Thursday, May 29, 2008

'Lost' Time With Michael Emerson

As regular readers of this blog know, the TV Guy is happy to bring you "Lost" information from TV's best villain, Michael Emerson, who plays Ben. He was nominated for an Emmy last season for Best Supporting Actor, losing out to castmate Terry O'Quinn, but is a strong bet to earn another nomination this year.

Emerson is married to Macon actress Carrie Preston, and the pair are about to debut "Ready? OK!" a comedy that Preston also produced. The film will debut in New York in June.

As Emerson has pointed out in previous interviews, the "Lost" cast often doesn't find out about the show's myriad of twists and turns until the audience does. So Emerson has been looking forward to tonight's season finale (ABC, 9 p.m.) ABC will show the episode from two weeks ago at 8 p.m., followed by the two-hour finale, so viewers can refresh their memories.

Considering this season was interrupted and shortened by the strike, Emerson still feels proud of the work the "Lost" cast and crew has done. "There's a fair amount of excitement," he said. "It was such a scattershot season with the strike. ... I haven't had time to stop and think about the big picture. I think we've done a pretty good job. (The finale) is fantastic, dark, violent. You get the sense it's hurtling toward something big."

Emerson promises "Lost" fans will get their share of twists in the finale as well. "There's a great reveal and a mystery is solved - one of the (series') big questions is solved at the end. The stage is set for a quantum change."

Emerson said he had little idea Ben would be such a key figure in the flash-forward sequences that have comprised a huge part of the story-telling in Season 4. "I'm always surprised (by the writers)," he said with a chuckle. "I'm happy for a practical reason - seeing I exist (in the future) bodes well for my longetivity!"

One of the most fascinating aspects to the Ben story arc was seeing him face off with Charles Widmore (Alan Dale), the man who has sent the boat to the island to capture Ben and kill everyone else. As the two men face off, they note that neither can kill the other. Like the viewers, Emerson hopes to unravel the puzzle as to why that is.

"It's exciting to play a character that lives in these different time zones," he said. "I'm as full of questions as most viewers are. ...It's tantalizing, isn't it? It's one of the bigger mysteries. It involves some kind of contest with a set of rules; of course, it'd have to be a hell of a contest. What kind of contest would it be? I don't know."

Some "Lost" fans have speculated that neither Ben nor Widmore can physically be killed because of some of the island's mojo. Emerson has also entertained that speculation.

"Another possibility is a scientific reason," he said. "But when you look at that, you ask yourself, 'Are they real? Are they human? Aliens? Ghosts?' It just opens up more questions. I'm curious to see how it works out."

Much of the drama between the two men revolved around Ben's surrogate daughter Alex (Tania Raymonde), who was murdered by Widmore's men in front of Ben. That has led Ben to his quest for revenge in future episodes, including teaming up with Sayid (Naveen Andrews). Emerson said filming the death scene with Alex was one of the more difficult scenes he did this season.

"Losing Alex was sad on many levels," he said. "It was sad for the Ben character, it was sad because I liked working with Tania Raymonde very much. I guess Alex was a character that I had a lot of screen time with, who became a casualty. It's a turning point for Ben. He traded away his coolness. I was having to play (the scene) with real grief, (because Ben) was in a more vulnerable position than he had been in before."

It wasn't the only challenging scene for Emerson this season. Viewers missed the most difficult: trying to ride a horse in the desert. Ben was required to take out two heavily armed men, then steal one of their horses and ride off. Emerson managed to perform the fight scene, but he had limited experiences with horses, only working with them once, during the filming of "The Legend of Zorro." Those horses were relatively tame, Emerson recalled with a laugh.

"They had the biggest, dumbest horses on the Zorro sequel," he said.

Not so with "Lost," in which Ben was required to ride the horse down a gravel slope with Emerson - not a stuntman - in the saddle.

"I never dreamed I'd be an action-adventure star!" he joked. "Running, shooting, riding horses. There were days of crazy, daring work that didn't make it in the episode. ... When I was riding on the loose gravel, I made a Devil's bargain - let's get this in one take and hope I survive it. I hope the cameras worked! They need me in scenes in little, dark rooms more than they need me swashbuckling."

Despite getting the take, it didn't make it into the final cut of the episode. Oh well, maybe it will be on the DVD.

One of Emerson's favorite scenes was the trek in the woods with Hurley (Jorge Garcia) and Locke (Terry O'Quinn).

"I was real happy when they left the scene in where Hurley and Ben shared the candy bar," he said. "It was so sweet. What an unlikely trio! They were bickering like college roommates. It was nice to be in lighter circumstances, with the camaraderie and a bit of silliness. It was a good day; Jorge, Terry and I had a lot of fun."

Emerson said the cast also had fun trying to figure out who would eventually comprise the "Oceanic Six" and the fates of those who weren't part of the group.

"We were asking, 'Does Aaron count?' Technically, he wasn't on the plane's manifest. When we found out Aaron did, it meant other people who are leads are not included (among the six.) What happens to everyone else? What is there fate?"

As for what is upcoming next season, Emerson said he hasn't a clue. He said events are set in motion in the season finale that will no doubt play out next season. He also pointed out that the producers have gradually been pulling back from the island, filming more scenes off the island every year.

"Each season, they jerk the lens back," Emerson said. "The island is a smaller and smaller part of a much larger picture. It may be that less of the island is involved. It's a trend that will continue, probably."

Emerson said he is taking a break during the summer before returning to film Season 5 in August. Currently, he is in New York, but he and Preston will commute back and forth between the coasts while she is working this summer on the HBO vampire series "True Blood," created by Alan Ball.

"We are together little enough already, so I won't be doing any theatre this summer," he said. "I'll be shuttling back and forth between the coasts before going back."

COMING FRIDAY: Reviews of two new summer series.

THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: Seriously, it's the frakkin' three-hour finale of "Lost," people! What else would you possibly be watching?

If you tune into the two episodes of "So You Think You Can Dance" (Fox, 8 p.m.), please get your TV information from another blog from now on.


zodin2008 said...

I always enjoy the Michael Emerson conversations and I have loved the evolution of his character - who we used to see as pure villainy, but like other legendary TV villains such as Q on "Star Trek", Lex on "Smallville" or Arvin Sloane on "Alias", the character is more shades of gray than evil and you somewhat understand where's he's coming from and root for him at times.

This season has really helped establish that Ben Linus is in fact more of a good guy than say Charles Widmore, and in that match up, you're rooting for Ben. And yes, I would imagine Michael would be pleased with all the compelling storylines and screen time they give his character. It's really continued to blossom to a point where other than Jack (Matthew Fox), the other real star of the show is Michael.

I also loved the horse/fight scene and the candy bar scene. I also loved all his scenes with Sayid, especially when Sayid spots Ben and they first have a conversation where Ben tells Sayid who killed his beloved Nadia and he will help him. I love that the show put those two characters together.

And though my beloved San Antonio Spurs sit on the brink of elimination tonight (also at 9 PM), "Lost" is the ONE SHOW on TV where I would be willing to put the game on my computer so I can fully follow what should be a brilliant season finale.

"Lost", for my money, over anything, is the best show on Television still.

Phillip Ramati said...

The most enjoyable thing about talking to Michael is that he's a nice, normal, fun guy - not at all like Ben!

The best villains in movie and TV are the ones that live in that gray area where they believe themselves to be doing the right thing.

Anonymous said...

Michael Emerson is my favorite actor in Lost. He's incredibly talented. Thank you for this interview.

Phillip Ramati said...

Glad you liked it. You can check out other interviews with Michael Emerson in the blog archives. I hope to speak to him again before next season's premiere.