Hi, Reddit. I'm Michael Emerson. You probably know me from LOST and Person of Interest, but you may not know that I actually started acting pretty late in life (I used to be a magazine illustrator). I thought I had achieved peak success when I became a stage actor, so it's been pretty awesome being on television and even winning two Emmy awards.

Right now I'm enjoying playing the mysterious billionaire mastermind Harold Finch on Person of Interest, which returns for Season 5 later this year.

I'm here to answer your questions!

Proof: https://www.facebook.com/MichaelEmersonOfficial/posts/470151766499210

Edit: I have to go now, but this has been great. It felt like a real conversation. I look forward to doing it again!

Comments: 404 • Responses: 49  • Date: 

BillDozer90382 karma

Ben Linus is one of my favorite television characters of all time. So I have to ask, what was the biggest challenge about this role? Any great memories from the set that you would like to share?

MichaelEmerson509 karma

The challenge of Ben Linus is the same challenge you have with any long-running television role. We're always fighting to keep your stamina up and keep the character interesting.

I have loads of fantastic memories from playing Ben Linus. Some of them have to do with locations where we shot on beaches at night or at sunrise, when it was so breathtaking we would just set down the cameras and look at where we are. Also had many great scenes with Terry O'Quinn, who played John Locke. There's a great scene were Benjamin Linus convinces John Locke not to hang himself, gets the information he needs, then strangles John Locke. It was very dark. Terry O'Quinn was never greater than that day. I'm sure on that day he was the greatest actor on the planet.

A_Zombie_Riot123 karma

Hey Michael! Huge fan! So excited for the 5th season of Person of Interest!

Whatever happened to that show that was going to star you and Terry O'Quinn? Odd Jobs, I believe it was called? I would love to see you two together again.

MichaelEmerson143 karma

Maybe someday we'll get around to doing that show. It just--we had pitched it and there was some interest in it, but we could never get anyone to write a script that sounded like our idea. Our whole idea was to make a show about guys who were--it was an action show starring guys who were too old to do action anymore--and everything that happened to them would kind of knock them out. They were weak and frail like real people our age. But the more people wrote the script, the more they started to seem like superheroes, kicking down doors, and that was what we wanted it to NOT be, so eventually we ran out of time. It's still on a shelf somewhere in the universe and someday we may be able to get back to it.

Sectoid_Gang_Rape94 karma

Who is sexier in person. Jim Caviezel or Josh Holloway?

MichaelEmerson169 karma

They're both easy on the eyes, I must say. Josh has a kind of southern charm, a twinkle in his eye, that I find is attractive. Jim is funnier than people would guess, and that's a great trait of his, and it makes him a very dear person.

benjamin_finneran68 karma

What is your favorite season of lost?

MichaelEmerson160 karma

They all have something to recommend them. But maybe season 2, because that's when my character was introduced, and there was so much mystery surrounding him, and he seemed so scary, haha. There were great episodes and fantastic development in every scene.

glitzyjan67 karma


What made you decide to pursue acting when you did and did you ever fathom your success?

MichaelEmerson103 karma

I think I always wanted to be an actor--since I was a teenager. That's what I enjoyed most in school. But when I moved from Iowa to New York City in the 70s, I didn't know how to get into it and the city kind of knocked the wind out of me, so I drew pictures for a while I was getting things figured out. Illustrating was a very solitary job and I was happy when I found my way into something more social.

It has all taken me by surprise. It's a pleasant surprise; I don't really know what to make of it. I feel like I've won the contest in figuring out what to do with my life. That was a success in and of itself, because I think a lot of people don't find their calling in life. And I'm always glad that I did.

SirRossington48 karma

SO happy to see you on here finally! Since I'm sure all the good POI questions will be taken, are there any books that you think everyone should read in their lifetime? And do you think any of these book's messages would be especially impactful at any particular point in someone's life?

Thank you so much for coming here to do this. My father and I are both HUGE fans of your work!

MichaelEmerson67 karma

Oh goodness. There are so many books. I think it's more important to read than what exactly what you read. There are probably 10,000 worthy books I could name.

I would not want to have lived my life without reading the plays of William Shakespeare. Chekhov's short stories. Alice Munro. Or Dickens. Those are just some of my favorites. I would not want to live this life and not read murder mysteries and ghost stories, which I love. To each his own I guess. It's good to be a reader.

RoronoaLuffy47 karma

Can you give us an idea of what's gonna happen in the next season of POI? All hope seems lost after that finale.

