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.
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Seasoned performer who found stardom through ‘Lost’ and ‘Person of Interest’
He may not be a household name, but Michael Emerson became a household face by virtue of his role as the sinister Benjamin Linus in Lost, the leader of the group called the Others on the show’s hallucinatory South Pacific island. Emerson, born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1954, was already a theatre veteran with a string of intermittent TV performances to his credit. Now his ascent became rocket-assisted as he appeared in all of Lost’s six seasons except the first, winning an Outstanding Supporting Actor Emmy in 2009.
Lost ended in 2010, leaving even faithful viewers bewildered by its mystical and metaphorical ending, but the following year Emerson was cast as the enigmatic billionaire Harold Finch in the mystery-drama series, Person of Interest. It was created by screenwriter Jonathan (aka Jonah) Nolan, collaborator/brother of film director Christopher, and like Lost, the series is made by JJ Abrams’s Bad Robot production company. Not a bad pedigree, since Abrams’s entertainment juggernaut has also launched Alias, Fringe, Undercovers and Alcatraz on TV, and the movies Cloverfield, Star Trek, Super 8 and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. The prepost
After a relatively slow start in the US, where it airs on CBS, Person of Interest has suddenly boomed in its second series, and now ranks in America’s top five shows. Season two is currently showing in the UK on Channel 5 on Sunday nights, where it may not topple the likes of Mr Selfridge and Call the Midwife, but is pulling a million-plus viewers and rising.
The show centers around the eccentric relationship between Emerson’s Finch and Jim Caviezel’s John Reese a former CIA agent who had suffered a psychological crack-up following the death of his lover, and was living as a hobo in New York. Finch has devised a computer system for the government called The Machine, able to hoover up data from all manner of surveillance sources to predict terrorist attacks. However, Finch found that it could predict “ordinary” crimes too, though it could only identify an unnamed “person of interest” who was involved, without specifying whether they’re perpetrator or victim. Finch rescued the burned-out Reese from the gutter, and now sends him out as investigator and enforcer on Machine-specified missions…
(1) ADAM SWEETING: What was your first glimpse of Person of Interest?
MICHAEL EMERSON: I read a pilot script. It was sitting on JJ Abrams’s desk. Terry O’Quinn [from Lost] and I had been trying to cook up some kind of project together because we get along so well, and nothing was quite clicking. I thought come on, this is Bad Robot, and I said “what have you got?” So they gave me this thing that Jonah Nolan had written, and I thought it was exciting and I liked the high-tech, high styleness of it and its noir quality. And the fact that it was set in New York City was really appealing, though right now I’m feeling like it’s a bad bargain weather-wise because it’s been really a cold snowy winter here and we shoot outdoors quite a bit, so the work has been kind of tough and bone-chilling lately. I guess I was spoiled by the climate in Hawaii [for Lost], but really the island I prefer is the island of Manhattan.
(2) Is JJ Abrams very hands-on?
No, I think JJ’s role in this particular case was to be the sort of broker or bringer together of the artistic parties. I think he has bigger projects that take most of his attention. But it feels like a Bad Robot show and I’m happy to be part of what seems to be a kind of repertory company of actors who work on JJ’s projects. I just like the stuff he picks. There’s always an element of mystery or the thing untold or the black box into which we cannot see, and I share that feeling with him. That’s where there are some similarities between Lost and Person of Interest . Like all Bad Robot shows it bounces around in time a little bit, it has some central questions that will never be answered, there’s an air of mystery about it. Jonah tried to create a state of paranoia where no-one can be trusted which includes the conventional authorities, although we do have good cops and bad cops.
When I got on Lost I came in the middle of series two, and I think they had peaked in terms of viewership. It was never the same again after the first season, but those who stayed with the show were more fanatical than any TV viewers I’ve been around. I think half the people that talk to me on the street now are still watching Lost, maybe they got the box set. Everyone wants to take you to task for the ending. Finally I met someone the other day who said “I just want to tell you I think the ending was beautiful”, and I said “well thank you for that, I’m glad I didn’t have to make my pitch.” Read the rest of this entry »
“LOST” actor Michael Emerson gives his perspective on providing a voice for the Joker in this series of clips from from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment about “The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2″
By LAURI NEFF
NEW YORK — Michael Emerson has played a serial killer, a mysterious, villainous Island leader and currently stars as a billionaire computer genius on “Person of Interest.”
But he says playing the romantic interest for his real life wife has been his most unsettling role.
Emerson plays the off-beat Harold Finch in “Person of Interest,” which airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. Eastern. His wife Carrie Preston has a recurring role as Finch’s former fiance, who believes he is dead
The couple has acted together in a few independent films and Preston even played Emerson’s mother in an episode of ABC’s “Lost,” but this was their first romantic pairing. This season even showed the characters’ first kiss.
“Neither of us are the kind to get a lot romantic work in front of the camera so for us to get a big old languid first kiss with music underneath it and everything — that’s a first in my career,” he said.
Emerson said having his wife play his love interest can be tricky: “It’s a little hard to turn off her wife-ness to me to make her just this other character.”
Still, the Emmy-winning actor said he’s happy to have his better half on set — even though he didn’t help get her there. “Maybe Jonah (writer Jonathan Nolan) called me on the phone and said, `Would you have a problem if we asked your wife to play a character that we’re working on?’ And I said, `No.’ That’s how much I politicked to get her the part. I was completely unaware of it.”
Preston, who also appears in “True Blood” and “The Good Wife,” also found working with him a little strange but that nothing was more bizarre for them than watching the kiss on TV.
“We both sat and watched it together at home on the sofa and we got all kind of giggly and shy about it. It was like we didn’t know how to look at each other,” he said. “It’s like, `Oh God, there we are. We’re kissing.’”