that will have some qualities of amazement about it and some mystery as well. Those are the things I like best. When you say you’re part of J.J.’s family, I guess what you’re saying is, I like the stuff he chooses to produce and the way he does it. I like that whole black-box concept that he has. It’s just a sort of way of proclaiming an artistic fellowship with someone that has a very high profile.
This Thursday, September 22nd, CBS adds a new kind of “case of the week” procedural to its line-up. Person of Interest, from J.J. Abrams and Dark Knight writer Jonathan Nolan (AKA Jonah Nolan), brings us into the world of threat-assessment algorithms and ‘five minutes from now” sci-fi surveillance technology as Jim Caviezel and Lost’s Michael Emerson team up to try to prevent violent New York City crimes before they happen.
Caviezel plays Reese, a dispirited ex-black ops soldier who’s taken in and funded by a Emerson’s enigmatic billionaire, Finch, so that the two of them can work off a never-ending list of social security numbers spit out of a “pre crime” machine and try and spread some justice around.
IGN had the chance to talk to Emerson about his new primetime network role and what it’s like to be playing a new spin on “the man with secrets.”
IGN: What was it like going from a show as serialized as Lost to a “case of the week” environment on Person of Interest?
Michael Emerson: I guess I don’t feel it that much because it’s still a process of showing up each day and playing scenes and getting to the heart of the scene. It has more an effect on the viewers than it does on me as a craftsman. Although I suppose I’m aware that we are following some rules. For example: there’s going to be a set of stock scenes in the show which I hadn’t thought about because I haven’t been in on the beginning of a show before. And each show evolves and changes the way that it tells its story as it goes on and I fear that I’m going to be spending a lot of time in my computerized nerve center in the abandoned library. So that’s going to be every episode that I’m going to be spending time there. It’s not bad, it’s just something I noticed.
IGN: But there is still a lot of back story to your character, right?
Emerson: Yes, there’s still a lot to be revealed. And even some of the cases of the week bleed over into that. Or are stepping stones to some other mystery. Already they’re doing it that way. So there’s already the blurring of beginnings and endings to things that I had even thought there was going to be.
IGN: What’s it like going from shooting in Hawaii to shooting in New York?
Emerson: It’s been so great. I’ve gone from that completely natural environment to a totally urban environment. It’s fun to shoot around in the city that you know, because we explore corners of the city that I’ve never seen before. But then sometimes we’re in very familiar places or sometimes we’re even in my neighborhood and I can just walk out of my apartment and go shoot somewhere in mid-town. It’s been fun. The weather’s been a little too hot for some of the fashionable clothing I’m wearing on the show. We shoot outdoors so much that it’s like Lost in a way. In fact, we may shoot as much outdoors as Lost did.
IGN: What was it that attracted you to the role of Finch? What drew you in?
Emerson: I like the “retried genius” quality of the character. I liked that he lived in a secret world and that there was a super-human amount of money and intellect at play. All of that is fun. And the mood of the story is good. I liked that it was a noir-ish, urban high-tech paranoid kind of universe that we were going to be working in.
IGN: Finch seems to be on a crusade for justice but we’re not exactly sure why. And it’s so expansive that he seems to just wants to help everyone.
Emerson: That’s true. For both of them too. For Finch and Reese. Their thirst for justice is stronger than their will to live, I think. To me, both of them are on a kamikaze mission. I haven’t fully answered the “whys” of that in my mind yet. There’s still a whole lot of back-story for the characters to be revealed as we go along. But that will be done slowly.
IGN: What you just said was very interesting because the idea of someone wanting justice more than their own life sounds a lot like Batman. With Jonah Nolan having written The Dark Knight, is that something that you think about?
Emerson: Yes . And it’s always at the back of my mind. And I see – as we go along and we’re on our fifth episode now – I see that there’s sort of an underpinning of superhero iconography in the show. We both have really strong looks. Both of us could be drawn easily. There’s a stylization to the look of us that reminds me of Batman and Dick Tracy and stuff like that. So it’s been on my mind. They’re not employing super powers, although they seem somewhat super to us. They’re employing conventional technology and techniques.
IGN: This story deals a lot with the events of 9/11 and the surveillance technology that stemmed from that event as a safe-guarding device. Were you aware about the number of cameras that were out there?
Emerson: I guess like everybody else I’ve always been somewhat aware of the number of moments in the day when you’re being looked at by some kind of camera. But, Jonah gave me a book that he and [producer] Greg Plageman had read called “The Watchers.” And it’s a non-fiction book about government surveillance systems and how far-reaching they are. And how highly sophisticated they are. And about the big push, after 9/11, to bring those things up to a high state of readiness and operability. So that really opened my eyes. Because at first I thought “our story has a bit of sci-fi about it.” But it doesn’t really. Add slightly more cameras and slightly more sophisticated pattern-recognition software and you’e got our show’s “machine.”
