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