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“Person of Interest” star Michael Emerson looks for wit, humor in his characters

Melissa Hayer Modified: April 24, 2013 at 3:30 pm •  Published: February 8, 2013
Michael Emerson - JEAN-CLAUDE PHOTO
Michael Emerson - JEAN-CLAUDE PHOTO


(This story was published Feb. 8, 2013 in the Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.)

Emmy Award-winning actor Michael Emerson enjoys looking for the comical elements in his characters, even in the more serious or darker ones.

“I often feel like I’m the secret comedian in any of the shows that I’m in, even though it doesn’t really show that much. But I do try to let that creep in there a little bit. I like to have my characters have some wit, get off a good line or a bit of sarcasm.”

The Iowa native, 58, stars as mysterious billionaire Harold Finch in the hit drama “Person of Interest,” airing at 8 p.m. Thursdays on CBS.

Finch is also a software genius who has invented a computer program that can identify people about to be involved in violent crimes, but he is unable to determine if they will be the perpetrators or the victims.

Finch has recruited presumed-dead former CIA agent John Reese (Jim Caviezel) to assist him in finding out which role the “person of interest” is playing, and to help him in preventing these crimes.

Taraji P. Henson and Kevin Chapman also star in the series, and Emerson’s wife, Carrie Preston (“True Blood”), has guest starred.

“Person of Interest” includes among its executive producers J.J. Abrams, whose Bad Robot Productions also was involved with the widely popular drama “Lost,” in which Emerson starred as the cryptic villain Ben Linus.

Emerson shared details about his work on “Person of Interest,” and a bit about “Lost,” during a recent phone interview with The Oklahoman.

Q: What appeals the most to you about playing Harold Finch?

A: I like being the guy that delivers all the exposition, and I like the challenge of trying to keep that interesting, or even to be able to get on top of exposition and technical jargon and make it lively and surprising if possible.

And that’s a hard job, because on most shows about espionage or adventure or police and law procedurals, there’s someone who does a lot of exposition, but sometimes you want them to stop talking and get onto the action part.

So, I’m happy to try to do what I can with what some actors would feel like (are) some of the duller parts.

Q: How is Jim Caviezel alike or different from Reese?

A: Jim has a quiet dimension to him that informs the character of Reese. What you don’t get when you watch Mr. Reese on our show is how silly Jim can be and what a comedian he is. Maybe because he and I play in shows that are so dark and urgent, it’s just natural that comedy boils up on the flip side of it.

Q: Is your wife going to be back on “Person of Interest” anytime soon?

A: Yeah, you’re going to see more of the character of Grace on “Person of Interest” in a highly dramatic way. It’ll be a ways off, closer to the end of this season.

Q: Thanks to Reese, Finch has acquired a pet this season. How is working with “Bear” the dog?

A: It’s interesting. I really love that development as far as narrative and character goes. It’s nice that there’s this unlikely soft spot in Mr. Finch’s life. At the same time, it’s also hard work.

We have a brilliant dog. The dog that plays Bear is a national champion obedience dog and he’s going to the world championships this spring, and will likely win there. He’s highly trained, highly motivated and has a lot of energy, but he doesn’t know acting from acting, he just knows commands.

It takes time to get him to hit the right mark, to hit the mark and to be looking in the right direction, that kind of thing. There’s a lot of trickery with the placement of treats, and wherever you want the dog to look, that must be where the trainer is standing because he pays attention to the trainer at all times. There are certain logistical challenges to it, so those scenes are great, but they take time to shoot.

Q: What was your overall experience working on “Lost?”

A: It was a great adventure and it was for me, the actor, a bit like it was for the character, I think. Because there I was uprooted and plopped down in an island in the middle of the vast ocean, and I lived out this kind of fantasy life of like kids running around in the jungle with guns and playing these plots and schemes and dangers and supernatural elements. My experience, I think, was a lot like the castaways’ experience, and, then, when it was over, it seemed a bit like a dream, like “Did I do that?” “Was I on that island for all those years?”

Q: How often do you still receive comments about “Lost?”

A: A lot. On the street every day. Every day I run into someone who says, “Excuse me, are you Michael Emerson? I was just wanting to say how much I liked ‘Lost.’”

– Melissa Hayer

Follow me on Twitter: @MelissaHayer

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