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Michael Emerson's Interview in The New York Times

The Creepy Guy on LOST Reveals Clues to His Past
Published: November 8, 2006

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 7—Michael Emerson, considerably less creepy in person than he is on your TV, still hasn’t gotten used to the idea that people he does not know approach him in public places to declare how much they despise him. It’s been occurring fairly regularly since he showed up last season on the ABC series LOST, playing the character then known as Henry Gale, the chillingly soft-spoken (in a Hannibal Lecter kind of way) leader of the frightening and mysterious Others who inhabit the show’s island. 

Mario Perez/ABC
Mr. Emerson’s character on LOST is the focus of much speculation. 

It happened again just a couple of weeks ago, as he was passing through security at Honolulu International Airport on his way to Los Angeles from Hawaii, where LOST is filmed. This time it was a federal security guard, who suddenly found herself distracted from checking for liquids and gels.

“She looks up and says: ‘You! Oh, you, you ... I hate you! You’re bad. You’re a very bad man!’” recalled Mr. Emerson, 51, over lunch on the patio of a restaurant here, near the apartment he shares with his wife, the actress Carrie Preston. “She ended up laughing. I think it tickles people to come face to face with the character.” 

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Michael Emerson, center, as Oscar Wilde in “Gross Indecency” in 1997. 

Although he was originally hired for a three-episode story line, Mr. Emerson’s character (whose name, viewers learned this season, is actually Benjamin Linus) has become one of the show’s most important and intriguing roles, the enigmatic and occasionally brutal leader of a sophisticated scientific operation on an uncharted island, a project whose origins and motives are, to say the least, unclear. At the end of last season, after his Others had, among other things, terrorized and killed several survivors of a plane crash, Mr. Emerson’s character was asked, “Who are you people?”

“We’re the good guys,” he replied.

And maybe they are. Mr. Emerson doesn’t know. But, just like the show’s rabid legions of detailed-obsessed fans—“Losties”—he enjoys speculating about his character and possible explanations for the series’ secrets-behind-secrets sci-fi-adventure plotlines.

“The Others, I think, have some great enemy,” he said. “But I’m not sure who it is. Doesn’t it seem like they’re commandos, like they’re fighting some kind of guerrilla war? Maybe they are fighting people they were once in league with. Then you get the whole thing of, What is the island? What is the experiment? What is the Dharma Initiative? What was going on there all those years? I don’t know. It’s just fun to think about.”

As LOST ends its six-episode fall mini-season on Wednesday night (the show will return with new episodes in February), Mr. Emerson’s character is at the heart of several potential cliffhanging story lines, including whether he will survive surgery for a spinal tumor and a possible mutiny from the Others under his command.

Henry Gale/Benjamin Linus has been a hot topic on the many LOST message boards from the moment he arrived, pretending to be a hapless lost balloonist, allowing himself to be captured and eventually tortured by the show’s supposed heroes. It is his eyes—slightly protruding and, when he is angry, disturbingly intense—that have been remarked upon the most. The dead-gray color of a winter sky, they somehow manage to convey both danger and vulnerability, cruelty and pain: Peter Lorre eyes.

“Generations of serial killers have taught us that it’s the meek fellow next door with the spectacles that you’ve kind of got to watch out for,” said Mr. Emerson, who won an Emmy in 2001 for playing another compellingly creepy character, a confessed murderer, on The Practice. 

“I have a theory about this, and maybe my theories are rationalizations that flatter me,” he said. “But I think America, as a culture, is so suspicious of articulation. We don’t like talkers; we like doers. So we’re pleased to have our villains be verbal and articulate. There’s a tension between being mild-mannered, soft-spoken and a purveyor of violence.”

My instinct,” he said of his portrayal of Henry Gale, “was always to give little away, to put the focus on others and sort of not be there. And, somehow, the more I disappear, the more people worry about me.”

The LOST executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse had seen Mr. Emerson’s guest appearance on The Practice, in an episode written by David E. Kelley, and when coming up with the idea of a leader for the Others decided, according to Mr. Lindelof, that, “we need to do the David Kelley trick where the audience is convinced one week that a character is a raving lunatic and the next week think they are being absolutely railroaded.”

Mr. Emerson grew up in tiny Toledo, Iowa; studied theater and art at Drake University in Des Moines; and in 1976, right out of college, moved to New York to begin the acting career he knew he was meant to have.

“I hadn’t a clue or any friends or contacts to say, ‘Well, here’s how you might begin auditioning,’ ” he said. “So I just kind of let go of my acting dream, put it on the back burner and tried not to think about it. It was kind of painful.”

He said he worked for a while at a Pottery Barn in Manhattan, but eventually fell back on a career as an illustrator, “not knowing that it was every bit as tough a racket as acting.”
He was good at it, successful enough to become a regular contributor to, among other publications, The New York Times. “I did all right,” he said. “It was hard work. And I’m sort of an obsessive-compulsive person. My technique, the way I drew pictures, was very painstaking and slow. So it didn’t make economic sense. I would slave for a week over a drawing that would pay me $100. So the more I drew, the poorer I got.”

When he left New York for Jacksonville, FL, in 1980, he told himself it was because of a woman and because he’d grown tired of the solitary illustrator’s life. But the real reason Mr. Emerson left New York, he said, was to give himself a chance to rekindle his acting dreams. He started doing community theater in Jacksonville, supporting himself between plays with landscape gardening, carpentry, house painting, any outdoor job he could find. He worked his way up to regional theater, playing Equity houses around the South. Then, after a year of fine-tuning at the University of Alabama’s Masters of Fine Arts program, he returned to New York in 1995, by then 40, smarter, more confident and less likely to be driven away.

In 1997, just as he was starting to consider whether returning to regional theater might be a better idea, Mr. Emerson landed the lead role in Moisés Kaufman’s Gross Indecency, about the trials of Oscar Wilde. After rave Off-Broadway reviews, the play went on to a national tour, and Mr. Emerson’s career took off with roles on Broadway (The Iceman Cometh) and a string of small and mostly villainous parts in films and television that eventually led to The Practice.

When his run on LOST ends, Mr. Emerson wants to return to New York. “The stage is what will save me,” he said, asked if he feared being typecast as creepy villains for the rest of his life. “The plays I do—Shakespeare, Ibsen, O’Neill—let me play other types. And that will sort of clear the palate.”

As to when that might happen, Mr. Emerson has no idea. “You would not be a wise actor to get too comfortable there,” he said of his life in Hawaii and on LOST. “Showbiz in general, and LOST in particular, shows you that it ain’t forever. And I would think if you’re playing a villain, if episode after episode you are in harm’s way, then the day could come when you might not make it. It wouldn’t take a whole rearrangement of the story line for me to be gone.”

Original can be obtained through henrygalelovers   http://community.livejournal.com/henrygalelovers/2006/11/08/

Big thanks are given to jade_melody for posting it in our community.

Tags: michael emerson, news article
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