With `Lost,' Michael Emerson found a great character to play
Many actors will create a history for their character even if it is not provided in the script. "Lost" star Michael Emerson saw no such need in playing the mysterious Henry Gale/Ben Linus.
"Creating a history for a character helps when you are doing a stage play because you have to do a lot of storytelling in a short window. So it is good to have the character's history already worked out," Emerson says. "In this case, I didn't need to know that much. In fact, this is a character that plays better if less is fleshed out. This is a guy about which little is known."
After an eight-month hiatus, Emerson and the rest of the cast get to return to their roles. The fourth-season opener of "Lost" airs at 9 p.m. EST Thursday on ABC.
Emerson's character wasn't supposed to be around for four episodes, let alone for the opening of the fourth season. The Emmy-winning actor was signed for only a three-episode arc.
"But they brought me back for another episode. That turned into six and then I never went home," Emerson says. "I will tell you, if I had known on my first trip to Hawaii that this could have been for a long-running role, I would have been far more nervous."
Emerson clicked with the producers so he became the leader of "The Others," the group of island residents who are trying to control the plane crash survivors on the other side of the island.
The Iowa native was happy to stay with the character. He's always liked playing characters who are just a little ambiguous. He feels they are more true to life.
"We don't really meet pure heroes and villains in life. The fact is no one is all together good or all together wicked. That's what makes people so interesting. There is usually a logic even in villainy," Emerson says.
He uses his work on "The Practice" as an example. Emerson played serial killer William Hinks. The character certainly had a dangerous element to him, but Hinks also was very polite, kept a tidy house and was well-mannered. These are sterling qualities not always associated with serial killers.
And in the case of "Lost," Emerson has never played his character as if he were a bad guy. He plays him as a person with a very hidden agenda.
Along with this complicated and mysterious character, "Lost" may have given Emerson one of the most unusual acting situations ever. His wife, Carrie Preston, who is 13 years his junior, appeared on one episode as his mother. Talk about your Oedipus wrecks.
The sequence was one of the show's many flashbacks that provided some clues into Emerson's character's life. The actor laughs at the odd bit of casting and says that he and Carrie had some interesting discussions about the role.
As for all of those flashbacks, get ready for a season of flash forwards.
"It is a stroke of genius," Emerson says. "This show has been told in two time zones (past and present). Now it will be told in three time zones."
The looks into the future will show how some of the castaways were rescued. But that won't be the end of their stories.
Those stories will be told in at least eight new episodes. This was supposed to be a 16-episode season, but the writers strike ended production at the halfway point. Emerson, who is cautious not to reveal too many details about the show, let slip that either by chance or design, that eighth episode does deal with a big event.