Talking 'Lost' with Michael Emerson -- Emmys, epilogue, finale and more
More than two months have gone by since "Lost" left our lives. But due to recent and upcoming events -- the release of the season six and complete series DVDs on Aug. 24, the recent online leak of the series epilogue that appears on said DVDs, the upcoming "Lost" auction and the Emmy Awards -- the island drama hasn't exactly disappeared from the cultural landscape.
And let's be honest, neither has Benjamin Linus, the always untrustworthy master manipulator who happens to play a key role in that aforementioned epilogue. Michael Emerson, who won the Emmy last year for his portrayal of Linus and is nominated again this year, recently called from his Manhattan home to talk about that epilogue, the much-debated series finale, the possibility of a band releasing a CD called "Benjamin Linus" and why, for some reason, no one wants to use the voice of that lovable evildoer in a commercial. A complete Q&A -- including Emerson's succinct summary of exactly what the finale meant -- follows.
Jen Chaney: I wanted to start by congratulating you on your Emmy nomination.
Michael Emerson: Thank you.
JC: Obviously you have a couple of these under your belt already, including the one that you won last year for playing Ben. If you feel any pressure going into the Emmys, does that alleviate it?
ME: I don’t feel much pressure. I just feel like, it’s always a great honor to be nominated, but I feel like I have maybe slightly less to prove. And you don’t have that tension of "Will I ever win it?" in mind. I feel very comfortable with it this year.
JC: Everyone must be asking you about the “Lost” epilogue that recently leaked online, and will be on the DVDs. As I understand it, that all was filmed at the same time that you were shooting the finale, is that right?
ME: Yeah, it got really crazy and hectic during April. Some days you would be working on both. Or I was.
JC: Okay, that’s what I was curious about -- how that synched up with your other work. Did you know when you were filming those scenes that they were definitely epilogue scenes that would not be in the final episode, or were you not even sure?
ME: Oh yeah, it was all kept very separate. It was always understood that it was a separate bonus thing, that it was never going to air. I was as pleased, in a way, with the script for the epilogue as I was with the script for the finale. It was hectic, but it was nice to work on them both at the same time -- two such completely different tones of material.
JC: I read that you haven’t seen the epilogue yet. Is that still true?
ME: I haven’t.
JC: But having read the script and shot it, you obviously have an understanding of all the different things that occur.
ME: I know what I shot and I’m in a lot of it -- I think. I hope.
JC: You are.
ME: But I haven’t seen the finished project. I’m anxious to see it. I’ll be curious.
JC: The epilogue seems to open the door for certain strands of the story to continue. Or at least it implies that things are still happening on the island even as we speak. Do you know if that means the “Lost” narrative might continue in some other form?
ME: I hadn’t thought of it as a door opening on a spin-off or continuation. I don’t think that’s how it will play out in practical terms. But I see why -- it does seem to present an opportunity, doesn’t it? I am not sure if anyone will attempt to capitalize on that.
JC: I know [executive producers] Damon [Lindelof] and Carlton [Cuse] have said they are done.
ME: Yeah, they’re done with it. And you’ll never get the cast of “Lost” together again, that’s for sure. If you cooked up an idea that involved a couple of characters, I suppose that’s not outside the realm of possibility.
JC: You couldn’t get the whole cast together because there’s so many of you and it would just be too logistically difficult?
ME: Yeah, and because so many of them -- some people don’t intend to act anymore. Some people don’t intend to ever do TV again. Some people didn’t have that much fun on the original “Lost” so they’re unlikely to be lured into any kind of continuation of it. There’s all different kind of positions.
JC: I guess I was thinking of it continuing more in another medium. For example, a comic or a graphic novel that could explore the mythology of the island.
ME: Oh yeah. That’s not outside the realm of possibility. That might be interesting.
JC: After the finale was over and even still, I’m wondering what kind of response you’re getting from people. Do you get any fan feedback that tells you how people felt about the finale?
ME: Sure. I mean, people seem delighted to run into me but some of them will say, “Okay, now you have to explain the finale.” And if I have a moment, I can do a credible job of it in about two minutes and people seem happy. I explained the finale in the doctor’s office yesterday afternoon, and the lady said, “You know, that’s amazing. That’s exactly how my daughter-in-law described it.” So I thought, well, good. I’m on the exact same wavelength as some other people.
JC: Can you do that quick two-minute explanation? I’m curious to know how you describe it.
ME: Well, I mean everything that happened on the series was real. The plane crash was real, everything that happened on the island was real. Everyone lived those adventures. Eventually, they died by one way or another. After death, apparently the newly dead cling to a more idealized version of their life, of the life they could have or should have led. And I think that accounts for the flash sideways in season six.
And that’s why Desmond -- who has the power to travel between dimensions, between the present and afterlife -- is going around saying, “Let go. Let go. Let go of this fantasy. Accept your death and move on.” And then of course the control of the island falls into the hands of Hurley and Ben; that may have gone on for centuries. We don’t really know except that at the end of the show we’re gathered in what appeared to be a church. It’s really more of a waiting room or an anteroom to the hereafter. And it exists outside of time, but it exists after life. And they’re waiting to pair up two by two with their mirror redeemers so that they can forgive one another, forgive themselves and pass on into eternity.
Ben Linus is the only one who can’t do it.
JC: That was my next question. What was you interpretation of the reason why. Does he not have a mirror redeemer, or is he beyond redemption?
ME: He has more to atone for. He just needs more time. He has work to do. I think he says that.
