Interview: Michael Emerson: The Other Illustrator
by Scott Juba
Published: June 14, 2006
Lost’s infamous “Other,” Henry Gale, has been described as being many things, but heroic isn’t one of them. Yet, that doesn’t change the approach Michael Emerson, the actor whose eerily convincing performances bring the creepy character to life, takes when portraying Henry. “I always try to make my characters as heroic as I can,” Emerson says, “even if they do bad things.”
Throughout the course of the second season, viewers’ perceptions of Gale changed dramatically. After first being led to believe he crashed on the island in a hot-air balloon, viewers learned Gale has a leadership role among the “Others,” a mysterious group on the island that has tormented the castaways.
Emerson says he expects the understanding fans have of Gale will once again change during season three. “I think our entire perception of the Others and who they are and what their mission is will be broken wide open. I don’t have any particulars on that, because I haven’t seen any of the scripts, but I think we’re going to go live among them. I think it’s going to be surprising.”
He adds, “There’s another layer of reality going on with the Others, and I think we may be introduced to that.”
Although most view Gale as Lost’s main villain, Emerson is quick to point out that Gale has suffered more abuse than anyone on the show. “I have been bound, gagged, shot with arrows and tortured with pliers. It’s just one thing after another. Then people say, ‘You’re so scary.’ I guess he’s scary in that he’s a scary victim [laughs].”
So, what’s the real reason people fear Gale? “We just don’t understand his mission,” Emerson explains.
When Lost producers offered Emerson the part of Gale, he says he believed he would only serve a short stint on the series. During the filming of the scene in which Gale spoke to Sayid about the leader of the “Others,” Emerson began to suspect his part would take on increased significance. The director told Emerson he wanted to re-shoot the scene, except this time with Emerson appearing more fearful at the mention of the leader. Emerson recalls, “I said, ‘That sounds great. Except, what if I’m him?’ The director looked at me with a blank look and said, ‘I can’t talk about that.’”
With the expanded importance of Emerson’s character, he will be a regular cast member on Lost in season three. Even though that means he’ll be spending most of his time in Hawaii, this accomplished theatre actor says he still hopes to find time to perform in front of live audiences as well. “I’ll do theatre whenever I can get it,” he says with enthusiasm. “I know after a full season in Honolulu, I’ll be itching to find some stage work. I’m trying to figure out ways to keep my hand in it while we’re shooting the season. Maybe I can talk some of the other cast members into doing Sunday afternoon theatrical readings. It could be a little community theatre group. [laughs].”
While Emerson’s impressive multi-layered performances on Lost may lead people to believe he’s never had trouble finding acting jobs, Emerson almost didn’t make it as an actor. “My road to becoming an actor is the most round about route to arrive at an actor’s life,” he tells me. “It’s actually my second career. I always wanted to be an actor, but when I graduated college in the Midwest, I came right to New York, and it just knocked the wind out of me. I didn’t know what hit me. I couldn’t even begin to figure out how to have a life as an actor.”
With his acting career in limbo, Emerson became a magazine illustrator. “Illustrating was something I’d always been good at and somehow felt less tender about…I feel like the time wasn’t wasted, because there are a whole lot of parallels between these two crafts. I did get a work ethic and an aesthetic during the course of that work that has served me fairly well during my life as an actor.”
Only when Emerson left New York and ventured to the south did he find his way to a career in acting. He says, “I started doing community theatre in Florida, and I’ve been working my way back to New York ever since then.”
Now that his acting career has led him to Lost, Emerson’s compelling performances present a clear picture of how great acting can enhance an already intriguing drama.