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Michael Emerson Talks About Person of Interest

Michael Emerson from Person of Interest

Photo courtesy WGN America

If you missed the boat the first time around with Person of Interest on CBS, you have a chance to catch up on the series again. WGN America has added the show to its daily rotation as part of it’s Prime Crime line-up alongside another CBS hit Elementary. On Person of Interest, Michael Emerson, best know for playing Ben Linus on Lost, plays a good guy this time around.

His character, Harold Finch has invented a surveillance machine for the U.S. Government in an attempt to foil terrorist plots. But Harold and his partner John Reese (played by Jim Caviezel) use the discarded numbers to save those whose lives are in danger from non-terrorist related activities.

The advantage of starting this show fresh four years after it first hit the airwaves is that what used to seem like far-fetched science fiction is now a reality. Artificial Intelligence is no longer a thing of dreams, but a point of argument for those on both sides of how far we can go with the technology.

In a recent conference call interview Michael Emerson admitted, “I confess that when I read or hear stuff about developments at Google’s AI laboratory or something, I find it a little hair raising to know that we’re on the trail of something so life altering or species altering.” But when Season 1 first aired in 2011, many criticized the show as creating this world that could not exist in reality.

Another challenge for the series was getting past Michael’s belovedly evil Lost persona to play the hero. But it was one Michael was happy to take on. He recalled, “It always seemed clear to me what Mr. Finch was like. I don’t think there was a lot of experimentation required. I felt right about it when we shot the pilot. I had to think about the physical handicap carefully, because I knew if the show was a success, I’d be doing it for a long, long time. But the character seemed fairly plain to me on the page, and of course it’s gotten, you know, richer and more nuanced as we’ve gone along and thought about it and lived in it and walked around with it. So it’s been, for me, a happy actor experience.”

The actor did not have anyone particular in mind when he took on the complex role of Harold Finch. He stated, “It’s not based on anyone. It’s fully made up by me… Usually you find someone that inspires your take on the character. I did go online and I looked at men who were titans of technology, you know, giving talks and stuff, TED talks and stuff. And none of them had anything that I thought I could use. None of them showed me a way into the playing of the character. So then I just kind of made it up on my own to tell you the truth.

For the viewers who have been fans from the start, there is one more season left to air on CBS, which will premiere in the mid-season of 2015-2016. Michael reveals that there is more to lean about the good professor. “Because the character has been evolving over the course of four seasons, there’s still a lot we don’t know about him. And I’m interested in that journey, moving forward.”

He continues, “I’m interested in the kinds of problem solving that the narrative imposes on Mr. Finch, personal problems, philosophical problems, practical problems. There seems to be a fairly inexhaustible list of them, and its fun to tackle. And I don’t think we have, by any means, run out of material.”

The largest moral issue facing Finch in Season 5 centers around the machine and just how much power it should or should not have. He ponders, “If we are to revive the Machine — and, of course, we would like to do that — what kind of checks and balances will it include, if any? Must it be completely unfettered if it is to go head-to-head with Samaritan? Is that desirable? Where does that take us ultimately? And it’s fun. It’ll be a battle of philosophies between Mr. Finch and Root, who has a different perspective. And that’s going to be one of the chief pleasures of Season 5.”

Tune in to WGN America’s Crime Time line up with Person of Interest and Elementary back-to-back at 7 p.m. EST/6 p.m. Central.

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