Emmy Award-winning actor Michael Emerson enjoys looking for the comical elements in his characters, even in the more serious or darker ones.
“I often feel like I’m the secret comedian in any of the shows that I’m in, even though it doesn’t really show that much. But I do try to let that creep in there a little bit. I like to have my characters have some wit, get off a good line or a bit of sarcasm.”
The Iowa native, 58, stars as mysterious billionaire Harold Finch in the hit drama “Person of Interest,” airing at 8 p.m. Thursdays on CBS.
Finch is also a software genius who has invented a computer program that can identify people about to be involved in violent crimes, but he is unable to determine if they will be the perpetrators or the victims.
Finch has recruited presumed-dead former CIA agent John Reese (Jim Caviezel) to assist him in finding out which role the “person of interest” is playing, and to help him in preventing these crimes.
Taraji P. Henson and Kevin Chapman also star in the series, and Emerson’s wife, Carrie Preston (“True Blood”), has guest starred.
“Person of Interest” includes among its executive producers J.J. Abrams, whose Bad Robot Productions also was involved with the widely popular drama “Lost,” in which Emerson starred as the cryptic villain Ben Linus.
Emerson shared details about his work on “Person of Interest,” and a bit about “Lost,” during a recent phone interview with The Oklahoman.
Q: What appeals the most to you about playing Harold Finch?
A: I like being the guy that delivers all the exposition, and I like the challenge of trying to keep that interesting, or even to be able to get on top of exposition and technical jargon and make it lively and surprising if possible.
And that’s a hard job, because on most shows about espionage or adventure or police and law procedurals, there’s someone who does a lot of exposition, but sometimes you want them to stop talking and get onto the action part.
So, I’m happy to try to do what I can with what some actors would feel like (are) some of the duller parts.
Q: How is Jim Caviezel alike or different from Reese?
A: Jim has a quiet dimension to him that informs the character of Reese. What you don’t get when you watch Mr. Reese on our show is how silly Jim can be and what a comedian he is. Maybe because he and I play in shows that are so dark and urgent, it’s just natural that comedy boils up on the flip side of it.
Q: Is your wife going to be back on “Person of Interest” anytime soon?
A: Yeah, you’re going to see more of the character of Grace on “Person of Interest” in a highly dramatic way. It’ll be a ways off, closer to the end of this season.
Q: Thanks to Reese, Finch has acquired a pet this season. How is working with “Bear” the dog?
A: It’s interesting. I really love that development as far as narrative and character goes. It’s nice that there’s this unlikely soft spot in Mr. Finch’s life. At the same time, it’s also hard work.
We have a brilliant dog. The dog that plays Bear is a national champion obedience dog and he’s going to the world championships this spring, and will likely win there. He’s highly trained, highly motivated and has a lot of energy, but he doesn’t know acting from acting, he just knows commands.
It takes time to get him to hit the right mark, to hit the mark and to be looking in the right direction, that kind of thing. There’s a lot of trickery with the placement of treats, and wherever you want the dog to look, that must be where the trainer is standing because he pays attention to the trainer at all times. There are certain logistical challenges to it, so those scenes are great, but they take time to shoot.
Q: What was your overall experience working on “Lost?”
A: It was a great adventure and it was for me, the actor, a bit like it was for the character, I think. Because there I was uprooted and plopped down in an island in the middle of the vast ocean, and I lived out this kind of fantasy life of like kids running around in the jungle with guns and playing these plots and schemes and dangers and supernatural elements. My experience, I think, was a lot like the castaways’ experience, and, then, when it was over, it seemed a bit like a dream, like “Did I do that?” “Was I on that island for all those years?”
Q: How often do you still receive comments about “Lost?”
A: A lot. On the street every day. Every day I run into someone who says, “Excuse me, are you Michael Emerson? I was just wanting to say how much I liked ‘Lost.’”
Ever wonder what is Michael Emerson’s favorite app for his iPhone? Well, Adrienne Gaffney of the Wall Street Journal asked him, as well as other celebrities and got an answer: Here’s Michael Emerson’s answer:
Michael Emerson58, actor who starred on ‘Lost,’ which won him his second Emmy Award. He currently appears on ‘Person of Interest.’Mr. Emerson uses an iPhone.
WSJ: What apps do you use?
Mr. Emerson: I have this thing called TuneIn Radio which allows you to listen to stations and anything that’s streaming, all over the country and I guess all over the world. A lot of times we’re on location in remote places or in the bottoms of buildings where you can’t get a regular radio signal and I can pick all my local New York favorites. You can select by category, blues or children’s music or college radio stations and just pick whatever you want. I’m such a radio person. I swear I listen to more radio than I watch TV.