MichaelEmerson90 karma

I haven't seen any scripts yet. But I expect that Finch and Root will try to rebuild the machine and that that will require some discussion about what this new version of the machine will be like. It may not all be in Finch's image or according to his personal principles. And since this may be the last 13 episodes we do, it will have to be game changes or apocalyptic events. I don't know what the writers have in mind, but I'm sure it will be big and it will be good.

ThatOneGuy2047 karma

If you could choose any role to play, whether it be film, television or stage, what role would you choose?

What advice do you have for people trying to become actors?

MichaelEmerson94 karma

Because I always play verbal characters, I think it would be fun to play someone who was mute or for some reason unable to speak or communicate with words. That would be an interesting challenge. I don't know what that role would be. Of course there are lots of big Shakespearean parts I would also love to play someday. It would be nice to play Prospero in the Tempest or King Lear if you have the strength in your older age.

My advice would be make sure you love the process of it. If you love the process of it and you can do without fame and fortune and it might be a happy way to spend your life. Be patient with yourself and remind yourself that it's not a race.

mranonymousone45 karma

Windows or Linux?

MichaelEmerson97 karma

You probably think I'm more skilled with computers than I really am. Windows is what I use. I don't think I would know how to use anything else.

LininOhio43 karma

I see your wife has a new show this fall. (Yay - more Carrie Preston is always a good thing.) How do you manage being a bi-costal couple? And most importantly, who gets Chumley?

MichaelEmerson56 karma

We've done pretty well over the years by being separated by our work. We just have to figure it out. Carrie is a fearless traveler, and she doesn't mind getting on a plane to fly across the country just for a weekend and then going back to work. I'm not as good. I don't enjoy going to the airport. So she does more of the traveling.

As far as Chumley goes, we trade custody back and forth. She's taking him first, for August and September, and then she'll bring him back to me.

needanacc0unt38 karma

Wow I got to an AMA on time! Person of Interest is by far my favorite show. I've watched the show in its whole twice or three times by now. Now to think of some form of question....

What is your favorite thing about Person of Interest?

Are you friendly with anyone on the cast?

Any hints to the direction season 5 will take?

Can't wait for season 5 to start... its close but so far :)

MichaelEmerson56 karma


I like the high-concept, technical situations. I like the tension there is between a fictitious world in Person of Interest and events in the real world that came out of our show.

I really got along with Amy Acker. We get together at events every so often and do fun things in New York City.

Indydegrees235 karma

What is the best life advice you can give?

MichaelEmerson88 karma

Be kind. Be yourself. Be kind to yourself and to others as well.

gosuns68235 karma

How much longer do you see PoI going on?

Are you and Jim as brotastic in real life as you are on PoI?

MichaelEmerson81 karma

Hahaha. That's a made up word, right? We do get along. I think the characters work, that relationship works, because Jim and I are as different as Finch and Reese are different but have a sympathy and need for one another. Brotastic. Wow.

IHeartmyshihtzu33 karma

How have you managed to look 20 years younger? Do you operate out of another dimension?

MichaelEmerson45 karma

Haha, no. I don't know if it's that I've started late in this career or because I inherited a good gene pool from my parents. It's not like I have an especially healthy lifestyle or anything. I'm just fortunate that way.

Fistandantalus33 karma

I finally convinced my wife to watch Lost with me, and I kept telling her that Ben was the good guy.

She didn't believe me (and still doesn't). So what can I tell her, from the very words of the actor, to show her that Ben was a good guy, just had a amoral way of doing things?

MichaelEmerson91 karma

I'm not sure the takeaway from Ben Linus is that he was either good or bad. He was both sides of the coin of human ambition. He had some victories and some defeats. I'm not sure we know him any better at the end than we do at the beginning, but he does have more of our sympathy.

MichelleBrondum28 karma

Hey Michael! I'm a HUGE fan of your work. Can't wait for the 5th season of Person of Interest!

I was wondering, who you would have liked to played, if not Ben on LOST? And why? :-)

Best regards from Michelle (Denmark).

MichaelEmerson84 karma

They would never have given me this role, but I continue to be fascinated by Mr. Eko.

