By Kate Benz
Published: Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
It’s an ironic existence when it becomes hard to tell whether your life is imitating art or art is imitating your life. For two-time Emmy Award-winner Michael Emerson, one would think that starring on the hit drama “Person of Interest,” in which an enigmatic billionaire and an ex-CIA member use heavy surveillance to intervene in violent crimes before they happen, might resonate with audiences.
But for Emerson, who made an indelible mark with fans during his stint on “Lost,” the likelihood that viewers are drawing parallels between real life and scripted television are slim to none. For him, it seems as though it’s the furthest thing from the minds of the 17 million that tuned in to watch the premiere of Season 3 in September. Maybe it’s the concept of a guardian angel, or the idea of the modern-day vigilante. It might even be the notion that superheroes do indeed exist. If you know where to look for them.
“Person of Interest” airs at 9 p.m. Tuesdays on CBS.
Question: Is the concept of “The Machine” striking a particular chord with audiences given concerns with the NSA surveillance program?
Answer: I would guess that it does, but that’s not the thing that people come up and talk to me about, which is surprising. I keep thinking, because our show is so accidentally topical right now, that people would be constantly coming up to me and drawing the parallels between the fictional Machine of our program and the prism system of the NSA. But I don’t know if people go to scripted television to get an airing of current-events issues. More people come to me and ask me about the dog than ask me about The Machine.
Q: People seem hungry to embrace the idea of someone watching over us, protecting us from harm.
A: Maybe it’s universal. I mean, all of literature has the ongoing theme of the avengers, the heroes. That’s an ancient idea, and I guess it is a comfort to live through dangers and violent acts and come out unharmed and right prevailing, all of that. And I think our show, just beneath the surface, is kind of a superhero show. It goes by so fast that you don’t stop and think, “That’s sort of convenient that happened at that moment,” and stuff like that. We are like caped avengers, only without the cape.
Q: When it comes to your Finch character, is he a modern-day vigilante or just some guy with a serious God complex?
A: Well, I suppose that’s in the eyes of the beholder. I think he is an avenger — but a kind of unwilling one. He’s done this, as we’ve seen, as a tribute to a fallen comrade. It’s a way to make his lost friend live on. And also to nurse their dream of justice.
Q: Even when intentions are good, are there consequences to interfering with fate?
A: Sure. Always. One of the themes of our show, I think, is you can never get things right unless you have perfect information, and even in a world of super computers, perfect information is hard to find or hard to identify even if you have it.
Q: Given everything that Finch represents, when it comes to “Ignorance is bliss,” would you say yay or nay on that sentiment?
A: No. It is a low kind of temporary bliss, but not to be wished for anyone. I just think consciousness is important and that it should always be growing.
Kate Benz is the social columnist for Trib Total Media and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-380-8515.