I use TuneIn Radio when I’m at work or on location. But I’ll play it the whole time when I’m in my trailer or in my dressing room at the stage.
WSJ: Is there an app that you had that you stopped using?
Mr. Emerson: I’m about ready to get rid of my dictionary app. I keep asking it for words that it doesn’t know. So I’m tired of that. I guess I need the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) or something like that as an app. I should really explore that and get a more powerful dictionary engine because I keep stumping my own dictionary. That’s not right.
To view the other celebrities and their answers, just click here.
The beauty of having Person of Interest filmed on location in NYC is that fans galore can catch the action on camera for the fans who live elsewhere. The Michael Emerson Photo Gallery just uploaded over 50 photos that may interest his fans. Here’s a teaser:
Larger version of this photo and the many others that were recently uploaded can be found here.
Michael Emerson, 58, was villainous Benjamin Linus in Lost and now stars in crime drama Person Of Interest as cyber billionaire Harold Finch.
In Person Of Interest you play a tech genius/cyber vigilante who has built a system that predicts violent crime. How close are we to the Orwellian world depicted on the show?
I think we’re closer than anyone would care to say. I’ve read books that suggest the American government might have already tried to create a really sophisticated surveillance system with pattern recognition software. I think I live in an Orwellian world now! I feel like we’re on the cusp of some great cultural shift where machines will take on a dimension of power we never dreamed of.
The show is produced by JJ Abrams (Lost/Mission Impossible III/Star Trek). Was that the attraction?
Sure, I saw the script in JJ Abrams’s office and thought: ‘That’s really cool.’ It’s from [British film-maker] Jonah Nolan, brother of Christopher Nolan. They collaborated on Memento, the Batman movies, Inception and so many wonderful dark action thrillers that are based on puzzles and fractured narratives.
Are you a techie yourself?
I’m not very good with electronics and computers. In our household, my wife is the tech engineer. I’m always saying: ‘Honey, come here. I can’t make the thing delete.’ My expertise in the show is definitely play-acting on my part.
You’ve been married to actress Carrie Preston (True Blood/The Good Wife) for more than 12 years – what’s the secret to a long-lasting relationship?
We both have interesting work that satisfies us, we have empathy and we handle each other tenderly and worry about each other. We have been fortunate that we’ve both had success. I suppose it would be hard to be an actor couple if one partner was a big success and the other one was languishing. Also, we each picked someone whose ego was not going to get in the way of things.
Lost was such a phenomenon. What was it like joining the cast?
I wasn’t a regular viewer of the show before getting the part. I didn’t realise the passion level that existed among its viewers. When I was offered a guest spot, it struck me as another job, albeit one that was shot in the middle of the Pacific. I didn’t expect to stay so long in Hawaii. Then I thought: ‘I might turn out to be a regular on this show,’ and that’s what happened. I was never able to go home. I was off to the races; suddenly people knew my face and nothing was the same after that.
How did Lost change your life?
Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I was making a real living. I thought: ‘Well if you stick with your craft, your eventual success will make up for the lean years.’ It was a shock being recognised. It’s a challenge for a person who’s kind of shy like me. You have to adjust but it’s a good way to meet people.
What was it like finding success in your mid-forties?
I’m happy that it happened rather than not happening. But I was never that unhappy. Once I found out what my calling was in my thirties, it honestly didn’t matter much to me if I was famous or making a handsome living. I just loved acting.
But you had to do other jobs to pay the bills?
Yes, I taught, I was a magazine illustrator for many years. I designed posters, I built scenery and I directed plays. I also built decks and painted houses. But I didn’t feel punished by it at all because in the evening, I knew I was going to rehearsal or to a show and I was so happy.
What has been your greatest extravagance since then?
I have been an admirer of tribal rugs for many years and I finally just bought a Turkish rug I had admired in a store window. It’s so beautiful. Now I walk into my living room and there’s that rug, which is a piece of history. It just tickles me. But it was reasonable – only a few thousand dollars.
You’re the voice of the joker in the new animated films, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, (Part 1 and 2). How was that?
It was challenging and daunting, when you think about how closely people follow those big superhero franchises. Thank God I hadn’t seen The Dark Knight when I was engaged to do this work because I might have thrown up my hands and said: ‘This is impossible.’ You don’t want to be The Joker who follows Heath Ledger. But it was a different medium and I think it’s come off fairly well.
Do you have any major goals?
I think it’s every actor’s dream to be on a London stage some day. But I’m one of those people who doesn’t have a five-year plan. I wish I knew more about botany and the names of birds and ancient civilisations. Those kind of things will be the projects of my later years.
To view the larger version of the photo featured in this article, just click here.