JC: Yes, he does say that.
ME: So I’ll take him at his word. He’s waiting to atone and I don’t know what the process of atonement is once you’re post-life, but he also doesn’t seem to have an immediately obvious mirror redeemer.He’s also waiting for that. Maybe the two processes are one and the same.
JC: You said in an interview earlier this week that you and Terry O’Quinn are shopping around a TV project to work on together. Is that right?
ME: Well, there’s -- Terry had a good idea and we presented it to certain people who are the kind of people who get TV shows made and they liked the idea, but they also had other ideas. So I think there’s a batch of ideas being batted around and I think some of them have been farmed out to veteran TV writers who are coming up with ideas that they might present. We’ll see if any of those is the dream project and whether there’s the will and energy to make it go forward. If it ever happens, it’ll be a ways off.
JC: So there’s not even a concrete concept for the series yet?
ME: No, not a single one.
JC: But obviously, you would enjoy the opportunity to work with Terry again.
ME: Yeah, I sure would.
JC: What do you miss most about no longer being Ben Linus?
ME: Well, it hasn’t fully soaked in yet that I’m not him. For the purposes of walking around the streets of Manhattan, I still kind of am Ben Linus, as far as I can tell from the people that come up and approach me. It still feels like one of the usual summer breaks from “Lost” and that at the end of August, I’ll get on a plane again and go back to the rain forest and keep shooting. But it will dawn on me as this year goes on, that it’s all over.
What will I miss most about him? Well, it is nice to have people take you seriously. (Laughs) People tended to have a fairly sober reaction to my character, so that was fun while it lasted. But that’s so far from being the real me that I won’t feel like I’m missing a part of my life.
JC: I don’t know if you saw this news about the new CD that Weezer is putting out. It’s called “Hurley.” Have you heard about this?
ME: Another interviewer mentioned it to me earlier today.
JC: The band announced earlier this week that their new CD is called “Hurley” and the cover is just a big picture of Jorge Garcia’s face.
JC: It seems to me that somebody should release a CD called Benjamin Linus with your face on it. I’m just wondering what your reaction to that would be and if there’s a band or artist that you would endorse as far as using the Ben Linus image.
ME: Gosh, that would have to be a really strange band. I get the distilled aesthetic -- Hurley represents a kind of world, or a world view. It’s American. I don’t know that Benjamin represents anything quite so friendly. I guess he’s iconic, in a way.
I don’t know, I can’t think what it would be. I’m sorry, that’s not a good answer to your question.
JC: No, that’s all right. A band that was vaguely sinister, perhaps?
ME: Yeah, I guess it would have to be dark music.
JC: And music that changes tone very frequently, with no warning whatsoever. Well, you think about it.
ME: All right.
JC: I’m just putting the idea out there so that if someone reads this, perhaps...
ME: I’ll have to come up with a better answer.
JC: So what is on your agenda next? Do you have any specific upcoming projects or are you just taking a little break?
ME: I have been taking a break. I have been trying to attend to domestic matters. You know it's been five years since I've done any housework in New York. And I'm getting together with old friends that I've missed and reassuming the life I had before I got the call to go be on "Lost." I get offers to do things here and there, but most of them are awfully close to what I did on "Lost" so I tend to just say no to those things because I feel it's been done. I don't want to dilute the power or concentration of that work by imitating it myself in a bunch of other projects. I guess I am waiting to see what will present itself to me as the obvious next step.
JC: I'm guessing that you're getting a lot of offers to play villains.
ME: Yeah, I do. I guess I could be out there now playing, you know, the guest star bad guy on this series or that series. I don't see how it would be anything other than a step backward, unless it were an extraordinary script and something so original and unusual and different. I guess I'll know that when I see it. For now, I think I'll leave those kinds of things alone and focus more on finding something that's a change of pace or change of tone. It would be more fun to be funny or silly or holy or inarticulate...
JC: Do you get any comedy offers? Because you are very funny on "Lost," even in the role of Ben.
ME: I know, sometimes I thought in the last couple of seasons that I was in an unannounced comedy and sometimes I felt like I was the only one that knew it.
JC: It seems to me you're also a great candidate for voice work. You have such a wonderful voice. Do you ever get offers of that nature?
ME: I audition for it all the time, and it's really difficult to get.
JC: Why is that?
ME: I don't know. I think because the competition is so fierce. It may be that some of the associations that come with my particular vocal tone are not positive ones. What product wants the villain from "Lost" to be its spokesman? You know, life insurance? Uh, mace? I don't know if it's that or I'm just a poor auditioner. I audition all the time for voiceover and I'm in the running but I never quite win the prize ... It may be that we have to wait until the image of Benjamin Linus fades a little bit, so that the voice has less character connotation.
JC: One last question: Have you been in touch with some of your fellow "Lost" colleagues and have you been talking about the Emmy nominations?
ME: [When the nominations were announced] it was a nice day for "Lost." It was as if people remembered us again and remembered us fondly. It was a nice way to close out the series. There were a flurry of e-mail exchanges. Those of us that will be there, we're all looking forward to having a big reunion and a bit of a party.
JC: Well, I can tell you that nobody has forgotten. I was at Comic-Con a few weeks ago and I saw quite a few people in Dharma uniforms and "Lost" shirts --
ME: Oh, interesting...
JC: The spirit is definitely still alive and I think it will be for a while.
ME: Oh, that's good to hear.
| August 12, 2010; 12:10 PM ET
Categories: Lost, TV
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