Mild-Mannered Alum Only Seems Evil

This Mild-Mannered Drake Alum Becomes a Menacing Force of Evil

Years before he was decapitating victims on “The Practice” and manipulating the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 on “Lost,” two-time Emmy Award-winning actor Michael Emerson, AS’76, could be found on the Drake campus.

Emerson graduated in 1976 with a degree in theater arts, which gave him the foundation he needed to begin his career and earn his MFA in 1995 from the professional actor training program run by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and The University of Alabama Department of Theater and Dance.

“I remember having great acting classes at Drake with Mike Barton,” Emerson says. “The bulk of the really good shows were under his direction. If I had a mentor, it would be him.”

CHANGING TYPECASTS While at school, Emerson found himself cast in similar roles on the stage. “I was a skinny little bespectacled guy with a funny voice, so I was cast as an old man a lot,” he says. “It taught me that a character has a particular physicality and a particular way of speaking.”

He can’t really explain how he made the transition from old man to serial killer William Hinks on “The Practice” and later Benjamin Linus on “Lost,” but each of those sinister bad guy performances earned him an Emmy Award.

“It continues to surprise me. I always thought if I won a major award it would be a Tony,” he says. “It’s flattering to get those awards because it’s good to know that the industry thinks you have arrived and are performing at the top of your craft. It’s a bit dizzying, though. The attention is intense.”

IN THE DARK Originally slated to appear in only a few episodes during the second season of “Lost,” Emerson impressed the writers with his portrayal of the morally ambiguous and delightfully disturbing Linus. The character has since evolved into the main antagonist of the show.

Easily one of the most complicated programs on television, Emerson describes “Lost” simply as “a parable about sin and redemption played out in the form of an action/adventure story.”

But don’t go asking Emerson for answers; he’s just as much in the dark as the fans. “It’s better that way. I’m not burdened with all the secrets.”

The TV series is wrapping up this season, after which Emerson hopes to return to the theater. “It’s where I’m most comfortable,” he says. “I love doing great plays and tackling difficult scripts.”

— Meagan Savage, Class of 2010

More Photos:

Photo of Michael Emerson on island Photo of Michael Emerson on a tv show Photo of Michael Emerson on set of Lost

2 Responses to “Mild-Mannered Alum Only Seems Evil”

  1. virginia from Argentina Reply 07. Apr, 2010 at 3:49 am

    he’s a great actor. we have to thank LOST to give us the chance to know his works….

    greetings from a big fan of lost from Argentina.

  2. It is so exciting to see Michael achieve so much success. He was an amazingly talented fellow actor at Drake and I’m so proud that we were both in the Theatre Arts Class of 1976 – the very first class to “live” all 4 years in the Harmon Fine Arts Center.