Unfortunately, the new season of Lost doesn't air until February. Fortunately, Starpulse had a chance to chat with Michael Emerson, who plays conniving "other" Ben Linus, about last season's shocking finale, some of the things viewers can expect in season four, and what it's like to play such a manipulating character.
Speaking to us from Waikiki where he resides apart from most of the cast (to avoid those pesky traffic cops, perhaps?), Emerson gave us an inside peek into the world of "Lost," including hints about the bloodbath we should expect come February. Following is part one of the interview:
Are you recognized much by fans?
I am a bit on the islands but not so much here. I don't know if it's just from familiarity or Hawaiians are just not expecting to run into TV people. Also, I don't live in the part of the island where most of the stars of Lost live. So I tend to blend in, and most of the people on the streets of Waikiki are Japanese I think, mostly because it's such a tourist center. I don't know if they watch it in Japan. Certainly the tourists are not here to see me, expecting to run into someone from "Lost."
It's nice to have a little bit of anonymity.
It is. I'm pretty anonymous in my neighborhood.
You seem to have some awesome chemistry with the cast members. Are there any specific ones you prefer working with?
I'm aware of good chemistry too. I know when I go to work with Terry O'Quinn that something good is going to come out of it. Partly it is that our scenes are really well written, but partly he and I have from practice and temperament a good, working relationship. It's easy; we have similar styles. We're both sort of brisk and efficient and not self-indulgent actors. We sort of knock it out quickly. We try to move through it with speed and energy, and I'm always pleased with the results.
I was so delighted when he won the Emmy this year because I felt it was not just an Emmy for not just the whole team of "Lost" but for him and I as a sort of double act. Where he goes I go. It was all good. I do love working with him.
I love working with Elizabeth [Mitchell, who plays Juliet] because partly I think she's the scariest character.
I have to agree with that because I still can't figure her out.
I know. Isn't she mysterious? I do a lot of ambiguous playing myself. I think she's the queen of ambiguity. She can do more with an arched eyebrow than anybody else with their whole arsenal.
Your character Ben is pretty evil. How does it feel to play a villain?
Oh, there's nothing better than being the villain. Who wants to be the hero? What a drag that must be. When you get to play the villain it's so rich because it instantly suggests defeat or some kind of prevarication. It instantly suggests layers. There are complications. You have to put a face on it somehow. I'm not even saying that Ben is a villain. But he's certainly a manipulator, and he's certainly a person with a secret agenda. Whether he's ultimately heroic or a villain, I get to play all those layers, which is great.
Last season we learned Ben was involved in killing the DHARMA members and his father, and he shot Locke. So what does that say about his mental state?
Well, we'd have to separate each of those acts and look at them individually. That particular episode was laden with violence.
It was shocking. It was great TV when I was watching that episode.
And it sort of shook my own vision of the character I'm playing. That's the only time I ever had to have a little chat with the writers just to make sure we were all on the same page. I told them, 'Have I been skipping down the primrose path?' Here with the naïve notion my character may someday be revealed to be a great freedom fighter and a man with a heroic mission, and they said, 'No, no. Keep thinking that.' The story is not over yet. There's more to be told, and some of the events of that episode will be recontextualized in future episodes. So again I just continue to play as if we're going to see Ben in a different light. Someday.
So you feel that there is some good in him at one standpoint or another?
Of course I don't know because I'm not privy to where the story is going, but I've always had this suspicion, since the very get go, that Ben is sort of the last defense against something catastrophic.
He's a major player there.
He is. I don't know what it is. I don't know what the bad thing is that is supposedly coming, and I don't know how Ben got elected to be….Is it too much to say that he might be the descender of the planet or something?
Just when we think Ben has an inkling of good, or is doing something good, then we get a curveball. He gets despicable. We want this to be explained. We want more! Will we be seeing more of that explanation this season?
I'm not sure you do want it be explained. Part of you does, of course. As long as there's been a 'Lost' it's been built on a foundation of unanswered questions. And if we laid it all out there for you then no one would have any reason to tune in.
But you're right. Just when you're kind of cozying up to Ben a little bit then they throw something in that makes you recoil. They're always doing that. And sometimes we'll shoot a scene, and none of us will know how it's supposed to play. We'll shoot it a couple of different ways and let them pick in the editing room in Los Angeles, and inevitably they pick the darkest version of the scene. I'll say maybe he's just being slick in this moment or maybe there's a certain charm in this moment. But inevitably the one that ends up on the telecast is the most sinister take [laughs].
How much do you know in advance of the TV audience about what's going on in the plot line?
Well it depends on the shooting schedule. I only know up to and including the script that we're shooting. There's nothing in advance. We are now shooting episode 407. So I've read that. I haven't read 408, which comes next. No one will see 408 until they're just about ready to shoot it. We have a couple of days notice.
So you get the script. How much time do you have before you shoot the scene?
Usually a day or two …. We're always flying by the seat of our pants.
It appears that nobody in the cast knows whose character is going to be killed off and when.
On a scale of one to 10, how scared are you that Ben might meet his demise this season? (10 being the most scared)
I used to think that I would be a high number on that scale. I used to feel like a seven or eight and worried about being killed off. But now Ben is fairly deeply woven into the storyline. I'd have to say for this season it would be a very low number for Ben being killed off. I would be a little more worried for him in the next season. So that might be a five. And for the last season, oh my God that number could go really high.
You're shooting 407 so that means you're seven episodes into the fourth season?
Yes, there are seven shows I know about that you don't know.
Can you tell me anything about those seven episodes?
Everything is sort of shot out of sequence, so it's all a bit of a blur to me…what can I say about it…I can say it's been really violent. It has been a lot of action. I have spent most of my working days covered in blood and wounds. And there's been a lot more, for my character, a lot more outdoor shooting. We have been shooting in the jungle. Days and nights in the jungle. Artificial rain and many beatings and a lot of gunplay and stuff. It has taken some dark turns. And we have a mess of new characters that I think the audience will be intrigued by.
Can you give us any hints about these new characters?
I can say they are characters that are ambiguous.
Some of them have extraordinary powers, and some of them are very dangerous. And also I can say that the new thing that was introduced in the finale of last season is that some of the story is now told in the future.
So we're going to get more future episodes?
Yeah. Now the show is going to dance around. Now the show has three places: present, past, and now future. I think that's really intriguing. I was flabbergasted when I saw the finale because those scenes between Jack and Kate were kept secret from even us. I didn't know about those scenes until it was broadcast. I thought, 'Yes, of course! It's brilliant. It's really brilliant.' It was so poignant. I thought, 'Oh my God, some of them survive but not happily.' I thought, 'That's so grown-up.' And now this is where the writers can make comments about the celebrity culture and tell the truth about some of your greatest challenges are only the beginning of your challenges…and now some people are going to have to cope with loss. Big, big losses. And changes in their lives.