Michael Emerson: The Lost Interview

Lost’s loveable villain on the US Airways crash, his eerie Ben voice, and why he and John Locke should land on 30 Rock.

Is the fifth season of Lost trending more towards action and adventure on the island?

Yeah, even more than you’ve seen so far. It is action-packed. Sometimes you read a script and you think “No way, no way can we film this in ten days—how are we going to get this done?” They are explosions and special effects, gun play and fights, and [we crash] every kind of vehicle imaginable. There is falling through time, falling through space, [even] falling underground.

I think Ben and John Locke [from Lost] should be roommates in Brooklyn. And then just have wacky adventures.

Any chance the suspended hydrogen bomb will make a return appearance later in the season?

Well, we’re going to have to resolve that somehow. Or did they already time travel out of there? [The time travel] is completely unpredictable. That was a great moment when John Locke turned to him and said, “Widmore—Charles Widmore?” He says, “What of it?” And John says…“Nice to meet you.” [Laughs] Fantastic! The idea of it, to be flying around time and space, and yet to be able to keep what you already know…

Sun believes her husband Jin is dead, and blames your character. How much of an actual threat does she pose to Ben?

She poses a terrific physical threat in the moment, but in terms of being able to derail the master plan [of returning to the island], I think he’s going to find a way to turn [Sun] around. He has to.

While Oceanic Six plan their return to the island, Ben’s become quite the fashion plate on the mainland.

He’s looking good, right? I mean it’s not going to last forever but it has been a pleasure to do those post-island scenes. He gets to look a little sharper, gets his hair done, he’s not covered in bruises and blood and jungle dirt. It’s a pleasure, since I’m not in the makeup chair as long.

Why would he ever want to go back then?

Yeah, right. Except [segues into his signature Ben Linus tone] he does, he has to.

Do you think Ben is aware or conscious at all of the whole Kate-Sawyer-Jack-Juliet love quadrangle?

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Ben is keenly aware of everything that goes on around him that is of a psychological nature. He’s already made mental notes, made computations, and played out a variety of fictitious scenarios based on that information and [is] seeing how it can be used to good effect. So, yes, we will visit that theme at some point.

And every episode, every season, is plotted out by the creators in advance?

They have a master plan. To those people who say, “Well I haven’t really enjoyed the show since season one because it’s too complicated,” I just want to [tell them] “You never were into the show that they wrote, then, because this was where it was always going.” We were never going to be romantic Robinson Crusoe; it was this whole other thing.

When the US Airways flight crashed it was surreal seeing the survivors received much in the same way the Oceanic Six were on the show. Was it strange for you to view that a week before your premiere?

Anything that has to do with air travel and air tragedy is of interest to me. In this case, not least of which, it crash landed in the Hudson River right at the end of my street. Had I been home on that day and standing outside my building, I could’ve watched it.

After Lost ends its runs in 2010, does working on another television show interest you or will you hightail it back to the theater?

Possibly, theater is what I’m most anxious to get back to. I don’t want to [be away from theater] too long as I don’t want to forget how to do it.

You met your wife, actress Carrie Preston, while performing in Hamlet years ago. She’s now in True Blood on HBO—how would you imagine an alternative HBO version of Lost? Would Ben act even more villainous?

I think Ben would be the character that would change the least if the show went to HBO. I think his mode of expression, his way of articulating himself is already sort of fully realized, it doesn’t miss a level of profanity that you might get [on HBO]. A bunch of characters would benefit—Sawyer would finally be able to cuss the way he wants to if the show was on HBO, and the sex would be a larger element and more graphically presented.

Does life ever start imitating Lost and vice versa? Are there any moments that were particularly strange or fortuitous, where something in your real life reminded you of the show?

There’s another excellent question I don’t have a ready answer for… People assume I’m more like Ben than I actually am, or they’re especially formal or standoffish with me because they think Ben is going to bite them on the hand.

You have an interest in comedy, yet keep getting pegged as these villainous characters. On what kind of sitcom would you like to guest star?

I think Ben and John Locke [from Lost] should be roommates in Brooklyn. And then just have wacky adventures.

Well, sweeps month is coming up, so they could do a crossover appearance and just drop in on Ugly Betty in New York.

Take that idea that they are freely bouncing around the time-space continuum and have them plop down randomly in the middle of different shows. Some shows [our characters] would fit in neatly, like Battlestar Galactica, and other shows we would be so out of place. Like 30 Rock—how jarring would that be?

Kara Cutruzzula is a culture reporter at The Daily Beast and recent graduate of UCLA.