By TIM ENGLE
The Kansas City Star
Posted on Wed, May. 24, 2006
Our neck of the woods can claim two “Lost” connections to Michael Emerson, who plays one of “the Others” on the island: His brother, Patrick, lives in Olathe. And his character is one Henry Gale, which happens to be the name of Dorothy’s uncle in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Emerson chatted with us by phone from Jacksonville, Fla., where he was attending a film festival.
Q. You know, I have co-workers who are such huge fans of “Lost” that I probably could have raffled off this chance to talk to you.
A. (Laughs) I’m amazed. It’s funny and dear that people like the character so much.
Let’s see if I have this right: A plane crashed on an island. The survivors find out they’re sharing the island with some other people called, appropriately, the Others. And you play …
I am an Other. The audience already knows the general character of the man, which is that he’s ambiguous, very smart, a good talker, a great manipulator. I don’t think the audience yet knows, but is about to know, what his real station is in the life of the island.
Your character has said his name is Henry Gale. Setting aside that he took that name off a dead guy, this seems like an obvious tip of the hat to “The Wizard of Oz.” And Gale said he and his wife crash-landed in a hot-air balloon, another wink to “Oz.”
(The writers) put in, maybe for their own pleasure or for the pleasure of all of us, those kinds of clues and suggestions, things that have echoes and connections to other stories or entertainments that involve people being lost somewhere. Maybe there’s a parallel between the predicament of the characters in “Lost” and the predicament of Dorothy. It’s just fun: pieces of a puzzle that don’t always fit together, but they’re fun to look at and put next to one another. And the balloon existed — we saw the balloon, didn’t we? So if Henry’s story is altogether a lie, where’d that big balloon come from with the smiley face on it?
I have to ask about your character being in the hatch and the computer countdown and if you pressed the button.
My character originally said that he had pushed it, but then later, after his beating and near execution by Sayid, he tells John Locke privately that he never did a thing. But I don’t know if we can take him at his word on that. I do know that the man we know as Henry Gale knows more about the hatch and its purposes than maybe the castaways do.
Does your character seem to you to be an evil man?
No. That’s why I think it’s so funny, that everywhere I go people say, “Oh, you’re so scary, you’re so scary.” And I think, well isn’t that an interesting remark? All the evidence we have is that he’s a victim. He’s been beaten, he’s been shot with arrows, bound and gagged, tortured — and yet we’re afraid of him? What exactly is the nature of that fear? And I guess it’s because people suspect him of having a secret or hidden agenda and possibly secret or hidden resources.
You mentioned we’ll learn more about your character tonight. Will there be other revelations, too?
There will be all kinds of revelations. We will have an answer or a partial answer to why the plane crashed, and what the special, seemingly magical properties of the island are. We will learn what may be the source of those things.
I’m looking for backstage dirt. Like, who’s the biggest prima donna on the set?
You know, half the cast I’ve never met. It’s shot in a fragmented way, and me being only in the hatch and only certain characters being allowed in the hatch — like Locke, Jack, Ana- Lucia and Sayid — those are the only people I’ve worked with. I have to tell you, everybody I’ve worked with has been really sweet and easygoing and funny. Michelle Rodriguez (Ana-Lucia) is a tender and funny girl. And Naveen Andrews (Sayid), he’s a wacky theater guy from London. He has an East London accent and knows lots of funny stories and funny songs and limericks and that sort of stuff.
You had a recurring role as a serial killer on “The Practice,” for which you won an Emmy. Is this getting to be your specialty, playing creepy guys?
Well, I seem to have a knack for it. They’re fun, and I would venture to say that playing villains is, for me, the truest way to portray the human condition. Because I think to play a villain in all his complexity is a truer undertaking than to play a hero.
You’ve got good eyes to play creepy, too.
Maybe I’ve just lucked out and found a line of work where my eccentric facial features are actually a plus.
More Michael Emerson
•He’s 51; until recently considered primarily a stage actor; lives in New York; married to actress Carrie Preston (one of the chatterbox sisters/ bridesmaids in “My Best Friend’s Wedding”).
•Grew up in Toledo, Iowa. The oldest of three siblings.
•He was at the Jacksonville Film Festival to attend a screening of “Jumping Off Bridges,” written and directed by a former acting student of his. Emerson plays a dad coping with a death in the family.