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Michael Emerson


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Michael Emerson (born September 7, 1954)[1] is an American actor who is perhaps best known for his roles as Benjamin Linus on Lost and fictional serial killer William Hinks in The Practice. He currently co-stars in the CBS series Person of Interest as Harold Finch.

Early life

Emerson was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and grew up in the nearby town of Toledo, where he attended South Tama County High School. In 1976, after graduating from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where he studied theater and art,[2] he moved to New York City. Unable to find acting work, he took retail jobs and worked as a freelance illustrator.[3] In 1986, he moved with his first wife to Jacksonville, Florida. There, from 1986 to 1993, he appeared in local productions at Theater Jacksonville and The Players by the Sea and worked as a director and teacher at Flagler College.


Emerson considered forgoing a career in acting in favor of a more stable vocation in teaching[citation needed]. He decided to instead further his studies with a Master of Fine Arts that might also introduce him to theatre professionals and directors in his chosen trade. In 1993, he enrolled in the Alabama Shakespeare Festival's University of Alabama-sponsored Master of Fine Arts/Professional Actor Training program; and, upon graduating in 1995, he returned to New York where he appeared in the annual Alabama Shakespeare Festival showcase.

Emerson got a starring role in 1997 as Oscar Wilde in Moises Kaufman's critically acclaimed off-Broadway play, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde and then followed up with several other notable stage performances. In 1998, he performed opposite Uma Thurman in the off-Broadway production of Le Misanthrope. In 1999, he played the part of Willie Oban in The Iceman Cometh with Kevin Spacey. He co-starred with Kate Burton in both Give Me Your Answer, Do! and Hedda Gabler.

In 2001, Emerson won an Emmy Award as "Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series", for playing the (fictional) confessed serial killer William Hinks in several episodes of The Practice.

In 2006, Emerson began a guest-star role as Benjamin Linus on the serial drama television series Lost. This casting was a result of his work on The Practice because the Lost producers liked his work there and thought he was a good fit for the character they were developing.[4] Emerson was originally set to appear in a small number of episodes, then returned for Season 3 as a main cast member and eventually became a main antagonist of the program. He received an Emmy nomination in the "Outstanding Supporting Actor" category in 2007 for his work in the third season and was nominated again in 2008 for his role in the fourth season. He won the award in 2009 after being nominated for his role in the fifth season[citation needed]. Emerson was nominated in 2009 for a Golden Globe in the "Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role" category. He was nominated for an Emmy for each season in which he was listed in the main cast[citation needed].

Emerson met actress Carrie Preston (graduate of the prestigious drama programs from The University of Evansville and Juilliard), while he was performing in a stage production of Hamlet in Alabama.[3] They married in September 1998, and both Emerson and his wife starred in Straight-Jacket (2004). On Lost, Preston portrayed Emily Linus, Emerson's character's mother, in the flashback sequences of the episode "The Man Behind the Curtain".[4] The two teamed up again, with Emerson portraying Preston's gay next-door neighbor, in the film Ready? OK! (2008). According to a recent interview, Emerson is also interested in making a guest appearance with Preston on the TV series True Blood, where she plays waitress Arlene.[5]

On July 31, 2010, Emerson and Preston read A. R. Gurney's Love Letters, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, at the Charleston Stage. They performed it as a fundraiser for the Stage, a South Carolina theatre. The reading was followed by a brief and intimate Question and Answer session.[6]

Emerson was set to reunite with former Lost cast member and friend, Terry O'Quinn, in a comedy-drama tentatively titled Odd Jobs, by J.J Abrams. It was expected to start filming by the end of 2010, but further development of the show has been postponed. Emerson has since joined the cast of another Abrams series, Person of Interest that debuted in September 2011 CBS. He plays a billionaire who teams up with a supposedly dead CIA agent to fight crime in New York City.[7]


He is a long-time supporter of the charities connected to the theatre community, including the Actors Fund, Broadway Cares, Gay Men's Health Crisis, and Off-Off Broadway, in addition to publicly supported radio stations and Habitat.[1][8]