IGN: After Lost, everyone was intently watching to see what show you went for next. Was it always your plan to find another series to join up with or did you want to do some guest spots?
Emerson: I thought when Lost wrapped that it would be a good long time before I did a series again. Because I thought that one doesn’t want to wear out their welcome. Maybe people had looked at my mug enough for a while. So I took a fair amount of time off. But by the same token, you don’t want to lay low too long and have people stop caring about what you’re working on. [My wife] Carrie [Preston] and I had a project that we were working on and that occupied a lot of that dark year in between shows. But it just wasn’t meant to be this year and so it got put on a back burner and suddenly we were both looking at not having any work to do. So I thought I’d much rather be working since I don’t really enjoy being idle. It’s not like I’m an actor who gets a lot of offers to do parts in movies or anything like that so I felt that since TV was the world that had embraced me, that I should look at a lot of the good scripts out there. And luckily I was in a relationship with Bad Robot [Abrams' production comany], who I’d hoped to work with, and they had this other script that was really good and I began to be worried about finding a great show but then finding out that the show shoots in Winnipeg. Or Vancouver. Or somewhere else far away. And I didn’t want to put in for all that time being away from where I live and being away from Carrie. And living like a tourist. So I tried to find something in a town where I lived.
IGN: Finch finds Reese because he seems to need someone to carry out the violent action needed for this mission. But does Finch himself ever get caught up in the action?
Emerson: Oh he does, very quickly. [laughs] That was a big surprise to me about the role. I thought I was going to be like Charlie on Charlie’s Angels. I would just be nicely dressed and in some place where there was no danger, with Reese doing all the action. But they’ve figured out some very clever ways to get Finch involved and out of his library. So the work has not been as quiet as I originally thought. [laughs]
Michael Emerson, who won a strong fan following for his portrayal of Ben Linus on the TV show, “Lost,” is coming back to television this fall with “Person of Interest,” which like “Lost” is co-produced by J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot production company.
In the new show, which premieres Thursday, Emerson plays a shadowy billionaire named Mr. Finch who recruits a former CIA agent (Jim Caviezel) to help him prevent violent crimes from happening in New York. A police detective who served in Iraq (Taraji P. Henson) catches a whiff of their vigilante mission and is on their tail. The pilot, written by Jonathan Nolan, made “Person of Interest” one of fall’s more anticipated new dramas, and landed the show the Thursday night time slot of 9 p.m. ET.
Speakeasy caught up with Emerson to discuss his new character, his co-star Caviezel and his former “Lost” castmates.
How did you prepare to play Mr. Finch, a shadowy billionaire software genius?
I did a lot of the stuff that actors traditionally do. I looked at computer geniuses on YouTube and I read a bit about the surveillance culture and government surveillance espionage. But there wasn’t really, for me, a lot of good reference material out there from which I could build the character. Add to that fact that I didn’t build the character of Benjamin Linus that way either. I see now that what I’m tending to do is build these characters scene by scene. By rattling around inside each scene, seeing how it ticks, how I can make it most gripping or interesting or dramatic, and then as I go along I can occasionally step back from it and then say oh, this is something that is characteristic of this fictional person.
For example, the limp that Mr. Finch has, was that written into the script?
There was language in the pilot, the first draft I read, that said Mr. Finch: a man wounded in body and psyche. The suggestion that he had some handicap. So that’s a thing I had to spend a lot of time thinking about. I thought, what if I do something too contorted or too physically challenging and then the show is a success, and then I end up having to do that thing, whatever it is, for years and years? And spend a fortune on massage and physical therapy. I thought, let me be proactive and figure out my own handicap before we even start shooting. I played around with some things and I pieced together two little disabilities into one larger disability, and I think that they’re not only effective but they’re actually healthy to do for the most part, so that it won’t kill me over the course of many years.
How is your chemistry with Jim Caviezel? Much of the show rests on the relationship between your two characters.
We get along very well. I think we make a good team by being such different kinds of actors. Between the two of us we make a kind of vigilante odd couple. It’s in the writing too, but it’s also in the way we two actors approach our parts. It makes me wonder, and I think will make the audience wonder, how can these two men share this mission? How will two such different persons ever get along well enough together to survive this very dangerous work they’ve undertaken? I think it creates a nice kind of friction.
Do you keep in touch with other former cast members of “Lost”?
I stay in close touch with Terry [O’Quinn]. I talk regularly with Terry and with Jorge [Garcia]. Jorge and I got to be pals on the show. He and Beth housesat for us for six months in L.A. when the show was over and we were in New York. I like to hear what they’re working on. I’ll be curious because Jorge is still very much part of the Bad Robot family, he’s doing “Alcatraz” in Vancouver and he’s working for Liz Sarnoff who’s just a delightful writer, so I’ll always want to know what’s going on upon that end of the J.J. universe.
