His sinister gaze and duplicity made him one of television’s most frightening villains overnight, he is Ben Linus, AKA Henry Gale, better known as Michael Emerson of LOST.
Debuting in Season Two of LOST, fan reaction to Emerson’s startling performance was so strong that the three episode stint that was originally planned was turned first into six, then into a regular recurring role on LOST.
Having transformed from hatch prisoner Henry Gale to Ben Linus, leader of the mysterious others, Emerson has taken his character through an odyssey of transformations.
We sat down with Mr. Emerson to discuss the future of LOST, the things you don’t know about his character (he’s a romantic!), and what changes might be in store on LOST’s mysterious island.
BuddyTV: How far ahead in filming are they at this point?
Michael: Let’s see, it’s a 23-episode season. They’re filming…the 19th episode starts work Thursday morning and you will see episode 12, I think, Wednesday night. We’re about 7 episodes ahead of what’s airing.
So, I’m going to put you on the spot right away. There’s a big rumor that the finale this year is going to be a Ben-centric episode. Is that something you can confirm or deny?
I don’t know the answer to that question because I’ve only seen the scripts up through, in fact I don’t know that I’ve seen 3.19 yet. I mean, I wouldn’t rule it out but I would be surprised because that would be a heck of an episode. If you’re going to tell the Ben Linus back-story then you’re going to have to give away some stuff, as you know. They’ll have to dig in and really sort of reveal some things about life on the island and the Dharma Initiative and who the heck are the others?
Have they shared much of that information with you, as an actor, as to where the bodies are buried?
No, no, nothing like that. You know I occasionally see the writers socially and I trust them to come up with something good all the time. I’m not sure; I don’t really know how far in advance they plan the story lines. But usually the first I hear of a development in the plot is when I get the script.
So there has been, since you debuted on the show, this long-running transformation. How do you manage that as an actor? Do you have a central identity for Ben at this point or are you still kind of just doing it script by script?
Well, I do sort of play it script-by-script or scene-by-scene. I mean he sort of is who he has always been. Whatever arc or transformation has taken place in him is sort of story driven or I should say, writer driven. By that I mean it’s more a thing perceived by the audience in context than a change in anything I’m doing, probably.
Obviously I think at this point the audience relates most with the in-charge, head Other, Ben, but you’ve also played him as frail, vulnerable, sinister.
Oh that’s true. But he has been vulnerable at times and he has been frail. He has recently been very frail, what with being a surgical hostage the way he has been. And yet there’s a kind of constancy about his personality.
And that’s an interesting point as well with the story. With John Locke and Rose, they were both cured, obviously, by some mysterious power on the island we would assume. Ben did not have that privilege. Do you know the reason for that?
I don’t know. It’s something to speculate about isn’t it? Has he always been sort of immune to the charms of the island or has he recently lost something that he had previously, I don’t know. But I’m guessing that when we find the answer to that question, it will unlock a lot of secrets.
This week it’s finally getting settled that Ben is not the magnificent Him that brought the Others to the island. Was that something that you were aware of?
No. I’m surprised like the viewers are when I read something that suggests that he answers to someone. I was intrigued by that. I’m wondering where that’s going.
So when Ben says that the Others are the “good guys.” Should we take that that there are bad guys on the island and are we going to see them at some point?
I take it to mean that at least in Ben’s mind, they are fighting some kind of good fight and that there are wicked people or wicked powers that they’re fighting against. But those wicked powers haven’t been very clearly identified yet. Although in coming episodes we’re going to be begin to get a trickle of evidence about the warring parties.
Ah, so there may be another party involved?
Yeah. There may be lost-aways and Others and also, someone else. I’m not sure who that is yet.
One thing I’ve wondered for a while because I read that your wife is a Lost fan. How has this impacted her suspension and disbelief, knowing that you’re on the show?
Well for a long time she wanted to be a purist, you know, and wouldn’t allow me to give her any spoilers. Eventually it’s just my access is too great and you know occasionally I just let things slip about an upcoming episode. Now I think she rather enjoys sort of having that inside entree, which I’ll tell you is not very much. Usually I may be a couple of episodes ahead of what the viewers are looking at. Only because we took that hiatus this season are we that far out in the front on the filming. That wasn’t true last season. Last season it was like this mad dash to have an episode ready for airing, you know? Now we’re a little bit ahead. By the time we get to the finale we’ll just be barely making it again, I’m sure.
This coming season I understand is actually going to air in January…
Well that might be a good thing. Then you don’t have to sort of tease the viewers into interest twice in a year, you just get them revved up once and then you show them a new episode every week. That’s probably the simplest way to do it and keep your momentum going. You don’t have to sort of jump-start it again in the winter like we did this season.
Fans really love your scenes with John Locke…
Yeah, those are some of the most fun to play too,
…given that you were mostly confined in the Hatch in Season 2 and then in Season 3 you’ve been on the Hydra Island, there’s still a lot of the major cast that you haven’t worked with.
Yeah, about half of them I think.
Is there anybody in particular you’d like to work with? Are there going to be some more interactions coming up?
Wow, you know I’d love to play with everybody in the cast at some point. It would be an interesting confrontation between Ben Linus and you know, Jin for example or Claire. Those would be sort of, people from two different worlds. I guess all of them are, but that would be fun. It’d be fun to do a scene with Dominic. I never get to work with him. I never get to work with Jorge. That would be interesting because Hurley has a sort of immunity to power figures or people that are articulate in a way. He can usually turn a conversation into his style of conversation rather than the opposite.
At this point, can we expect to see any of those scenes coming up?
I’m trying to think. What have I filmed? For the next while you’re going to see sparingly. You’ll see me in two weeks and then you won’t see me for a couple and then you’ll see me again and you won’t see me for a couple. So I don’t really have that many episodes in the can right now. I only play with characters you’ve already seen me with. But that could change this week because I haven’t seen the new script yet.
I know one thing that they’re saying is that the playing field is going to change a lot over the next couple of episodes. Is that something you’d agree with?
Oh yeah. Yeah, because episode 13, there’s some role reversal that takes place there. Someone that’s used to being in power is dis-empowered and someone sort of takes charge in an interesting way in that episode. Yeah, yeah that’s fair to say, that’s accurate.
Continue to Part Two >>
(Interview Conducted by Jon Lachonis)
Senior Writer, BuddyTV