LOST Media Mentions - DarkUFO

Many thanks to Al Norton, TV Editor of Boston Now and 411 Mania, for giving me a heads up on this interview he did with Michael Emerson (Ben on Lost) earlier this year. Mr. Norton will also be conducting an interview with Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet on Lost) soon and I will be sure to post about it here and on my blog, Audibly Lost, as well.

Michael Emerson has appeared in numerous critically acclaimed off-Broadway productions, starred in the Hollywood smash Saw, and his work as a character actor won him an Emmy, but he will forever be remembered for his portrayal of Ben Linus on Lost. Recently BostonNOW talked with him about the role, the series, and the new season that starts tonight.

BostonNOW: I'm not going to open like everyone else and ask you to tell me the secrets of Lost because to me that would ruin the fun of watching, but I'm curious if you as an actor want to know what's going to happen.
Michael Emerson: I want to know it in good time and I want to know it in the way the writers want me to know it. I'm like you; I think the landscape of the show is the set of mysteries it presents. Once the mysteries go away, there's no show.

BN: So if you were on set and found a notebook the producers left lying around labeled, "Secrets of the Island," you wouldn't pick it up and read it?
ME: Oh no, I don't want any part of that.

BN: How familiar were you with the show coming in?
ME: It had always been on at my house. My wife was kind of a rabid viewer of Lost; she was the kind who never missed an episode. I wasn't quite so religious about it but I knew the general set up.

BN: Was it hard joining a cast that had already had some time to bond?
ME: Here's what my mindset was when I went out there: I was just doing a guest spot, so when you're a habitual guest player like I am in the TV world, you're a hired gun. You come in, you do a little bit of work, and then you go home. You don't expect to find a place for yourself socially. This one turned out strange because my guest spot turned out to be a series regular and you make friends on the show when you realize you're going to be there for a long time.

BN: How did you end up playing Ben? Was there an audition process?
ME: No, and it's surprising and rare, I can tell you. It's rare not to have to audition in my career but it came as an offer. One of the reasons it was great that it was just a guest spot is that the stakes didn't seem so terribly high. I think if anyone had ever thought, "we're going to cast a character that is going to be important on the show for years to come," it would have been harder for me to get at it. As it was my timing was good; it was the right piece of writing and the right actor.

To answer your question, someone had seen my turn on The Practice and that may have gotten me this part.

BN: How far into it were you when they came to you and said, "we want you full time"?
ME: By the time I got to around 5 or 6 episodes it began to have a sort of permanent feeling about the character and his place in the story. I had my suspicions that they might want to keep me around before it became official. It just seemed like they were writing the character with such relish and that they had clearly found a solution to one of the problems of the series, which was "how do we put a face on the force of the adversary?"

BN: A lot of fans view Ben as the villain, or the heavy, of the show. How do you see him?
ME: He's certainly an antagonist. He certainly makes things happen. He provokes behavior in the part of others and his methods are mysterious and frightening. We fear Ben because we fear the unknown. If his agenda were more clear, we might feel differently about him. I think a day will come, and maybe I flatter myself here, when we see more clearly what his sight is, who his enemies are, and we may decide he's a more heroic character than we thought previously.

BN: I was going to say, some of the ads make it look like Ben, in defense of the island, plays more of a heroic role this season.
ME: Yes, and to add to that, Ben will be a man with much diminished resources. No longer is he the sort of commander of a small army. He seems now to be all alone, and with no resources whatsoever except his own wits. We'll see how he functions under those kinds of circumstances.

BN: Obviously you found out about it much before we did but when you read the script for last spring's season finale that jumped the timeline a bit, were you as blown away as audience was?
ME: Well, I have to tell you I was blown away when I saw the broadcast because I wasn't privy to any of that.

BN: So you didn't know about the last scene?
ME: In my script, those were blank pages. Those scenes that take place in the future, they were kept secret from everyone except the actors involved. I knew something big was coming. It had to be big if they were going to keep it a secret from the rest of the cast, but I didn't know what it was until it aired. I saw it at the same time America did and I was flabbergasted. It made my hair stand on end. It was so great, such a great idea.

BN: You've excelled at playing some dark and complex, some might say creepy, characters. Do you ever wish your agent calls you up and says, "Michael, I've got a great romantic comedy for you"?
ME: I look to mix it up a little bit. There's some question as to how much flexibility there is. Once the public identifies you in a certain way, those leaps can only be made incrementally. I think there's a lot more flexibility on the live stage, for example. I expect to be able to go do all sorts of roles in the theater. There may be a couple of intervening stages before I arrive at romantic comedy herodom (laughing).

BN: Some people look at television as a way to pay the bills so they can to more theater. Do you have a preference between TV and the theater?
ME: My first love is always the stage, because it's what I trained for and because it's where the heritage of great drama lives. I love the traditions and rituals of it and I like being connected to that unbroken chain that stretches back to ancient times. All that feels really satisfying to me. At the same time, I don't think that the theater has a monopoly on compelling writing. I think if anything lately TV has been a great venue for compelling writing and my role on Lost is as complex and layered as anything I would wish to play on the stage. I'm really happy about that.

BN: Do the books on tape you've done present a fun challenge as an actor?
ME: It's surprisingly hard work and immensely satisfying; you'll never know a work of literature as well as you do once you've sat in a booth and read every work into a microphone.

BN: When fans of Lost come up to you, do they talk to you as Ben or do they want you to tell them what is going to happen?
ME: Hardly anyone knows me by my real name, and there aren't that many that even know the character name. I mainly get, "Honey, look - it's that creepy guy from Lost" (laughing). In fact, I took part in a WGA rally here in New York and the headline on the Huffington Post was a list of celebrity names that were there and then, "and that creepy guy from Lost." I thought, "that's it, that will be my epitaph."

BN: Your wife (Actress Carrie Preston) played Ben's Mom in a Lost flashback. Was that at all strange? Did you get to spend time with her on the set?
ME: She'd be clocking out when I was clocking in. We had no scenes together as such but it was fun to have her in Hawaii with me and for both of us be part of the same showbiz family.

BN: Did the producers approach you? Did they bring it up to her separately?
ME: To tell you the truth, it grew out of a joke we'd made to each other at a cocktail party somewhere. She was saying, "You know what role I want to play on Lost? If they ever get around to doing a flashback with you, I want to play your Mother." We laughed and thought it was great fun. Over the course of a season I may have mentioned it a producer along the way somewhere but because I don't know what the writers are coming up with, I don't know episodes in advance. We were surprised that someone picked that up and ran with it. She sort of had that part before there was anything we could do about it.

BN: Like most fans, I can't wait for the season premiere.
ME: I'm excited, too. We were shooting so out of sequence this fall, one day it's one episode ... three or four different episodes in the course of a day I'd be working on. It was all really scattered. I'm really keen to see it all put together again.

BN: Is that hard, to do a scene and have to remember which events have already taken place and what your character does and doesn't know?
ME: It became a challenge this season because you'd be thinking, "is this one day after I was beaten or is two days after I was beaten? Are the bruises green or are they blue?" That kind of thing. We were constantly tweaking make-up and costume, trying to figure out where we were in the evolution of wounds and blood flow (laughing).

BN: The continuity for facial hair alone must be ridiculously hard.
ME: Exactly! All of that, wigs and hair, it was so crazy.

Don't miss the Lost premiere event, starting tonight at 8 pm on ABC.
Source: Boston Now

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