Lost's Ben: Exclusive interview
Lost - Michael Emerson - 'Benjamin Linus'
The 'one other factor'...
Michael Emerson has me transfixed from the outset as he sits perched on the edge of his seat like a bird about to fly. Impeccably dressed from head to toe in an ever so smart suit and equally fitting pair of shiny shoes, Emerson - who plays Lost's creepy Benjamin Linus - is keen to brush off our compliments about how good he looks. We laugh about the fact his face appears without bruising which, as the series has progressed this year, has become one of his character's trademarks.
The fact his character is hated with an "intensity and a fascination" delights Emerson for it suggests he's been doing a good job playing this incredibly intricate and cunning character. Creepy and cunning, yes. But Emerson also finds Ben "..pretty civilised. He's so beyond the pale in other ways too."
When it comes to role models, Emerson likes villains who are civilised - someone like Sydney Greenstreet or Peter Cushing.. He goes on to say he thinks "people seem thrilled. They seem so exited about the show. They are excited that I have been able to challenge them or confuse them to thwart their expectations.:
Knowing he's been able to excite fans with Ben's chilling and unpredictable actions is a tremendous feat, especially after almost four years. So how does Emerson do it? A smile creeps across his face as he admits he's questioned himself over his acting. "I come in and as far as creating character after you play a character for several years like I've done here, there's not much homework left to do. You sort of come to the set and put on the costume and go. In a way that feels unnatural too because I caught myself this season a couple of times going 'Am I even acting?' Some days I feel like there is this absence of craft. I'm just walking and talking and it appears to be sufficient, but it does worry me a little bit."
Playing such a villainous character can have its interesting and funnys side too. Some fans "are a little bit worried to be that close to me," he smiles. "They tend to be very formal."
While the public may shy away from him, his wife reacts warmly to the sinister Ben: "She thinks it's just a hoot this whole sinister character thing. She knows that underneath it all I'm kind of a cream puff."
And yet, even though he's questioned himself about whether he is acting or not, Ben and Emerson are not entwined. "He [Ben] is not about humour. He has an ironical point of view sometimes. He's more childish than I am, but he's also more brilliant than I am. I don't know. I don't have so much-I think that I am more socially skilled than Ben. Ben doesn't really know how to be around people very easily or certainly not how to be around women."
Although Ben hasn't been a hit with the ladies (unlike Sawyer) Emerson won't dismiss the fact Ben could be romantically involved in the future.
"He obviously had complicated feelings about Juliet and other women has yet been unknown probably. We will see," he says. "But he is not very evolved personally, intellectually." However, in the same breath, Emerson offers a contrasting notion whilst sounding perturbed at the same time: "Now, what kind of a scene would that be? With whom?"
With every episode of Lost, we're never certain who might die (or how!) and some of the deaths have been deplorable, namely Locke's. It wasn't just fans who found Locke's death disturbing - Emerson finds the slaying of Locke at Ben's hand, shocking: "I thought that was a shocking event. I thought that was a shocking episode. As soon as we filmed it, I thought, 'Oh, they are going to mitigate this somehow.' In episodes to come it will be placed in a different context than you might think."
Emerson goes on to voice his opinion over whose absence would be pivotal to the finale. "I would hate, I mean, I can name, you know, the lead. I mean, what would we do without John Locke? What would that be about? That's not going to happen in the way you think."
Even though Ben's behaviour may be utterly unforgivable, he is now no longer the 'head bad guy' - "Now we see there are more and more people now that he answers to that he depends on" states Emerson. And the many scenes showing Ben beaten up are "strategically useful." These beatings "can't be accidental" he tells me, "I think it is that Ben Linus enjoys his beatings on some level. Ben takes a beating but in the course of the beating, he gets more information he would otherwise have not. He always wins the intelligence game."
Emerson says he's happy to be in the dark about the ultimate end of the show, "so that I am, A, not responsible for big secrets. B, I'm not responsible for playing the end in the middle.
"I don't have to make my present day work match conditions and events that exist in the future. That's a little too much to hold in your head and then suddenly you're playing a continuity game with your own character. Then you are chasing a tail and you get in trouble."
Trouble perhaps. He's nondescript about how he wants the
ending to be "specifically", but suggests he wants "it to be that
kind of ending where everybody goes, 'Oh my God, it was right there
before my very eyes for six years, and I never thought.' I
I think that's how it's gone. How it's meant. I have a feeling that the solution or the finale will be a question of all these events that took place in a way that we thought they would. That there was one other factor, one other glance, one other layer that explains and conceptualizes everything that we see."
Whether we've all had our eyes wide shut for the past six years or not, is yet to be revealed. Being kept in the dark, just how Emerson likes it, is something we've all got to be used to for one more year.