On first sight, Michael Emerson is nothing short of adorable, with his blue doe eyes and shy, crinkly smile. Don't be fooled. A long, bone-chilling stare and a confident, cruelly manipulative comment are all it takes to transform him into Benjamin Linus, the often-ambiguous villain of Lost and one of TV's creepiest characters. Emerson was cast to play a minor role on the show in 2006, but the writers liked his work so much, they decided that the island wasn't done with him. After five seasons and one Emmy Award, Emerson is ready to resume life in Hell's Kitchen with his wife, Carrie Preston, who plays waitress Arlene Fowler on HBO's True Blood. But before settling down, he opened up to TONY about the much-hyped two-hour finale, which airs on Sunday 23—and whether Ben & Co. will live happily ever after.
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You're a veteran New Yorker, no?
I've lived here twice, from 1976 to 1986, and now since 1996. My wife has lived in NYC for 20 years.
Where can we find you two canoodling when you're in town?
Whenever we have a chance, we dine at Il Buco—it's always a fine, romantic time. And we like our Theater District watering holes, Joe Allen, Cafe Un Deux Trois and all the places on Ninth Ave.
So, Hell's Kitchen gets two thumbs up?
Yes. I love how busy it is and the variety of dining and nightlife. And we have good friends living in our building—it feels like a Broadway dormitory.
Ben was originally written as a temporary character. How did he become a major player?
They just kept not letting me go home! It all happened gradually and organically. I'm glad it worked out that way, because had they called me and said, "We want you to be a regular on a popular TV series for the next five years," I might have been so nervous that I'd have screwed it up.
Where does Ben fall in the conflict of good versus evil? Worst dude ever or not so bad?
The writers have been pushing Ben toward the middle for a while. He is by no means the scariest character on the show at this point. He's just trying to stay alive and in the game. It seems appropriate that Ben continues like this. He wavers, and then enters into some alliances that don't turn out to be healthy or pretty. But it doesn't mean that he has gone to the dark side.
Most Lost seasons begin by hinting at the ending, and this one started with an underwater scene. Does water figure significantly in the finale?
Water takes on added layers of meaning as we approach the end of the story. That's fair to say.
So what would your ideal ending for Ben be?
I used to be fond of saying, "Well, if he has to go out, I hope it's in a blaze of glory or some fantastic and unforgettable demise." But none of that happened-and something that is quieter, more soulful and more satisfying did. I'm very happy with the way Ben is resolved at the end. It's really good.
In my mind, yes, it's perfect.
Do you think that the fans will be as pleased as you are?
Everyone is going to have a different reaction. It's not some flashing neon sign that says THIS IS IT, FOLKS. It's a softer ending than I expected, and I'm still digesting it. But the more I think about it, the better I like it. It's hard and complicated and people will talk and wonder, What did I just see?
Does the cast puzzle out the show together?
I spent a lot of time filming with Jorge [Garcia] near the end, and we were always trying to guess what the deal is - analyzing it, sorting it out. And we're on the show.
Since we're on the topic of cast bonding, which character would you choose as your real-life stuck-on-the-island BFF?
Maybe Hurley, because he'ss so even-tempered and has a sense of fun. He's like a regular person who'd be your real-life friend.
Biggest Lost hottie: Kate or Juliet?
That's a toss-up. I think the two of them cover all the heat of womanhood. Ben always had feelings for Juliet, so maybe a slight edge for Elizabeth [Mitchell].
Who would you rather have save you from danger: Jack or Sawyer?
Wow. Maybe Sawyer, because he has a great Southern charm about him in both his character and his real-life personality. I could see him saying just the right thing at that crucial moment.
Speaking of hotties, you're married to Carrie Preston of True Blood. Do you two get competitive over who has the creepier role?
I can't tell her what I do at work because it constitutes a spoiler in her book. So if I come home and say, "Guess who I killed today in the show?" she'll say, "Shut up, shut up, I can't hear that."
Is she ever scared of you after watching Ben?
Yes. She will say,"I can't believe you just did that,"or "Don't you ever look at me like that."
What kind of vampire do you think Ben Linus would be?
I guess he would be a smart vampire. If I were on True Blood, I would like to be the funny vampire who is very droll. It would be nice if there were more funny vampires.
Before your vampire career begins, will you tune in for the Lost finale?
It's the first time I'll see it all. My script was missing a half page. And I don't know what's on that half page.
And a final question...because we're all dying to know: Do you think there could there be a Lost movie?
I don't know if I would be game to be in it. I don't think such a thing would happen, but you can't rule it out. I will tell you that there would never be one written by the people from the TV show. I think these writers are ready to wrap it up and walk away. But then, who knows what could happen in five years time?
The Lost season finale airs Sun 23 at 9pm on ABC, with a recap special at 7pm.