‘Lost’ star Michael Emerson: What you didn’t know

Sept. 15, 2008 | 11:37 p.m.

Ben Michael Emerson, the actor who plays "Lost" bad guy Benjamin Linus, gets profiled in Wednesday’s Emmy edition of The Envelope. (He’s up again this year for outstanding supporting actor.)

Last month, I spent an afternoon chatting with him in his manager’s office for the story. It was a  spoiler-free affair, unfortunately, as Emerson had not received any scripts for the forthcoming fifth season.

Here are the highlights from our conversation that didn’t make it into the story:

He wasn’t made a regular series member until Season 3. Before that, he never knew if Ben was coming or going: “I really didn’t. The producers kept me in drips and drabs. They’d say things at the last second like, ‘Don’t pack yet,’ or ‘Can’t go home yet, you’re in the next episode.’ Then it became, ‘Actually we’ll tell you when you can go home.’ I started thinking, ‘Wow, I’m never home anymore. I’m on this show more than a bunch of the people here.’”

Emerson’s wife, actress Carrie Preston (“True Blood”), was a “Lost” maniac long before her hubby was cast on the show. She even talked herself into the role of Ben’s mom … sort of: “She made that happen almost by wishing for it. She’d always tell me, ‘If I ever got on "Lost," I’d want to be your mother, like in a flashback.’ I’d tell that story at parties, it was so silly. Everyone would crack up. But lo and behold, when they wrote that big flashback for me, who do you think the producers called?”

He guessed that Ben might be the ubervillain long before anyone told him. In fact, no one ever did tell him: “I learned the story at the same rate the audience was learning it. I didn’t know where it was going. So because I had no backstory, somewhere along the line I began to think about Ben as this mysterious leader figure. When we shot the scene where I was being tortured by the plane crash survivors in the hatch, the director told me to act like I was really scared for my life, like I was innocent, like I wasn’t one of the Others. And I said to him, ‘But what if I’m their leader?’ And he looked at me and blinked a couple of times and said, ‘I can’t talk about it’ and ran away. I had to guess what was going on!"

"Lost" actors don’t get scripts until the very last minute, but Emerson said there are ways to get the scoop: “If I wanted to call up certain technical department heads — like costume or sound — they have rough scripts early. They know the deal. Sometimes they’ve taken pity on me, letting me know if I need to ride a horse or play piano in an upcoming episode. Otherwise, I’m in the dark. But I’ve gotten used to it. Now, not knowing is part of the fun."

Really, the actors aren’t just being coy. They know nothing. “We never see the writers. They come once a year after the last episode has been written. They come and visit us in Hawaii. And they’re there for an afternoon. That’s it.”

He was just as surprised as audiences to learn that Ben single-handedly killed off all the members of the Dharma Initiative: “I was shocked by the darkness and ruthlessness of that act. That surprised me. I thought the writers were playing a game of "Let’s keep everyone guessing about Ben.’ I never thought that they would portray me so villainously as that. I spoke to the writers about that and, of course, they said, ‘Don’t worry, it gets recontextualized.’ Hasn’t happened yet. Maybe they’re just pulling my leg.”

He’s got several of his own theories about Ben: “Is he really an industrialist? Is Ben just a commando leader? Or is it just one dimension of something else? In some other dimension are Ben and Charles Whitmore just two drinking buddies playing a video game? It’s a mystery.”

– Denise Martin

Photo credit: ABC

More in: Uncategorized, Lost

Comments


18 Responses to ‘Lost’ star Michael Emerson: What you didn’t know

  1. Cindy says:

    I'm so tired of hearing about his wife playing his mother. Its been in every article he has interviewed for!! And secondly…she wished for it and got the role?? His wife gave an interview with about.com and stated she wanted that role and told Michael to email the producers and give her a chance to the role. Wished for???…….please!
    He and his wife are becoming annoying now…………

  2. Shaun says:

    Hey Cindy, your complaining about something so minor is also annoying… Why bother to post about it? There was really nothing new in this interview, but so what? There's plenty of other good LOST info out there. Get over it.
    Emerson's great, and I hope he finally wins his Emmy! Just a shame that Henry Ian Cusik also didn't get a nomination this year ("The Constant" was a brilliant episode)

  3. Jeff says:

    Michael Emerson is the best thing about LOST, which is filled with amazing things. I dare any of his acting counterparts to read the lines Emerson has to read on a regular basis and make them sound compelling … much less authentic and persuasive. Thanks for a great interview with him. Perhaps some of what he said has been repeated elsewhere, but the guy himself seems like he's never less than compelling … just like his character!

  4. AJ says:

    Cindy, he has no choice but to answer the question if he keeps getting asked about it.

  5. MaMiAn says:

    I'm starting to think we will never be able to read or hear an interview only about Michael and NOT also about his wife!!!! They always ask him something about her… is it a rule? I'm so tired about this….. and really hope we will be not obliged to see her in LOST season 5 too….