FilmYearFilmRoleNotes1997The JourneyMichael1998The ImpostorsBurtom's AssistantPlaying by HeartBosco1999For Love of the GameGallery Doorman2002The Laramie ProjectReverendUnfaithfulJosh2004SawZep HindleStraight-JacketVictor200529th and GayGorillaThe Legend of ZorroHarrigan2006Jumping Off BridgesFrank Nelson2008Ready? OK!Charlie New2010Goldstar, OhioSteve HarperTelevisionYearTitleRoleNotes1990Orpheus DescendingClownTV movie1998Grace & GlorieArnold DudleyTV movie2000The DistrictMan in BarEpisode: "Pilot"2000–2001The PracticeWilliam Hinks6 episodes2001The Education of Max BickfordUnknown roleEpisode: "Herding Carts"Sounds from a Town I LoveUnknown roleTV movie2002Law & Order: Criminal IntentGerry RankinEpisode: "Phantom"The X-FilesOliver MartinEpisode: "Sunshine Days"2003Without a TraceStuart WesmarEpisode: "Victory for Humanity"SkinScarpelliEpisode: "Secrets & Lies"WhoopiF. Thomas EricksonEpisode: "The Fat and the Frivolous"2004Law & Order: Special Victims UnitAllan ShayeEpisode: "Ritual"2005The InsideMarty ManningEpisode: "Pre-Filer"2006–2010LostBen LinusRecurring character (season 2); Series regular (seasons 3-6)2010Front LineJohn WinthropEpisode: "God In America"2011-Odd JobsTBA2011-Person of InterestMr. FinchSeries regularG.I. Joe: RenegadesDoctor VenomEpisode: "The Anaconda Strain"Generator RexAlpha NaniteBen 10/Generator Rex: Heroes United


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Michael Emerson


Michael Emerson won an Emmy Award and earned a Golden Globe nomination for his nuanced performance as Benjamin Linus in the critically acclaimed series, "Lost," proving that being a bad guy can pay off.

More recently, Emerson guest starred on "Parenthood" to great acclaim, playing Amazing Andy, a smart-yet-socially-awkward autistic man hired to entertain at a children's party.

Raised in a small farming community in Iowa, Emerson fell in love with theater while watching a high school production of "Arsenic and Old Lace." His first public success was in the role of a Swedish lumberjack at the state Speech and Debate competition (Humorous Declamation division). He attended Drake University on a scholarship where he majored in Theater. Emerson's slight frame and piercing voice allowed him to specialize in playing old men and eccentrics.

After graduation, Emerson moved from Des Moines to New York, where he struggled to find the path to a professional acting career. Desperate to find some creative line of work, he took classes and began work as a magazine illustrator …quot; a craft he pursued for many years with work published in The Boston Globe and The New York Times. Eventually, his dream of acting could be deferred no longer, and he auditioned for a production of "Othello" in Jacksonville, Fla. Emerson spent the next five years doing plays in various Southern capitals, supplementing his income with work as a landscaper, carpenter, teacher and director.

Eventually, he enrolled in the MFA program at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery. There, while doing a production of "Hamlet," he met Carrie Preston, his future wife. Preston lived in New York, and he once again found himself heading to the "Big Apple." After a slow start, Emerson got his break as the lead in Moises Kaufman's "Gross Indecency," which was acclaimed on both coasts. His portrayal of Oscar Wilde caught the attention of casting directors and he has since appeared in numerous projects for both stage and screen. Emerson made his Broadway debut in 1999 in "The Iceman Cometh," and went on to appear in "Hedda Gabler," opposite Kate Burton. Since then, he's appeared in a number of Off-Broadway and regional stages.

Emerson made his television debut playing serial-killer William Hinks on "The Practice," winning the 2001 Emmy Award for Best Guest Performance in a Dramatic Series. His other television credits include guest appearances on "Without a Trace," on the Network, "Law & Order," "The X-Files" and a role in the acclaimed cable film "The Laramie Project."

On the big screen, Emerson is most often recognized for his roles in "Saw," "The Legend of Zorro," "The Imposters" and "Straight Jacket." In 2008, he received critical acclaim for his role in "READY? OK!," a story of a gay teen's struggle for acceptance by his family and community.

Emerson is keen on Shakespeare and classical theater, drawing and ghost stories. He supports Off-Broadway theater and theater community charities (Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Gay Men's Health Crisis), as well as publicly-supported radio stations. Emerson and his wife Carrie Preston live in New York City. Emerson's birth date is Sept. 7.

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