Black_Baron9428 karma

Hello Michael! Greetings from Greece! I'm a big fan of your work on TV, Ben being my favourite character in Lost and not missing a single episode of Person of Interest, love the show and Finch has a special place in my heart, too. Can't help but notice the fact that there are huge simliarities between both characters, such as both being bookworms, and many references on Charles Dickens' books. Silly question here, is it a mere coincidence, some factor I might be ignoring or your influence? Thank you for your time

MichaelEmerson38 karma

It's true that they're both very literate, and although that's not a thing I ever consciously suggested--I think that's a case where both writers on the shows took a cue from the type of actor I am and the skills that I bring. They learned I was fairly good to making literary references, which would make sense since I've spent most of my career on the stage dealing with literary things. They watch me, and then they toward what they see me play.

smooothh27 karma

Cool. Liked your performance on LOST. Btw; did it really hurt when you got 'hit' on the show? I recall having read that some time ago

MichaelEmerson84 karma

My character was the most beaten character in the history of the show. When you shoot scenes of violence somewhere along the lines someone's going to make a mistake, you get to close. There was a scene where Ian Cusick totally clocked me. I mean, not just a grazing but totally laid me out with a punch that went wrong. It was in the final season. That actual punch made the cut. I was always being beaten by younger actors who were more wound up than I am.

Brad_Wesley26 karma

Hi, I'm a huge fan of lost. The other day on the Adam Carolla podcast Kevin Durand said that his character was not neccessarily that most evil, that his character was told by Widmore that he had to kill everyone on the island but you or else his family would be killed. However, I do not recall that.

What do you think was the reason that he did what he did?

MichaelEmerson37 karma

I think your memory is probably fresher about that season than mine is. My recollection is that he was a mercenary. But he was more relentless and merciless than any mercenary needs to be.

blabla162421 karma

If you had to be stuck on an island with 3 cast members from Lost, who would they be? Who wouldn't you want on this island?

MichaelEmerson51 karma

Haha, you know I can't answer that last part.

It would be Terry O'Quinn, definitely, Jorge for sure, and Josh Holloway, he's so much fun. I think I got along with everyone.

LiliMoe21 karma

Would you like to be friends with Benjamin Linus? Which person would you like more, Ben or Harold?

MichaelEmerson49 karma

I don't think either one of them would be very good company. They might be good to have a chat with on a train or a plane maybe, but they're both so driven and on such dark missions that I don't think they would have much patience for me.

jammy1620 karma

Hello, Sir. A huge Fan. There is just one thing that intrigues me a lot: When Jonathan Nolan created PoI, why did he not rope in his elder brother, Chris Nolan, to direct any one episode from the 4 seasons? Also, have you now grown a love for privacy?

MichaelEmerson43 karma

I think he and his brother are really close and great collaborators. I think Christopher's schedule is just too busy. I'm not sure he even lives in North America, to be honest.

When you've been on tv for a long time, obviously you get more attention than you're used to. I guess you avoid situations when you're not going to be able to get things done. Like get to your seat or make your train or buy a carton of milk. But it's not onerous to have fans or tons of attention. It comes with the territory I believe. It's fun and it's positive.

netray9220 karma

Firstly, amazing acting! and absolutely love your role as Harold Finch :D

If you had to choose between DC and Marvel, which side would you choose? Also, which film in both universes would be interesting to be in?

MichaelEmerson39 karma

Those are comic book companies, right? I have to tell you, I'm not a comic book reader. I'm not a person who goes to comic book movies, really. There are some graphic novels I like. I must have missed the part of childhood where you get into comics.

I_am_from_England19 karma

Hi Michael! Big fan, what do you do in a normal day when you're not at work?

MichaelEmerson28 karma

I do household projects, walk the dog, just whittling away the time, lost in thought. I read a lot. I walk a great deal.

HeelyTheGreat18 karma

How was your experience on Parenthood? I really liked the show, and it was a nice added bonus to see you there. I thought you played the character really well!

MichaelEmerson27 karma

Oh, thanks! It was a wonderful and unusual character to play. That's a change of pace for me. I was really happy to have that opportunity. It was such a nice cast, I had such a good feeling on the set. It was interesting because people actually got to go home and have dinner with their families. That's never happened on any other show I've worked on.

ciechomke18 karma

Did you try to get some of your personal ideas to the Harold's character or it is just fully created by director?

MichaelEmerson27 karma

The writers on Person of Interest are better at that than I would ever be. I don't tend to get a lot of great ideas for my character. I like taking what the writers give me and seeing what I can do with it.

Bhockzer18 karma

Pancakes or Waffles?

MichaelEmerson34 karma


dontgetpenisy17 karma

Hi Michael! Thanks for coming to do this AMA. I'm a huge fan of your work on LOST. I can say that it was excellent by the pure amount of hatred I had for your character Ben.