Source: Wall Street Journal
NEW YORK – Sitting at a window booth in a nondescript diner on Third Avenue, John Reese, and a mysterious Mr. Finch eye each other warily as cameras (both TV and hidden) capture each glance.
The scene isn’t some Cold War spy caper but new CBS drama Person of Interest, a puzzle-filled action series created by Jonathan Nolan (The Dark Knight, Memento) and produced by J.J. Abrams.
It marks a key addition for the top-rated network and inherits CBS’ key Thursday 9 ET/PT slot next week from CSI (which moves to Wednesdays).
Finch (Michael Emerson, Lost’s Machiavellian Benjamin Linus) is a reclusive billionaire, and Reese (James Caviezel, who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ), is his muscular but damaged recruit, an ex-CIA agent thought dead.
The show’s conceit is that a machine Finch helped build to track global mayhem also collected (but discarded) all sorts of information about lesser “irrelevant” crimes.
Finch, who is now disabled, uses a backdoor entry to the top-secret computer to learn the Social Security numbers of people about to be involved in those crimes as either victims or perpetrators. (The machine can’t tell which.)
Finch enlists Reese to help prevent those crimes from happening.
Interest combines a sturdy CBS-style case-of-the-week procedural formula with the serialized back stories of Reese, Finch, their motives and their machine, told in occasional flashbacks.
“I liked the paranoid, urban, downbeat feeling of it,” Emerson says. “There’s a romance that comes with the noir-y feeling of dread and surveillance. It appeals to me perversely.”
Caviezel was looking to play a variation on 24’s Jack Bauer: “You have a guy who’s very well-equipped to handle vigilante justice in taking care of things.”
The idea, Nolan’s first TV project, sprung from his long interest in information-age overload, enabled in part by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which led law-enforcement agencies to take surveillance to a new level.
“People support a little bit of a tradeoff in privacy, so if there are large-scale catastrophes we can prevent them from happening,” he says. “I was fascinated by the information that goes by the wayside — listening for chatter about terrorist attacks, but hearing about marital infidelities and gangland stuff.
“The show is about two guys interacting with an all-seeing machine that can’t communicate with them beyond a string of nine numbers,” Nolan says. “We have all this information, but getting the relevant pieces out of it is tough.”
Executive producer Greg Plageman says the two main characters are complementary, “an eccentric software billionaire who comes to a crisis of conscience in the wake of 9/11, but whose hands are tied in terms of how much he can accomplish, so he needs someone like Reese, who’s also a man of action. Both people are very private, but the fun of it is how much each character knows about the other.”
Back to that scene in the diner. Their dynamic? “Uneasy, fractious, suspicious, I guess,” Emerson says. “The question viewers will have is why do they even go to the trouble to work together since they’re such a seemingly odd match. They’re both driven for their own personal reasons … and the friction is the fun of the show and gives it a dramatic edge.”
Source: USA TODAY
Person of Interest has caught my attention ever since the pilot was ordered by CBS. It was created and written by Jonathan Nolan and produced by Bad Robot, what’s not to like? But the show was always a little secretive about what it was about with the early reports during pilot production indicating that it could be a time-travel story. Of course, now we know that is not true. But how much do we really know about the show till now? With the pilot airing next Thursday, I will try to compile most things known about the show from interviews, trailers, press releases and try to make sense of it.
[I have not seen the pilot and this is just my interpretation of the show based on what I have seen till now from the promotions. I could be completely wrong.]
Well, first off, the show has a semi-fictional setting. It is set in a paranoia filled post 9/11 world. Finch, the character played by Michael Emerson, says in the pilot that after 9/11 the government gave itself the power to monitor every cell phone, read every e mail, etc., this, coupled with the near omnipresent surveillance, the government will be sitting on thousands of petabytes (maybe more) worth of data. Now, they need a system to sort through this data to give out any sort of usable information. That is where Finch comes in, basically. He builds, what he refers to as, the machine. He probably earned his billions by doing so. If I had to made an educated guess, I would say what Finch has built is a supercomputer. What the machine does is, it sifts through all the data that it can tap into and does some sort of probability analysis. This is used by the government to “pick out the terrorists off the general population”.
Jonathan Nolan insisted in the comic con panel that the government has been trying to build something like this for about ten years and that the only fictional turn the show takes is by assuming that it has been actually built. Anyone who is reading this can see that if something like this has been built, there are so many more potential uses for this machine than to just predict who the terrorists are. Potential crimes can be predicted and stopped. Finch, of course, sees the potential in this machine, but he has no legal access to it once he has handed it over to the government. But, unbeknownst to the government, Finch has built some sort of back-door to this machine; a way for him to interact with the machine, however limited it may be. What it does is spit out social security numbers of the people that it has been investigating.
