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Lost: Season 6 - Michael Emerson interview

Michael Emerson in Lost

Compiled by Jack Foley

MICHAEL Emerson talks about shooting the final season of Lost, playing the character of Benjamin Linus and his thoughts on the season finale of both the fifth and sixth series of the show.

He also discusses rumours of a possible new TV series with Lost co-star Terry O’Quinn and the True Blood gossip surrounding his potential guest spot.

Q. How much did you enjoy working on Lost?
Michael Emerson: It was a complete joy to work on Lost. I had loads of fun because Benjamin Linus was a great character and I had great scripts. I really enjoyed acting in that mysterious world and I really enjoyed playing this mysterious character. The writers took care of everything for me. I just kept it simple and played Ben dark and ambiguous, which kept the audience interested but unknowing.

Q. Did you enjoy discovering the answers to some of Lost’s questions in the final season?
Michael Emerson: That was one of the things that was most exciting about Season Six. The show was still complicated and mystifying – but we were getting answers to some of the questions that we all wanted to know about. I couldn’t put my finger on where we were going during Season Six, but I was always the last person to figure anything out. I always had to rely on other people to tell me what was going on.

Q. How did you want the show to end?
Michael Emerson: I never thought about things like that. I trusted our writers to have a much larger imagination than me. Whenever I came up with ideas, they were always insufficient, so I steered clear of theories and stories. I just looked at the script and went from there.

Q. Is it true that Matthew Fox was the only actor on set who knew the ending to the show?
Michael Emerson: People always thought that Matthew knew the ending, but I’m not so sure. He could’ve been making it all up. How will we ever know if he knew the ending unless he made a recording on a tape recorder, dated it and sealed it in a safety deposit box to open after we finished filming? We will never know the truth.

Q. Were you happy with the finale of Season Five?
Michael Emerson: I thought it was a great season-ender from a series that always has great season endings – and I thought it was brilliant that it was a two-part cliffhanger. Each of the cliffhangers were sufficiently mind-bending to lure you into Season Six. In my case, I thought it was astonishing and I was very happy to play the scene that I got to play. Benjamin Linus often behaves in a calculated way, but every once in a while he does something completely childish or impulsive – and he got to do that at the end of Season Five. I was very surprised when I read the script and I was excited to play it.

Q. Moving onto Season Six… What were you thoughts on the theory that Benjamin Linus could be the unknown hero of the show – and that he wasn’t evil at all?
Michael Emerson: I always thought that was completely possible, but I had no idea what was in store for Ben. In fact, I had no idea where any of the characters were going on the show. To be honest, I was surprised that Ben lasted for so long. I was also surprised that he was still as interesting as ever after so many years. But again, that was down to the wonderful scripts we got on the show.

Q. Do you like Ben Linus?
Michael Emerson: Ben is a calculated character. I think you have to be able to find sympathy in every character you play or you have to be comfortable with them because a character lives inside you. However, Ben used to shock me all the time. I can’t believe some of the things he did.

Q. How do Lost fans react when they see you in the street?
Michael Emerson: It’s a mixed reaction really. Some people can’t distinguish me from the role, so I would often be shouted at in Hawaii. People would cross the street in Waikiki to tell me that they stopped watching the show because they can’t stand me. But I enjoy it. It’s fun to be a villain.

Q. What evil person from cinema would be a role model to Benjamin Linus?
Michael Emerson: Ben is civilized, so perhaps someone like Hannibal Lecter would be a good, civilized role model? No, wait a minute… What is that character in The Lady In White? Count Fosco! That’s it. He was one of the first, great dapper civilized villains. That’s better.

Q. Why do you think Lost was so successful?
Michael Emerson: I think one of the reasons people became so excited about Lost was that the show changed every season. The lens through which we viewed the story would always morph into something new and different. The first season of Lost was a teaser. It was merely the tip of a much larger iceberg, so Lost became a bigger show every subsequent season. At the start of Season Six, we left that castaway soap opera far behind. That’s when we got into a speculative science fiction territory.

Q. Do you think writing for television has improved in recent years?
Michael Emerson: I do. I think we’re living in the second golden age of television writing. At the moment, television writing is superior to cinematic writing in America on average. I honestly believe that. We’ve got some wonderful shows on television.

Q. Is there any truth in the rumour that you are working on a new television show with your Lost co-star Terry O’Quinn?
Michael Emerson: Terry has been trying to convince me to do something and it would be a lot of fun. I really enjoy working with him, so if the two of us could do something with characters that are much different to our Lost characters, then it would be delightful. I think people enjoy the interaction between Ben and John Locke on Lost, so they might be interested to see a different kind of chemistry between those two faces.

Q. There’s also a rumor going around that you would like to appear in True Blood with your wife. Is that true?
Michael Emerson: That was one of those things that you say as a joke in front of someone with a microphone and then it takes on a life of its own. I admire [True Blood creator] Alan Ball’s shows and if he ever had a part for me, I would love to be there – but I don’t know what that part would be. I would prefer to play something completely out of character, so it would be more fun if it wasn’t something sinister like the Lord of the Vampires. Maybe I could be a pizza deliveryman with a moustache who gets his head torn off? That would be fun.

Q. What television shows do you watch at home?
Michael Emerson: During the last year, my wife and I have watched Nurse Jackie and FlashForward. We always check out the shows that other people from Lost star in, like V, because Elizabeth Mitchell is in it. My wife is also obsessed with Mad Men. I’ve seen it and I enjoy it, but my wife is obsessed.

Q. Do you think Lost has changed you as an actor?
Michael Emerson: I won’t be able to answer this question until I get back to the stage. I don’t know how difficult it will be to get back to learning lines and rehearsing for a stage production. Working on Lost has upset most of my previous ideas about actor preparation. When it comes to acting on the show, I found it was better to be in the dark. It was better to grope around as an actor – and it was nice not to be burdened with the secrets. However, that’s not how I tackle a play on the stage.

Q. Was there a big theater scene in Hawaii, where Lost was filmed?
Michael Emerson: I was always looking for a theater life in Hawaii. I’m a theater person and I’m in the habit of going to plays. I would go to community theaters and college theaters, but there wasn’t too much going on over there. I also supported the children’s theater there. I would go and watch music or dance or whatever I could find.

Q. Are you concerned that you might only be seen as a sinister character from now on?
Michael Emerson: I know what you mean, but it doesn’t make me sleepless. Every time I’ve done a role well, everyone has worried on my behalf that I would never do anything else. My big break on the stage was playing Oscar Wilde in a play. After that, everyone was worried that I would only be able to play flamboyant Englishmen, but that was not true. When the industry sees you do something good then they want you to do more of it, so it’s up to you to put on the breaks and do something different. You thank them kindly and decline the offer if it’s the same character again – unless it’s staggering money.

Q. What project would you like to work on next?
Michael Emerson: I have a pile of scripts at my house, but I haven’t chosen anything yet. It would be nice if I could play something different, but it doesn’t really matter because the main thing I look for in a new project is good writing. I would like a change of pace, but I’ll go where the best character that interests me the most is. It doesn’t matter if it’s television or the stage or even a movie. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Lost: The Complete Season 6 is released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday, September 13, 2010.