Mercury Interview with Michael Emerson

Off the island
MICHAEL EMERSON

Edwards Auditorium, Upper College Road, University of Rhode Island, Kingston Tickets: $20, $10 URI stu­dents with ID.

www.ticketmaster.com (401) 874-2832

BY JENNIFER NICOLE SULLIVAN

He didn’t try to convince me to return to the island with him as his character did with the Oceanic Six. Although I wanted him to.

In fact, Michael Emerson, the actor who turned a three­episode stint on “Lost” into the role of a lifetime as the manipulative, anti-hero Ben Linus, said he’s happy to be off the island (Hawaii, that is, where the series was shot) and back home in New York City with his wife, actress Carrie Preston, and friends. But something still calls him to the island.

“It’s still sinking in that it’s over,” said Emerson from his second home in Los Angeles in a phone interview last week. “I guess part of me thinks, ‘Oh, it’s the fall. I should be in Hawaii, I should be shooting.’” He’s not alone. Losties, like myself, are still coping with the hydrogen bomb-sized hole left in the television schedule.

But on Sunday local fans can get their “Lost” fix in Kingston when Emerson shares stories, photos and video clips from the hit ABC series that ended May 23.

Next year, fans can most likely catch Emerson and “Lost” co-star Terry O’Quinn ( Ben’s nemesis, John Locke) in a new NBC series currently in development called “Odd Jobs,” about two washed-up, former black ops operatives who decide to set out on a mis­sion together. Filming for the J.J. Abrams’ project could begin as soon as February or March. But although it’s set to be an hourlong comedic dra­ma, a distinct tonal shift from “Lost,” will fans constantly compare the new characters to their iconic “Lost” personas?

“I think the comparisons to quality and intensity are always going to be there,” Emerson, 56, said in his care­fully phrased cadence. “So we do want to be careful about it.

It may be to a certain extent out of our hands … even if I felt like I’m playing something completely different, people may just see my face and instantly think of what they’ve seen me in before. It’s sort of a hazard in a way and I don’t know how that will play out.”

At the end of “Lost,” Ben, the conniving, murderous leader of “The Others” even­tually redeems himself and takes care of the island along­side Hurley (Jorge Garcia). In the sideways storyline (if you’re not a “Lost” fan, I’d have to write a thesis to explain what that means), the entire group of castaways and their love interests reconvene in the afterlife. Emerson said he was delighted with the series’ denouement.

“I couldn’t imagine how they were going to do it and I began to worry when I didn’t see the end coming. We were halfway through the final sea­son and I thought, I can’t yet tell how they’re going to wrap this up,” Emerson said. “But then they did it in such a beautiful and humane way.”

Emerson, who won an Emmy for Outstanding Sup­porting Actor in a Drama Series in 2009 and was nomi­nated in 2007, 2008 and 2010 for his role, was by far one of the most battered and abused characters on the show and even sustained several real injuries such as a black eye during a fight scene slip-up with Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond). That actual take of Emerson getting clocked in a parking lot was used in sea­son six.

“I’ve been hit, clipped on the chin … thrown head first into the ground … slammed against trees … hurt my elbows and knees on rocks and roots,” recalled the native Iowan. “I will never miss com­bat.”

Other than O’Quinn, Emer­son hasn’t remained in touch with most of the other cast members except for Jorge Gar­cia who’s been living with his girlfriend in Emerson’s Los Angeles home for three months while searching for their own home that they recently found. How ironic that Ben and Hurley remained together, off the island, even after “Lost” ended.

“When I’m here (in Los Angeles), it’s all just a big dor­mitory,” Emerson joked. “A ‘Lost’ dormitory.”

Last week, fans might have seen Emerson’s chilling per­formance as Puritan leader John Winthrop in the first­part of PBS’s mini-series, “God in America” that pre­miered on Oct. 11. He taped the series in Boston in April 2009 after season five of “Lost” wrapped. “It … was so different from Benjamin Linus. Although now that I look back on it, I see that there are some similarities. You know, both of them are fanat­ics in their way and both of them are really careful with language.”

At the end of our 25-minute talk, I asked Emerson if there was anything else he’d like to mention. He kindly said in his distinct, captivating voice: “If I tell you too much more, I’ll spoil some of my best stuff in the presentation.”

That’s such a Ben thing to say.

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