Another interview that Michael Emerson gave. This time it was for Underground online (UGO). Not everything is new, but it is a good read. Enjoy it.
Michael Emerson, LOST Interview
By Kyle Braun
"People come up to me more and more, and it's just mainly funny."
Actor Michael Emerson was classically trained as a Shakespearean actor before getting his first major break playing Oscar Wilde in the off-Broadway play Gross Indecency: The Trials of Oscar Wilde. Emerson went on to win an Emmy for his six-episode guest appearance on The Practice and also landed a role in the hugely successful horror film Saw. These days, the masterful actor is taking over the airwaves on ABC's gargantuan hit series Lost as the cunning leader of The Others, Ben Linus. On a short break in the action as Lost gets set to make its return to the airwaves, we caught up with Michael Emerson to talk Lost and more.
UGO: How did you land the role of Henry Gale on Lost? Did you have to go through an audition process?
MICHAEL EMERSON: Usually, just about every other job I've ever had, I've had to do that. I always have to jump through hoops of fire to get a gig, but this one came as an offer. I guess because they had seen my work on other show sand thought I had something of the right quality that they wanted. It was to have been originally a guest turn, three episodes and gone. I had no idea at the get-go what kind of employment we were talking about. I thought, "Oh, that'll be fun. I'll go to
UGO: When you approached your character as a three-episode guest spot, what did you do to flesh him out in such a short time?
MICHAEL: Well, you don't think too much about a long arc or evolution or anything like that. You just play the scenes that are on the page. You think about how the character ticks or how the character works in the context of the storytelling. Of course, there's nothing like a story meeting you take with producers or anything like that. You just show up and tear into it, but I knew that ambiguity was where the thing was going to work best. That was just my instinct, and I think it was the right one.
UGO: Ambiguity is one of the most unique aspects of your character. He is being shown as the villain, yet it's very hard to see him as either good or evil. How do you play both sides of that coin?
MICHAEL: In a way, I found that I don't have to worry about that too much. If I play the character straight, or in neutral, the ambiguities take care of themselves. For example, I don't have to make a decision on whether this line should come out as in earnest or as a lie or as some kind of subterfuge or deception. I just play it straight. Let's say the character was a liar, which I'm not sure he is, he would be an extremely good one. He would be so convincing, it would be pointless for me to try and spin the lie in any way to suggest lying. Just go ahead and play the scene straight and let the audience wonder. The writers take care of that. Where you fall in the sympathy scale, or the scale of good and evil, is not, in a way, playable. The storyline places you where you need to be, if you know what I mean.
UGO: With the mid-season break coming to an end, how do you make sure not to give away too many spoilers?
MICHAEL: It has been harder this year than previously. We never took a pause in the filming of the show, so now we find ourselves in the strange position of being seven or eight or nine episodes ahead of what the audience has seen. That usually doesn't happen. Usually, in past seasons, if we'd have had this conversation, I'd be two or three episodes ahead of you and I would know less. As it is now, in fact, sometimes it's less a question of what I know than what I cannot remember that we've shot, or whether it's aired or not. Some stuff we shot so long ago, I just assumed that it's out there, but it isn't yet. [laughs] I've been in some sticky situations around that before.
UGO: Season Three has divided the cast on two islands, and you are with Jack, Kate and Sawyer. Since you don't get to work with Terry O'Quinn and Naveen Andrews and other major players, which actors do you miss working with?
MICHAEL: Well, I can tell you that those two storylines are going to merge very soon. I have been working lately with folks that I worked with last season. I always have a good time working with Terry on an episode. We had a great episode last season where we were trapped in the hatch. We get along famously, and I love the way he works. He's funny and we have similar working methods, so I have shot some stuff with him lately, and it's going to be really, really good!
UGO: Your character has been locked in a battle of wits with Dr. Jack Shepherd. What specific dynamic have you developed with Matthew Fox?
MICHAEL: We work well together, I think. Matthew brings a great intensity to the set when he comes to work. Most of our scenes are fairly intense, they're dark, they're loaded with subtext and the stakes are very high. He and I, we sort of share a wavelength when we're shooting that stuff. He takes it very seriously, and I do too, I guess. It goes well.
UGO: Given your theater background, what Shakespearean character is Ben Linus most like?
MICHAEL: Well, I'd say he's somewhere in between Iago and the Duke in Measure for Measure. He's as clever, personable and witty as Iago, and as manipulative. I don't think he's as evil; Iago is painted as the villain. I think, more like the Duke, he is the man in a sort of ethical gray zone, or a place where motives are more mysterious or less clear. A man with power who is called upon to use it sometimes in ways he might disagree with. I think in the territory between those two somewhere.
UGO: You've become very popular through your roles in Saw, The Practice and now Lost, which are on the villainous side of acting. When you do theater, where do you prefer to play in the spectrum of good and evil?
MICHAEL: I never imagined I would be a player of villains. I'm surprised at it, to tell you the truth. I don't know how it exactly happened, because in my life on the stage, which has been the largest chunk of my work, I tend to play milder characters and I tend to do comedies. I've just grown up thinking I'm the funny guy, [laughs] and here I play not very funny characters on TV. I guess, in a way, whether it's funny or serious or forbidding, it's all one craft, and it's as thrilling to get your laughs as it is to get your gasps of terror. It's all good.
UGO: How does live performance compare to filming a television series?
MICHAEL: The similarities are fundamental. You still have storytelling to do, you still have to interpret the scene, you have to try to make the thing come to life and you have to be flexible to show them three or four ways to do it. It's voice and gesture like everything else is. The differences are considerable also, but they tend to be more technical. The spirit of the thing is just acting, but the differences are scale and letting the camera do the work you would normally do yourself as a stage actor. You don't have to demonstrate or show as much. The camera comes in and takes over the physical work for you in a way. It gets close to you so you can do less. The volume is down. It's a question of degrees. And then, you have to pay attention and notice how the two are different from one another. You have these two crafts, they are cousins of one another, but they do have some different features.
UGO: How does your fame affect your personal life? Do fans stop you on the street more often these days?
MICHAEL: People come up to me more and more, and it's just mainly funny. It's funny in a couple of different ways. One, you realize that people are delighted to be frightened by you, so people, [laughs] don't stand real close to me when they talk to me. They're kind of formal and they keep their eye on me, but they sort of giggle at the same time, so it's fun to be scared, apparently. I've noticed that dynamic out there. Then, also, something that I think is so crazy is that people come to me and give me criticism of the show, like how the network is running the show and the schedule and storyline, and I just shake my head like, "Oh, I'll be sure and write that differently next time! Let me get on the cell phone and we'll call J.J. Abrams and ask him what's going on here." As if us actors get together every week and make up a show.”
UGO: What are your plans after the third season of Lost is over?MICHAEL: Well, we have a short summer break. It's a little over two months is all we have, so it would be tricky to fit a play in, although I would like to do it if I could. After the third season of Lost, I will of course, for a period of time, be crossing my fingers hoping that there will be a fourth season of Lost for me. Failing that, it will be back to business as usual, hitting the street and auditioning and seeing what's next.
SOURCE: Underground OnLine