Michael Emerson: I'm 'at peace' with Ben Linus association
Even 15 months after "Lost" went off the air, it's still hard to meet Michael Emerson and not ask him where the Others might be hiding. In person, Emerson has the same quiet, deliberate voice and piercing eyes as the character he made famous, and all sorts of flashbacks to Ben Linus and his manipulations come roaring back.
Apparently, some television producers felt the same way. In the new CBS series "Person of Interest," Emerson plays a character with several similarities to Linus, the iconic villain he inhabited on the hit adventure series. Emerson stars as Finch, a man who also has a mysterious past and inscrutable face, and seems to once again control the actions of others with a creepy-cool aplomb. (More on Emerson and the J.J. Abrams-produced "Person" — which deals with surveillance and vigilante justice in post-Sept. 11 New York — as we get closer to its Sept. 22 premiere date.)
But if the Ben Linus connection seems obvious to fans, Emerson himself was surprised to find things moving in that direction.
"I think when I came on 'Person of Interest,' I thought that this would be a clean break, something completely different," Emerson told Show Tracker on the New York set of the series this week. "And yet it does not seem like that's how it's going to be. One character is going to grow out of the other. It may take time for the outlines of something distinct and different to appear."
Emerson's comments come on the heels of his thoughts at the Television Critics Assn. meetings earlier in the month, when he said that "part of me wants to leave behind everything I've done before ... but I do have this working method, and when I'm in a scene, I know of only one way to rattle around in that world."
If he was surprised by how his on-screen presence has evolved , Emerson says he's even more shocked by the reaction of "Lost" fans, who over the years have demanded answers of him with a jolting forthrightness.
"Sometimes I wanted to pat people on the head and say, 'You know the thing you want me to give you is actually the thing you don't want me to give you, right? If I could explicate the entire mystery of the show, what would be the use of that?' " he said. "I was surprised so many people were willing to trade the joy of the present for some intangible answer."
Emerson said that as long as "Person" is successful he aims to make that his focus, but after that (and after auditioning for many film roles that he says, ruefully, he hasn't gotten) he aims to return to the theater. "I'm hoping to do something completely different [than these two shows] — a comedy, something completely silly or mad or idiotic."
In the meantime, he has to deal with those "Lost" questioners: "I had a man walk up to me and say, 'I have two minutes; explain to me the finale so I can stop thinking about it.' He had ahold of my arm, and I think he felt it was the least I could do for keeping him in a state of intellectual torment."
So did Emerson tell him anything?
"I spun it out. I gave him an answer he didn't completely buy. But at least it was an answer."
— Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Michael Emerson as Ben Linus in "Lost." Credit: ABC.