Michael Emerson: ‘It’s a techno noir thriller’

In Channel 5’s new US crime drama, Person of Interest, reclusive billionaire Harold Finch (Michael Emerson) teams up with former CIA agent John Reese (Jim Caviezel) to bring vigilante justice to the streets of New York, using state-of-the-art surveillance technology to stop crime before it happens. Here former Lost star Michael gives us the lowdown…

What attracted you to the role of Finch?

“I’m a great fan of JJ Abrams and when I was working on Lost I truly felt like one of his company of actors. So when it came to looking for the next thing to do I said: ‘Well, surely you guys have something else lying around?’ Because they always have something brilliant cooking in the back room and he said: ‘We have these couple of scripts, we didn’t know if you’d be interested, but take a look.’ So I read this pilot for Person Of Interest and it jumped off the page at me and that’s a feeling that I trust.

“It’s a kind of techno noir vision of New York City, it had thrills about it and it seemed like it could be a stylish piece. I like things that happen at night and being a New Yorker myself I thought how great it would to be able to film in the city and then go home and sleep in my own bed at night.”

Did you worry about being typecast after Lost?

“Well, I didn’t work for a year or more after Lost because I thought what I do next has to be something different – but then you have to be realistic about the kinds of roles that you’re right for. I tend to play talkers and I also have a skill at playing ambiguity or a bit of mystery, which I do enjoy.”

So are there any similarities between Finch and Lost’s Benjamin Linus?

“I do think there is a trace of Benjamin Linus in this character, but I am happy that there are enough differences to make the work exciting for me. This character is obviously a good guy and he doesn’t have moral ambiguity, but he does have doubts about his mission, he has doubts about justice, and about the technology. But he has the interest of being an invisible person, a recluse and a cripple, so there was lots to chew on that was different to what I’d done before.”

There’s a real sense of mystery about the characters in the series… Do you believe that will draw viewers in?

“The writers have been very smart about doling out the back-story and fleshing out the characters because we want to know more about them. At the same time we don’t want to grow over-familiar with them, we want them to be a bit edgy and a bit unknowable. They’ve walked that line pretty well so far.”

There’s a lot of technology in the show, are you a techie person yourself?

“No, I’m not sure whether I should confess this, because I am one of the least techie people in the world. I completely depend on my wife Kerry to help me figure out the TV or the stereo or even the simplest kinds of things on my laptop.”

How was it filming on the streets of New York?

“The logistics of filming in New York are hard and it’s almost impossible to lock down your set and people are constantly wandering into shot unaware, because sometimes we are shooting with small cameras or the cameras might be over a block away. When we were filming the pilot Jim and I were walking on a very crowded stretch of 6th Avenue by Radio City and he was made up like a homeless man, the cameras were far away and fans of Lost were coming up trying to talk to me and Jim was shooing them away. The look of surprise and confusion on their faces was so great because you could see them thinking – what’s up with Emerson? Why has he got a homeless man as a bodyguard?!”

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