  6. MaMiAn says:

    I'm starting to think we will never be able to read or hear an interview only about Michael and NOT also about his wife!!!! They always ask him something about her… is it a rule? I'm so tired about this….. and really hope we will be not obliged to see her in LOST season 5 too…

  7. Maureen says:

    Re Cindy’s comment: “His wife gave an interview with about.com and stated she wanted that role and told Michael to email the producers and give her a chance to the role. Wished for???…….please”
    Actually in the audio interview on about.com Carrie says Michael had emailed Jean Higgins and mentioned to keep her (Carrie) in mind for the role of his mother. The interview never said Carrie asked Michael to email Jean Higgins. Big diff. Who said what to who? I don’t know but I’ve never heard or read of Carrie saying she asked Michael to contact Jean Higgins. Jean doesn’t do casting anyway.
    And yeah she wished for it in small talk. She wished for it when she talked to Michael and she wished for it when she met socially with the other actors and joked about it. Michael mentioned it in jest to the producers (according to interviews with him) at some party. The producers had already said they would have to find a role for her to play (according to the about.com interview) and Michael, being the loving husband he is, probably said remember Carrie when he got his script and saw they were finally casting his mother.
    Yeah she wished for it. Michael appears to be really in love with Carrie and from what I can tell to him everything she does is wonderful and perfect. Her wishes are commands to the universe. The guy is smitten. How many women would love to be married to a man like that?
    “He and his wife are becoming annoying now…………”
    They don’t control what questions they are asked so why blame them? Blame the interviewer for not putting more time into researching potential questions. Or blame the reader who reads material that was probably cut from the interview because it was repetitive.
    What else can the interviewers ask? The actors don’t know anything about what’s coming up and they can’t say anything about what they’ve already filmed. So they pick on this because it is funny and because they don’t think their readers know about it. Remember we read these interviews on the internet but most are meant for local readers of papers or local TV stations. An interviewer for the Detroit Free Press doesn’t know the same question was asked of Michael in an interview done for an LA paper and they don’t care because they have two different audiences. You get tired reading about it? I imagine they get tired of having to answer it. An interview asked readers to send in questions they would like Michael to answer. He had already answered 90 percent of them many times over. I could have done the interview for him with those questions.
    Michael gives a lot of media interviews and you can tell he has a certain set stock of stories he draws from. So it gets repetitive but he only has so much stuff he can say that readers would find interesting. You don’t have to read interviews with him if they bother you so much.
    The best interviews with Michael are those done by specialty writers- the places he would recommend to go in Hawaii, the music he likes, what’s on his IPod, which movies he finds the creepiest, or silly stuff about how he and the interviewer would ride around Florida when they were younger.

  8. dan says:

    reply-
    Michael appears to be really in love with Carrie and from what I can tell to him everything she does is wonderful and perfect. Her wishes are commands to the universe. The guy is smitten. How many women would love to be married to a man like that?
    no one is that smitten, or is any relationship perfect,
    hemay be whipped
    and I have often thought bi
    she from what IO have seen is whiny,and most of the time when a man mentions his wife that much
    there is a reason other than love
    she is not some great beauty
    saw them in a club in hawaii
    she is the boss
    also she wanted him on the show and then complains about him being on the show read this http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/cult/a94645/emerson-l

  9. Tara says:

    Dan, I agree with you 100%!! I saw them, at a party in NYC for a show, and my God she was very bossy and meeting them up close she isn't a beauty! I agree with Cindy also!! Stop it with her, she isn't a great actress….More on Michael!!

  10. dan says:

    thanks Tara
    we really have to talk saw some of the other crew as well such as josh and his wife
    and some others no pun intended
    and you would not belive how funny and nice josh and his wife are

  11. dan says:

    this is not my email tara
    I may give ya one later if ya wanna talk

  12. Smitty says:

    Saw an interview with Carrie Preston on youtube….uggg…annoying….you guys are right!lol

  13. cant say says:

    carrie seems a bit insecure, as for michael as often as they are apart I bet he plays,
    I really always thought he was gay or bi,,
    And do not think he is as happy as we think

  14. jj says:

    Hey Dan, no one is that smitten? If a guy talks to much about his wife you are insinuating something is wrong with the marriage? You have never been in a real relationship have you? No you have not. So you think because she bosses him around at a party that she bosses him around 24-7? Tara, I would ask you the same thing. Do you have a sneak peek into their personal life? I bossed my husband around at Walmart the other day. You telling me that I'm bossy? You don't know me. You don't know the celebrities you see at parties either,so don't pretend that you do.

  15. Jess says:

    Wow. By the *looks* of things, you don't have anything important going on in your life, or you wouldn't have the time to pay more attention to a total stranger's marriage and physical appearance than your own business. You know, the same way that you could tell by the *looks* of things that their marriage is destined to go down the tubes.
    I wish Michael Emerson and Carrie Preston all the best, in their relationship and their careers. The world becomes a better place when good artists get opportunities to do good work.

  16. jj says:

    Umm, Jess was your post in response to mine? I came back here just for giggles to see if there were any more comments since this was such an old story. Noticed your comment was from this morning!

  17. dan says:

    get over it people make comments, and yeah I saw some things first hand… and maybe hey may not be as happy as you think jj and jess, and seeing how u r posting here as well about them u must be just as intrested as anyone else, seems u r in their biz as well hun,
    why do u care if they break up ?

    • guest says:

      These comments about two people that you don't know is very unfair. Nowhere in that interview does it say she complained about him being on the show. She is whinny from what you have seen. He is Bi according to you. I hate it when people make judgements like this or that and don't give any concrete proof, only to say. " Yeah I saw some things first hand" What makes you an expert on them? Why are YOU back here commenting, huh?

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