Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lost's Michael Emerson, Part 2: More Burning Questions - TV Guide Interview

Lost's Season 4 finale is being presented in two parts, and thus is my season-ending Q&A with Michael Emerson, who plays Ben. Among the topics this time around: Who exactly is the "her" referred to in the episode "The Other Woman"? And who has Ben never shared a scene with, though that seems destined to change? Read on, and then kick back and enjoy the two-hour conclusion to "There's No Place Like Home," starting Thursday at 9 pm/ET. When the Others' shrink said to Juliet, "Of course Ben has a crush on you. You look just like her," who is "her"? Ben's mother, or the little girl he befriended on the island...?
Michael Emerson: It could be either... or a third choice. That’s a really tantalizing question. I still think we're going to revisit that little girlfriend of his that made him the carved image. The moment where Alex was killed, coming on the heels of Rousseau's death. Was it hard to lose your 'family" there? Or did you suspect it would put this new fire in Ben's belly?
Michael Emerson: That is the way it's to function in the show – Ben now has the great motivation. He was cheated, and the game was upset. Now we see him prone to a feeling of grief and vengeance that is perfectly human. That will fuel his mission for the rest of the series. When do you like playing Ben the most?
Michael Emerson: There are a couple of ways I like playing Ben. I like it when he's in a jolly mood. Like when he had his little dinner party for Juliet. He's bustling around the kitchen, fixing food.... There's something surreal to see him do that. That’s a fun antic Ben. Ben's stock-and-trade is those tense scenes in confined spaces, where a lot hangs on a high-pressure conversation. At the end of the day, what do you think will be harder to explain: Who or what is Jacob, or who or what is the Smoke Monster?
Michael Emerson: The explanation of who or what is Jacob is going to be richer and more satisfying than who or what is the Smoke Monster. I have my own ideas about what the Smoke Monster is, and it's purely scientific. The explanation of Jacob, I think, may be more. When that series finale airs, do you think it will be indisputable that Ben is "the good guy" here?
Michael Emerson: I would be surprised if we walked away from Ben feeling anything but... ambiguous. I don’t think they'd let that go. Because in the future he seems to be doing the right thing.
Michael Emerson: Certainly his mission is going to be recontextualized — maybe many times — before the end of [the series]. Short of some amazing transformation – his becoming a monk or an alien or something like that – Ben seems a man fated to go on with this battle. And I wonder if the battle ever ends.... You seem to give your character a lot of thought.
Michael Emerson: I think about him because I sometimes have to explain things to myself in my own head. I don’t really have interaction with writers, so I just try to impose meanings and contexts on it, partly for my own amusement but partly so I know what to play. It helps me make an unpredictable choice in a scene if I have a new idea about what's going on. Do you feel as if you stumbled upon something special here at Lost?
Michael Emerson: Oh, yes. It's a wonderful role. The ambiguity of it lets me paint it the way I please, episode after episode. Is there anybody you wish you had more scenes with?
Michael Emerson: There are characters that I've never had scenes with, it's so crazy. I've never had a scene with Sun or Jin; Michael only briefly; Desmond.... Now that could be interesting. What could bring Desmond and Ben Linus together? ***** What are you doing with your hiatus?
Michael Emerson: We have three months off. I don’t really have any work to do. My wife (actress Carrie Preston) is working on a series in L.A. that films until the middle of July. She's working on True Blood (based on Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire novels), right?
Michael Emerson: Yes, and that could be really interesting. It's so tantalizing, this idea of [Six Feet Under creator] Alan Ball tackling vampire material. And he has a colorful cast there, not the usual suspects.
Michael Emerson: Right, fresh faces – and from what my wife tells me, some astonishing performances are being given. It's very exciting.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lost's Michael Emerson Teases a "Dark, Violent" Finale - TV Guide interview

Say what you will about wily Ben Linus, but Michael Emerson is easily one of Lost's most interesting cast member interviews. Maybe it's the way he searches for just the right words — always cryptic, yet sometimes telling. On the eve of the conclusion of the ABC hit's big finale, I decided to kick off a two-parter of my own. Here, Emerson talks of Ben's fractured bond with the island, names the other (Other?) character that makes his "mouth water," and chimes in on a tale of two Emilys. Give me three words to describe the season finale.
Michael Emerson: [Thinks] Dark.... Violent.... ***. About a year ago, you and I spoke about how Ben was loath to ever leave the island. And yet we've now seen that it is something that does happen. What do you think changed there?
Michael Emerson: Ben's attachment to the island was... provisional. *** ***
Michael Emerson: I think so, yes. Things have gone so wrong. Events have forced his hand in a number of ways. And John Locke appears to have been "anointed" somehow.... And Ben appears to be making some sort of peace with that shift.
Michael Emerson: Yes. His gut reaction is that of a teenage boy, which is to be vengeful and full of rage and bitterness. But eventually, he will always play the board as it is in front of him. He will accept the terms. "Whatever makes Jacob happy."
Michael Emerson: Exactly. When you first were pitched this role, did they give you any hint as to the scope of Ben's involvement in the mythology?
Michael Emerson: No. I doubt if they even knew it at that time! As far as I knew, it was to be three episodes. I think it was an experiment, one that worked out happily. They’ve told me that the same thing happened with Nestor Carbonell. They didn’t have any "grand plan" for Richard Alpert, but once he became available, they said, "We could do something here."
Michael Emerson: Yeah... And he's a great character. It makes my mouth water to think what they could do with Richard Alpert. The guy is just flitting around time no worse for the wear, no nose bleeds....
Michael Emerson: Right, and he's just one of the eeriest characters. You received an Emmy nod last year for Lost. Does an actor ever settle into a role and think, "You know what? This could be an award-winning project, if I do the right things with it"?
Michael Emerson: I tend to just show up and do the work. I don’t think too much about those more popular issues. Partly because I'm a creature of the theater and am therefore more superstitious. Some things are not to be said or thought, if you can avoid it. It begs for the gods to punish you for your hubris. It is flattering when it comes, though. Last year, I thought, "Oh my god, I am having more impact that I thought." And with a dark role that doesn’t always connect with voters.
Michael Emerson: And we work in such isolation, too. That’s a contributing factor. We're out there in Hawaii, there are no paparazzi, there are no fancy parties.... We get up before the sun, drive to some remote location, and punish ourselves all day long. You don’t get a strong grasp as to how it's received on the rest of the globe. Are we to make anything of the fact that both Ben's mother and Locke's mother were named Emily?
Michael Emerson: Well, that very idea occurred to me last week — and I'm usually the slowest on the uptake with those kinds of clues. I thought, "let's hold onto that." They don’t make those kinds of accidents. The guys who write Lost are very careful about names. [Laughs]