Emerson was first hired to portray a mysterious man found in the jungle named Henry Gale. Within eight episodes of Lost, it was proven Henry Gale was in fact Ben Linus – the head of the mysterious Others that were terrorizing the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815.
As a stage actor, Emerson possesses the perfect acting chops to make his Ben feel at the same time slimy and scarily sadistic.
The actor spent a career perfecting the guest spots on major network hits. Emerson won an Emmy in 2001 for his work on The Practice. In Emerson, JJ Abrams and his Lost creative team found their perfect acting foil for Terry O’Quinn’s Zen-like crash survivor, John Locke. Emmy voters must agree: he has been nominated twice for his performance of Ben. The evolution of Emerson’s Ben Linus is a character study for the ages.
SheKnows: First, as you approach a season finale as Lost has Wednesday night, are you wistful about the season that recently ended or do you look forward to the time off?
Michael Emerson: It’s a little of both. I really like the work I do on the show. Because that work takes place so far from home in extreme and remote circumstances, I’m glad that I have a large chunk each year to regain my life. To see friends and loved ones and to be in New York City and go to the theater --live the life I used to know.
A Lost paradiseSheKnows: People think you’re in Hawaii filming Lost. It’s a glamorous tropical paradise. But, it’s got to be grueling work.
Michael Emerson: Yeah, you don’t even think about the sort of paradise dimension of the island. Occasionally you have moments to reflect on that. We are sometimes in locations that are so unbelievably beautiful that you think ‘let’s just put down the cameras and just stand here and look at this. But, for the most part, that place of natural beauty is our set. (Laughs) we’re there to make this show. It mainly has to do with running around, shooting and falling through holes.
SheKnows: (Laughs) Yes, this season, Ben has been beaten up a little bit. Ben’s not having the best of times.
Michael Emerson: But Ben’s is a pro taker of beatings (laughs). I think it’s more than just accidental. I’m of the opinion that receiving beatings is part of Ben’s uber-strategy.
SheKnows: Nobody handles it like you on Lost.
Michael Emerson: (Laughs)
From Lost guest to starSheKnows: I wondered was it for you to join a show that had already become a cultural phenomenon. What was it like to join that cast?
Michael Emerson: Honestly, I didn’t think about it a lot differently than I do any of the other guest spots you do, it’s always kind of nervy arrival. You know you’re coming into a company that’s set. That has relationships. You are just a temporary player. You keep your head down and try to do your work and not try to move in with all your furniture. It was good in a way that I had no idea that I would be with them for a long, long time.
SheKnows: That’s my next question, when you tackled the character of Henry Gale, did you honestly have any idea that you be Ben Linus, leader of The Others and an integral part to the entire Lost mythology?
Michael Emerson: No, that only began to make itself apparent over the course of a lot of episodes. I can’t even remember the exact moment. There was an interesting moment where a director came to me and said ‘when you speak of the head of The Others, be very afraid of him.’ I said, ‘well, I can give you that. But, what if it’s me?’ The director blinked his eyes a couple of times and said, ‘I can’t talk about that.’ Then I thought, oh, come on! I see what’s going on (laughs).
SheKnows: Which is pretty cool…
Michael Emerson: (Laughs) Yes it is!
Linus and LockeSheKnows: There are so many characters with fascinating dynamics on Lost. It is one of the things that makes Lost so fantastic. But, one aspect that does it above all other is the chemistry your character has with John Locke.
Michael Emerson: Yeah…
SheKnows: As an actor, I would think, that would be a very nice volley with Terry O’Quinn.
Michael Emerson: Yeah (pauses), that’s my favorite set of scenes. I’m happy that they are so central to the main line of the story. They’re great fun. They always have a crackle to them. They’re always exceptional. It’s one of the things…a theater like me worries that when you come to television that maybe the material won’t be that good – or it won’t be that electrifying. But, I don’t have that worry at all because if I never did anything but the scenes with John Locke, this would be one of the greatest dramatic undertakings I’ve ever been a part of in my life. We get along famously. We’re two actors that work very much the same way.
SheKnows: You could feel it from the get-go when the two of you were in The Hatch, so to speak (laughs).
Michael Emerson: (Laughs)
SheKnows: Lastly, I wanted to ask about your theater experience and if we’ll get to see you anytime soon on a stage?
Michael Emerson: I hope so, I’ve been off the stage too long now. Acting for the stage is like a muscle and you have to keep it in shape or it gets a little flabby. I’ll be looking for some kind of theater work as soon as Lost is over. To make sure I still know how to do it and to challenge myself to learn a lot of lines.
SheKnows: Michael, thank you and I look forward to that day -- all the best for the future.
Michael Emerson: Thanks so much. It was good talking to you.