I have two questions for you:

  1. What is your favorite memory from set? Was there a practical joke, touching goodbye, or something else that stuck with you?

  2. What kind of career advice would your character Ben Linus be able to provide for someone looking to climb their way up the corporate ladder?

Cheers! And good luck with POI and all of your other works!

MichaelEmerson22 karma

He would make sure you have read Machiavelli and that you pick up chess. Because it's all strategy and being several steps ahead of the other side.

c157091115 karma

How's Boker (Bear) doing?

MichaelEmerson35 karma

You probably know that there's more than one canine actor on our show. We're not doing that many scenes with the dogs, there seem to have been fewer recently, and I don't know how much we'll see of Bear in the future, in this upcoming short season. There was some difficulty because it's always hard to take the time to make the dogs fully comfortable and to rehearse the dog in what is required of him or her, and then it makes for a slow day. It may be that it just hasn't been fitting as well into the production schedule as it once did. I know that Bear has many fans out there. Maybe more than the rest of us.

whataboutparis15 karma

Hello!! So excited you are doing an AMA! Was wondering is there a paticular film or actor that made you want to go into acting?

MichaelEmerson21 karma

When I was a little boy there was an older kid at my school that made me want to get on stage. I couldn't believe how funny and fascinating he was at the same time, and I thought if I could ever be half that cool, I would be happy.

mistymountainz14 karma

Hi Michael, big fan of Person of Interest! Was wondering, who would be a better hacker Finch or Root?

MichaelEmerson32 karma

Finch is probably the more original, but Root is more ruthless.

WondersaurusRex14 karma

What was the one mystery that you wish has been solved on LOST but wasn't?

MichaelEmerson34 karma

Hmm, that's a good question. I don't know that the smoke monster was ever explained. But I'm not one who left the show feeling like there were a lot of loose ends. I thought they wrapped things up pretty well.

Kairylili14 karma

MASSIVE FAN! Extremely excited to hear that you're also on Reddit yourself.

I just wanted to ask your thoughts about the death of characters in POI. Carter, Elias and Scarface (possibly Shaw), did you find them necessary deaths for character development and plot line?

MichaelEmerson21 karma

Obviously it's hard to lose someone you enjoyed working with, but there's usually some good reason. I personally like shows where the stakes are high enough that you might lose a favorite character. It's more like life in that respect. You assume that some characters are gone when they may not be though. I would encourage you to stay tuned.

HristiyanaSlavova13 karma

Hello! Greetings from Bulgaria! So here are my questions: 1) What are you thoughts of the ending of the fourth season of Person of Interest? 2) Is there any chance that Grace will be back for the next season. And my final question.. 3) I recently sent a birthday card to your wife. Has the letter arrived by any chance?

MichaelEmerson28 karma

  1. I thought it was a great cliffhanger. I mean, the machine has been compressed or some scrap of it that it will fit in a briefcase and that we know nothing--we have no idea if it can be reconstituted and if our heroes will be able to do anything.

  2. It's in the works!

  3. Haha, I wouldn't know. I don't open her mail.

deadfermata12 karma

Hello Michael!

I love your round spectacles. You look very awesome in them.

Question: What is your best strategy for memorizing your lines or things in general?

MichaelEmerson24 karma

I'm fortunate that, as I get older, my memory gets better. Knock on wood. I just memorize my lines for shows the same way I always memorized lines for plays. After you've learned huge roles for the stage, tv roles don't seem as intimidating, except for the technical material.

DoneAllWrong11 karma

What is your most unique experience from the acting world?

MichaelEmerson19 karma

Oh my goodness. I've got all kinds of interesting experiences. I had to learn to ride a horse in Mexico. I had to go on stage as an understudy in a Shakespeare play, which is terrifying. I've traveled, I've worked with famous actors here and there, I've had a Broadway opening night. Lots of great things. I've won some awards. Those are things you don't forget.

Mutt122311 karma

What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

MichaelEmerson30 karma

Anything that involves caramel. Haagen Dazs caramel cones, dulce de leche, that kind of stuff. Or any of these new things that have caramel and sea salt. That is a great combination.

sakuramomo11 karma

If Finch could bring the whole team to somewhere for a break, where would they like to go for a vacation?? :)

MichaelEmerson18 karma

They have so many interests. He likes baseball and libraries, I don't know where you would get them both. He already lives in New York City. Maybe he would take them to an Asian country where baseball is popular. Japan, for example. That might be good.

rmperson10 karma

How do you feel about the new bacon flavored seaweed scientists discovered?