Why is it that only social security numbers are obtained and nothing else, can be debated upon, but we can know for sure only when they reveal more details about the machine. But my guess is that, every phone number, every e mail address, every computer, every face recognized by the surveillance cameras is linked to a social security number and that is how the machine identifies subjects. So, with Finch’s limited access to the machine, all he gets are the social security numbers. Finch, for at least as long as three years has been trying to stop crimes that from happening (the tape that he plays to Reese in the trailer says it was recorded in 2008). But it is evident that he has not been very successful in doing so. He seems to walk with a limp which prevents him running around stopping crime and I don’t think he has let anyone else in on the fact that he has these numbers.
This is where John Reese, played by Jim Caviezel, comes in. He is a Batman of sorts for this show. It seems from the trailers as though Reese worked for Special Activities Division or some other Black Ops program of the government as a hitman and when we meet him in the pilot, for some reason he is presumed dead. With his skill-set and his presumed dead status, this presents an interesting opportunity to Finch. He offers Reese a job. Finch is going to give him all the information he can obtain and Reese will do all the legwork, investigating and if he has to, fight or defend the target. This is also another interesting aspect of the show. The machine gives names that it has been tracking. Now, these are just persons of interest, the show’s namesake. It could be the victim, the perpetrator or just someone closely linked to what is about to happen.
Of course, with the work Finch and Reese are doing, it’s only a matter of time before the actual law enforcement begins suspecting something. This is probably where Detective Carter’s character, played by Taraji P. Henson, comes in. She probably begins investigating Reese and Finch.
The premise has the potential for some suspenseful, exiting, action-packed stories. How effective it will be in telling these stories and walking the line between hard science fiction and character driven procedural drama remains to be seen. The pilot episode, written by Jonathan Nolan and directed by David Semel, airs next Thursday, September 22nd at 9pm.
Costar Michael Emerson, who earned an Emmy for his turn as the creepy Ben Linus in Lost, is reuniting with executive producer J.J. Abrams, who just happens to be Lost’s co-creator. And Person of Interest’s creator, Jonathan Nolan, is best known for cowriting a little Batman blockbuster called The Dark Knight (maybe you’ve heard of it?) and its upcoming sequel. Oh, and also in the cast you have Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson and even Jesus himself, Passion of the Christ’s Jim Caviezel.
So how good is this show? Can it actually live up to all that intrinsic hype?
Person of Interest (CBS)
Premieres: Thursday, Sept. 22 at 9 p.m.
Time-Slot Competition: The Office/Whitney (NBC), Bones (Fox), The Secret Circle (CW), Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)
Cast: Michael Emerson, Jim Caviezel, Taraji P. Henson
Status: We’ve seen the original pilot episode.
For a crime thriller, Person of Interest isn’t as thrilling Abrams’ Alias—yet—and it’s certainly not as intriguing as Lost. However, for a procedural with a twist, its sci-fi premise is sound and even sort of plausible. And who doesn’t enjoy seeing the good guys exacting a little vigilante justice?
The show’s person of interest can refer to both presumed-dead CIA agent Reese (Caviezel) and the potential criminals/victims he seeks. Identifying them is Emerson’s Mr. Finch, who, like Ben Linus, is mysterious and inscrutable—but he’s no villain. At least he doesn’t seem to be. After 9/11, Finch invented a software program for the U.S. government that uses pattern recognition to identify terrorists—with the scary outcome that everyone is monitored. Somehow (and this is when you need your “willing suspension of disbelief” needs to kick in), the program can also identify people about to become involved in violent crimes.
Since everyone thinks he’s dead, Reese has managed to fly under the radar since Something Very Bad happened to the love of his life. (At least that’s what the sunny flashbacks suggest.) After opening up a huge can of whoopass on some subway thugs, the former fed is ID’d by Henson’s Detective Carter—minutes after Finch whisks him away from the police station and eventually persuades sign on to his one-man SD6-style black ops.
Caviezel doesn’t speak for much of the pilot, so the jury’s still out on how he’ll handle the role of leading man, but Emerson is as engaging and deeply layered as always. And the premise, despite its twinge of lunacy (hey, don’t forget the Rimbaldi prophecies in Alias!), is as intriguing and bold as you’d expect from a J.J. Abrams series. This show could certainly turn out to be one of the TV season’s best new offerings. We’re not totally sold yet, but we’ll definitely be tuning in to see what comes next.
Verdict: Hello! J.J. Abrams. Michael Emerson. Dark Knight scribe. If you’re a fan of any sort of cult-genre entertainment (or procedural crime dramas for that matter), you’d be crazy not to watch. After all, you never know who’s watching you…