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Michael Emerson

Michael Emerson plays Ben

Journeymen actors sometime become "overnight stars" and such was the case with Michael Emerson who first garnered attention for his portrayal of Oscar Wilde in the Off-Broadway play in "Gross Indecency: The Trials of Oscar Wilde" and then in an Emmy-nominated turn as an accused killer in a recurring role on ABC's "The Practice".

Born and raised in Iowa, Emerson received his training at Drake University and then set off for NYC to try his luck. Like most struggling actors, though, he was unable to find work and ended up working in "crummy retail jobs" and as a magazine illustrator. His then-wife suggested relocating to Florida where her family had settled, and while the marriage didn't last, Emerson was "discovered" as a performer. Shortly after arriving in the Sunshine State, he was cast in a production of Shakespeare's "Othello" and then began landing leads in Theatre Jacksonville productions. Over a seven-year period (1986-93), Emerson offered a series of memorable turns in local productions but, while he was passionate about acting, he wasn't exactly earning a living.

Although he had considered abandoning his chosen profession in favor of teaching, Emerson instead took the advice of a playwright-actor friend and enrolled in the MFA program at the University of Alabama in 1993. Armed with his graduate degree, he opted to take on NYC again, but most of the offers he received were for parts in regional theater. Finally in 1997, Emerson was hired for a supporting role in the showcase of the play "Gross Indecency". When the performer tapped to play Oscar Wilde was fired, he was promoted to the lead. With glowing reviews, the production transferred to an Off-Broadway theater and Emerson became touted as one to watch.

In the years after he first came to prominence in NYC, Emerson continued to act on stage, including a turn opposite Uma Thurman in the Off-Broadway staging of "The Misanthrope" in 1998 and a well-received performance as Willie Oban in the revival of 1999 "The Iceman Cometh" starring Kevin Spacey. He went on to co-star with Kate Burton in "Give Me Your Answer Do" in a 1999 staging and then as George Tesman to her "Hedda Gabler", first at Williamstown and later in Boston and Washington, DC, before Broadway in 2001. In between, Emerson offered a memorable performance as a confessed serial killer in several episodes of "The Practice". As the seemingly mentally unbalanced William Hinks who may or may not have committed the murders he claimed, the actor was nothing short of astonishing and the Emmy nominators concurred, bestowing a much-deserved nomination as Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series.