ABC usually gives us a smidgen of information when it comes to an individual episode before we speak to a cast member. This was not the case for tonight’s Desmond-themed episode, “Happily Ever After.” Michael Emerson, who plays the formerly diabolical, now kinda pleasant Benjamin Linus does his best to tiptoe around tonight’s top-secret episode. Michael discusses Ben’s season-six arc and the rumored Ben-Locke spinoff.
It’s always shocking to see you’re from Iowa — you don’t play a lot of characters with midwestern charm.
No, I know, it’s strange. Where are the midwestern characters in American entertainment? I don’t know, I don’t know what they would look like even. I don’t think I ever fit in perfectly in the culture I grew up in — maybe part of the reason I don’t live there anymore.
Have you been in Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse’s office yet this season pointing out where it reads in your contract that you’re supposed to be playing the diabolical mastermind?
Well, we’ve slipped away from that a little bit. Ben is now … He’s being repositioned, it seems, to me. I mean, that pack of people that he’s now associated with, they seem to be heroes. But I can’t escape the feeling that maybe we’re being messed with a little bit, too. That we’re being set up for something [laughs]. But, yes, there are much worse characters at large right now in our story. It’s funny how suddenly we feel a little warm and fuzzy about Ben.
Especially this season. It’s hard not to think, Hey, this is a pretty nice guy, then you remember the mass genocide.
Yeah, yeah, there is that. But there has been some revisionism, too. It’s funny the things we forget from seasons two and three. That seemed to be a different story, in a way; now we’re in a new place. Better the mild and civilized villain that you know than the terrifying ones that you don’t know, like whatever it is inside John Locke’s body.
Right, it’s not really about a plane crash any longer.
No, no. We were talking on the set the other day about weird fan reactions. I had a couple from New Zealand come up to me — twice in one week in Waikiki during season three — and tell me that they no longer watch the show since I came on it. Because it had taken such a dark and bloody turn, they felt, and they didn’t enjoy that anymore. We agreed that the show did change, but maybe I was just part of a process of change in the show. Because it left that sort of island romance with spooky trappings and turned into this other, scarier thing.
You mentioned that Ben’s with the heroes now, but he’s still not in the greatest situation. When Sun ran into a tree in last week’s episode, he was the first to be blamed.
Not accepted, but tolerated. That’s why he was hanging out on the fringes of that love-fest at the end of [“Dr. Linus”]. Everybody got together and hugged and greeted one another. He’s not in the inner circle, yet.
Maybe he should try bringing back the book club.
Yeah, that’s right [laughs]. What kind of a book club now? Where would they meet?
In the episode you just mentioned, “Dr. Linus,” Ilana tells Ben to dig his own grave. How long do you think that would actually take with that makeshift shovel Ben was using?
Oh my God! It would take forever! That tool … is a miserable digging tool. I worked with it. When you’re shooting a scene where you’re digging your own grave, you pretty much shoot it by digging your own grave. And it’s not a really good tool. Very frustrating. That tool weighs more than the divot of dirt that you’re pulling out each time. It’s a lot of wasted energy.
Also with that episode, we would for sure watch a new show featuring Benjamin Linus teaching European history.
That was such a good idea on their part. He was like one of us; he’s like your cousin that teaches high school, you know? He was quite a regular fellow. He had the seeds of, a whiff of, the manipulative and ambitious Ben — but it was in such a different key and so much smaller a part of his personality.
You filmed a prison training video in the early nineties. Is it weird when something like that emerges and catches fire on the Internet? Admittedly, it is fun to pretend that it’s a younger Ben Linus sparring with that Higgins fellow at some job between island gigs.
Oh, I know. Well, I have a lot of that kind of material out there that I did over the years. That video that was going around a couple of weeks ago. That’s all right. That’s a respectable training film and I wasn’t too bad in it. I marvel that I was ever that young. I wouldn’t want a lot of that stuff out there. It’s funny the scrutiny that people bring to bear on you. I guess it’s a function of people’s curiosity and maybe a kind of twisted expression of their passion and support. But I would not want everything I ever did in my journeyman years to see the light of day [laughs].
We have a question from Vulture commenter Pennywise wanting to know if we will ever see you guest-star on True Blood alongside your wife, Carrie Preston?
I don’t know. I suppose it’s not out of the question, but I don’t know what role they would ever find that was right for me, or right for them. I’m not really anxious to play … I’ve played enough real villains, I don’t know how badly I want to play supernatural villains and that’s sort of what that show trades in — vampires and such. I don’t know what I would do, but I would be game to work with Alan Ball in any way, shape, or form.
Jayoaks was wondering when you felt that Ben was a character who had a shot at redemption — adding that, for him, it was Alex’s death.
Yeah, I suppose that’s the first time that I saw me really moving on the sympathy scale. Yeah, I agree with that as a turning point. And we’ve never really gone back from there. His place on the scale of good and evil has been questionable ever since then.
LaurenGayle wants to know if Ben still has something up his sleeve. Also, she would like to know if you would marry her? She’s willing to commute to a tropical island …
[Laughs.] I’m trying to get off of a tropical island! I feel like I’ve done my time in the tropics; I’m looking to get back to the mainland. Ben’s a player and he’s a smart fellow. And I think, even now in his completely vulnerable and reduced circumstances, I think the wheels are turning. He’s still willing to make alliances or break them, anything he can do to save his own neck and to further his personal agenda, even that’s a little unclear to me. But, yeah, he’s in the game.
Chiyork is wondering if the rumors are true if you and Terry O’Quinn are pitching a new show for after Lost?
We’ve been fond of sitting around and talking about what our post-Lost life would be, fantasizing about working together. And Terry is always coming up with good ideas — some more realistic than others — show ideas that we could pursue. I think he’s gone so far as to half-seriously discuss it with various producer types. And, of course, everyone always says, “Great idea! Great idea!” But what exactly is the idea? And how does it actually get made is a whole other kettle of fish. I don’t know if a thing like that is a pipe dream of ours … but it would make me happy. If we were going to continue to work in television, I would just assume that it was with Terry than anybody else because I’ve never found a better TV scene partner than him.
If it does happen, I would hope that Terry’s character could finally get his revenge against yours.
Yeah, maybe that’s his idea. Although, stay tuned on Lost … I’m not sure who you’re going to think needs revenge on whom when this is all over.
Rebeccarose2004 REALLY wants to know if there were adult magazines on the island during the Dharma Initiative days and, if so, how did they get there?
Wow! It’s interesting that that’s what she’s focused on. I don’t know. There must have been? People are people. It hasn’t been explored in our show. I mean, perhaps if we had another season we could [laughs] … that could become the story line. People travel with things, you know? Like we noticed in the Ben episode when he’s digging through stuff at the camp and comes up with some gentleman’s pictorial and Ben says, “God, the things people travel with.” That just goes to show you, soft porn will make its way to wherever humanity can travel.
ABC is being quite coy about tonight’s Desmond-themed episode, “Happily Ever After.” Are we in for something special tonight?
Like many other episodes this season, it’s … it’s just a good reveal. The door creaks open a little bit further. Something in the mechanics of the narrative is going to make itself … we’re going to think about things differently — certainly about Desmond.
It’s tough to answer those types of questions, isn’t it?
One of the things I’m not going to miss is trying to decide what I can say and what I can’t say about the show. It’s going to be so great when the finale airs and then I can just talk freely about everything we did and what it all meant. But, honestly, I think the upcoming episode is a strong one and, like every other episode this season, it points us toward the end.