According to Parade Magazine, Dr. Nancy Berk, Ph.D. a clinical psychologist, author, comic, entertainment analyst, and the host of the showbiz podcast Whine At 9. interviewed Michael Emerson:
I could close my eyes and still pick Person of Interest actor Michael Emerson’s voice out of a crowd. It doesn’t hurt that he has been hanging around primetime in my house for years (Lost, The Practice). And DVR hasn’t hurt. My husband binge-watches POI every 5 seconds (despite watching it unfold at its regularly scheduled time). So I was thrilled to catch up with the Emmy Award-winning Emerson on my podcast before the premiere of the final season of Person of Interest.
Michael Emerson may be a familiar face in the acting world, but compared to his peers, he was a little late to the game. The man who scared us to death as serial killer William Hinks in The Practice and kept us tuned in to watch cold-blooded island dweller Ben Linus on Lost, didn’t hit his full professional acting stride until 30.
Explains Emerson, who always wanted to be an actor, “I moved from small town Iowa to New York City. And it just knocked the wind out of me. I could not—I had not been prepared to figure out how to make a business of it—how to find an agent, or do auditions, or anything like that. By the time I was able to collect myself and get an apartment and a job, I guess I just set it aside. I put it on a back burner. And I worked retail for a couple of years. And then I was taking weekend illustration courses at The New School…I’d always been able to draw pictures. And I fell into that line of work and I did that for about 10 years. And you know, it’s not really an easier racket than acting is. For some reason, I guess the rejection of an illustrator’s life is less penetrating than the rejection of an actor’s life. So I was able to manage that.”
Listen to the interview with Michael Emerson on iTunes.
Fortunately, Emerson didn’t ignore his dream vocation. “I still nursed that old dream of being an actor—so much so that I found it hard to go see plays and stuff in New York. When I found myself high and dry in North Florida in my middle 30s, I thought, ‘Well, now I have to start over. I might as well do what I want to do.’ So I worked day jobs…I was a housepainter, and a landscape nursery man, and all these various odd jobs I had, and started doing community theater…I wasn’t a kid anymore—so it was starting late,” Emerson says.
In many ways, being a seasoned adult may have given him an edge in show business.
“As an actor, I’m not sure what I had to offer the world of tragedy and comedy when I was 21. I hadn’t lived a whole lot. By my middle 30s, you know, I had been knocked around a little bit,” admits Emerson. “You know, I’d had some tribulations and some exaltations and I knew what they felt like and what they looked like on a human face…so I was much better prepared.”
And jumping into a field without any guarantees didn’t fluster Emerson. “When I settled on what I knew I was supposed to be doing, it was the best realization, the most relief I think I ever had in my life. I thought, ‘Well now, come what may, I’ll be fine. I don’t care if I make money. I don’t care if I’m famous’…my calling became clear to me. And it was such a relief.”
Emerson has enjoyed a career that has included plenty of fascinating roles including his Person of Interest alter ego—billionaire and brilliant software geek Harold Finch. POI and CBS seem to have ticked all of the boxes for Emerson when it comes to taking on a role that includes great teams, tension and cool locations. “I like the things every actor likes—I like great, intense duet scenes with good actors,” he says. “I like being in a confined space with someone very dangerous, and having a conversation that could blow up at any minute. I like shooting on location in New York City. I love being on the top of tall buildings, and being out on piers on the Hudson River at dawn, and Chinatown in the evening…you know, we go everywhere.”
He may love his acting partners, but Emerson says he wouldn’t have jumped to play John Reese (portrayed by Jim Caviezel). “It’s too non-verbal. I hardly know what to do if I can’t talk. But also, I think I’m past the age where I want to do combat that much. I had enough combat on Lost. I was five years on Lost and I think I got beaten by somebody every second episode….I want the role where you dress up and you drink a martini and you talk to people. That’s the kind of drama I want to do,” laughs Emerson.
Emerson will now be bidding farewell to Harold Finch after five seasons playingPOI’s mysterious billionaire. While goodbyes on great shows may be bittersweet, the actor seems satisfied with how the show wraps. “I have to say I’m happy with the ending. And I think Harold is, or would be, happy with the ending.” Emerson believes few fans will be able to predict the outcome. “I’d be surprised if many of them come up with what the writers have come up with.”
Will Michael Emerson be taking a little bit of Harold Finch with him as he exits POI— maybe the ability to troubleshoot high-tech home and office problems? Emerson doesn’t even pause. “I’m the worst at a computer. I need to ask my wife (actress Carrie Preston) to help me solve really simple computer operations. I’m terrible with tech. But I’m good with jargon. I can sound like I know what I’m doing,” chuckles Emerson. Of course he can— which is a big reason why we’re going to miss that lovable, billionaire computer geek.
Listen to Nancy’s interview with Michael Emerson on iTunes
Person of Interest premiered Tuesday, May 3 on CBS 10 p.m. ET.
Nancy Berk, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, author, comic and entertainment analyst. The host of the showbiz podcast Whine At 9, Nancy digs a little deeper as she chats with fascinating celebrities and industry insiders. Her book College Bound and Gagged: How to Help Your Kid Get into a Great College Without Losing Your Savings, Your Relationship, or Your Mind can be seen in the feature film Admission starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd.