I had originally landed in Hawaii on a Sunday afternoon with the understanding that I would be visiting the set on Tuesday. On the eve of the visit, though, ABC got cold feet. It turns out that whatever they shot that day involved actors and events that they did not want me to see. How those mysterious events could possibly trump what I did see, and refuse to talk about, I can only imagine.
I arrived, instead, on Friday morning, the day I was set to fly out of Hawaii. ABC had gone out of its way to accommodate my wife and son, something that was as much a surprise to the publicist as it was to us. We arrived at base camp, a few hundred yards from the actual set, to an empty parking lot. A row of trailers took up half of the parking area, standing guard like some Hollywood equivalent of Easter Island statues claiming the overlooking waters in the name of Los Angeles.
I had argued all the way to the set with my 6-year-old-son that we were going to meet people from Lost, who he insisted were not real flesh and blood people, but, presumably, super realistic cartoons. As we stood in the deserted lot waiting for someone, anyone, to show up, a trailer door opened slowly and out walked Michael Emerson. My son grabbed my shirt and said with a gasp, "Dad! Ben is real!" It was a paradigm shift for us both. Mr. Emerson chuckled and gave a quick toodle-oo wave, smiling through a layer of makeup that was strangely at odds with his radiant good nature.
Later, on the set itself, after watching Michael Emerson, Jorge Garcia, Josh Holloway and Elizabeth Mitchell film scenes that I have promised to guard with my life, I sat down with Michael to discuss all things Ben Linus, Lost, and Hawaii.
Ben always finds himself captive, and then his knowledge somehow either leads to his freedom or giving him a hand up in a situation. It seems with these new people arriving on the island and Ben giving that warning, that may be happening again.
Yeah, I think in a way we're in the zone we're always in, which is a game is being played and Ben Linus is many moves ahead of the other players. There aren't many surprises in his world. It would take a lot, I think, to shock Ben. Ben's like a great chess player I think, and he's got pieces in reserve also. So yeah, he has some cards yet to play. He waits quietly and he doesn't get overly excited about things.
Would you say that his knowledge of the assumed threat is going to move him to the side of the "good guys," or was there maybe some ambiguity there all along?
I don't think the ambiguity will ever entirely go away, but yes, by that theory of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," I think that there will be strained alliances formed where we wouldn't have previously predicted them. Now there is what appears to me to be an incredible threat from without.
Are the new people connected to the mysteries and the powers of the island, or are they simply a force that's trying to get there for their own different reasons?
I think everything and everybody in this show is integral. Everything is connected to the island. There's no accidents here, plus the show is just too tightly formatted and has too short a future to allow for digressions or non-sequiturs. So no, it's all one piece.
I wish I could ask more about the plot.
You can ask more about the plot, but I might not have an answer for you. I mean, I know what's in this script, but I don't even know the next one. As far as predicting where things are going, I've long since given up on that on Lost. In a way it's freeing. I don't have to worry about story arc or character arc, where did I come from or where am I going. All of that is denied me, so all I have to do is really learn the lines and show up, and play the scene of the moment.
Right. Well they did leave a big gap in Ben's background, which is obviously between his first meeting with the hostiles and what eventually drove him to gas his father and the others. Is that something we can expect to see explored this season?
Oh yes, that will be revisited. Many more of those pieces will be filled in, and back story, which is really back story of the island, or of the human habitation of the island.
Awesome. Let's talk about something else for one second. Saw. Are you in the Saw IV movie at all?
No, no, I've had nothing. I was killed at the end of the first one, nearly killed in real life, I was glad to have it done with. It was the roughest, fastest, most hair-raising shoot I hope I ever am involved with. It's interesting that it has turned into such a juggernaut.
I can't believe that they've gotten a fourth film out of it. I can't believe that when Lost fans thought about your mastery of playing Ben as this sinister individual, they're like, "He was also a great villain in Saw." But it's like, he wasn't actually a villain in Saw, he was another victim playing a game, just trying to save his life.
Although you understand why people think of him as a villain in that movie, because for two hours of the two hours and fifteen minutes of the running of the film, you think he's the villain. And there are some logic gaps if you look back on it, like if he is a victim himself, why does he seem to relish his deeds of evil so much? He took a little too much pleasure in the tormenting of the mother and daughter to have been purely an innocent fellow.
There were some moments in season 2 when Ben was still Henry Gale that were just absolutely sinister. One thing I've always wondered is, did you look back at great sinister actors like Bela Lugosi and guys like that to summon how you were going to deliver those lines? Or was it something that just came natural to you?
I just found an interesting tension between being mild-mannered and the sort of context of the story, so I was happy. I just gave it the lightest read, and people fill in the blanks that way.