MichaelEmerson20 karma

I have not read about it. My gut reaction is that I'll stick with the food I already know.

thomixer10 karma

How did you prepare for your role in TDKR, and how did voice acting differ from an on-screen performance? What was easier, what was more difficult?

MichaelEmerson18 karma

It was hard work, I have to say. Being alone in a booth with a tough director and having to deliver the goods repeatedly, and I was being pushed to take it further. I thought it was a real challenge as an actor. I imagine there are actors who would find that work uncomfortable. I was grateful to have the experience, but whether I could do it full time--I don't know. The whole story has to be told with your voice. You can't use your body or your face. It's really an interesting process.

Fringenos10 karma

Michael, you probably get this kind of question often but.. have you ever considered joining Twitter so your fans can keep and get in touch with you more easily? It's understandable if you don't want to, just curious.

MichaelEmerson20 karma

I have mixed feelings about social networking. And I don't know when I would have the time to maintain it. Maybe one day, when my life is less busy.

GenericVillain10 karma

I've read that Hugh Laurie has a problem with walking normally after playing House (who walked with a limp). Assuming that you have no gait impediment in real life, are you worried about the same problem?

MichaelEmerson14 karma

Well, I chose the limp for Harold Finch fairly carefully, to make sure it was something I could do a lot without messing up my body. Although there are times. The limp is great when I'm walking, but if I have to limp-run, that gets tough very quickly, and I've had some pain from that over the years.

jweems909 karma

Hello Mr. Emerson been a fan of yours for many years love the work you do. My question is would you try broadway again? I've read that you and your wife have both worked in Theater in the days before becoming huge TV stars.

MichaelEmerson11 karma

It would be lovely to be on a Broadway stage again, if it's the right play. I hope that happens.

dengevili9 karma

Hello! Besides acting, what other talents do you have? And would you like to show them to Your fans?

MichaelEmerson17 karma

Well, most of my skills are something to do with performance and text. I can draw pictures pretty well. When I was a young man I thought about being an archeologist, and if I ever get a third career in this life, I might make a study of something ancient or historical. But no, I don't have a lot of other interesting skills, I'm afraid.

Trueogre8 karma

Do you still draw? You have some beautiful work.

I love your character on POI, such a tortured soul trying to do good.

MichaelEmerson13 karma

I don't draw anymore, but I still do a lot of design for things around the house. Doors and furniture and renovations, things like that. I just find it's easier to communicate your ideas with a drawing than it is to explain it in words.

crocoduckhunter8 karma

What are some of your favorite roles/memories from acting at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival?

MichaelEmerson11 karma

The best part I played in Alabama, I played Lady Wishfort in Congreve's The Way of the World. It's a drag role, or at least it was in my case. It was about as much fun as I've ever had on stage. I've played a lot of great roles there. And Alabama is the place I had to go on as Iago in Othello when the actor got sick, and I hadn't even rehearsed it.

BobReesJr7 karma

Hi Michael, How did you like Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa?

I took some evening Data Processing classes there back in 1986. I wasn't too impressed with my instructors.

How did you like your instructors/professors and do you keep in touch with them?


Bob Rees, Jr.

MichaelEmerson12 karma

It was so many years ago that I went to Drake. 40 years. It seemed like a good school at the time, I think they had a good theater department. I learned a lot there. I had a good education, and an even better social education. I'm not really in touch with anyone I went to Drake with, which is sad.

AGallagher4106 karma

What's your favorite ride in Disney? Thank you for being an inspiration to many. You are very talented!

MichaelEmerson18 karma

It's been a long, long time since I've been to an amusement park like that. I remember one where you ride around in the dark--this was in Orlando, I've never been to the one in California--I think it was called Space Mountain?

But I won't be going on any more roller coasters.

jerbookins4 karma

In your description, you mention that you started acting late in life. I didn't know this about you, but I did know that you transitioned from stage acting to screen acting. Which do you like more, apart from the obvious perks? How did you transition from being an illustrator to a stage actor? When did you decide to quit your day job, so to speak?

MichaelEmerson9 karma

Oh, gosh. That's a lot of questions. I suppose the stage will always be closest to my heart. I guess that's because it's where I learned how to act. I love the traditions of the stage and the rituals of it, and the event of it. And the live audience--that electricity that goes between the audience and the performer on the stage. There's nothing quite like that.