Five questions with Michael Emerson

Posted 12:27pm on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012

Michael Emerson

Michael Emerson never loses track of his cellphone these days. Not that he's paranoid that someone like his character on Person of Interest, a real-life Harold Finch, might hack in and steal information or stalk him. "I'm not overly worried about my security," the actor says. "I have so little to be private about." Still, after seeing what his character is capable of getting away with on Person of Interest (8 p.m. Thursday, CBS), Emerson has decided it's smart to be cautious with technology. "This show has made me more conscious of the surveillance dimension of our lives," Emerson says. "I can't forget how easy it is for someone to turn our phones and our laptops into listening and tracking devices and use them against us."

1 How technologically savvy are you in real life?

Not very. So Jonah [Nolan] and Greg [Plageman], the head writers, gave me a book, The Watchers, which is sort of an insider's nonfiction history of big-government surveillance systems that were developed in the 1990s and early 2000s. It was sobering to learn how sophisticated they were and how clueless I was that all of this was going on.

2 What's the story behind Mr. Finch's awkward limp?

There was stage direction in the pilot script suggesting a physical infirmity. So this is what I came up with: a limp and a stiff spine. It's relatively easy to do and it's not too physically punishing. What's odd, though, is when we do the flashback scenes, when I don't have those injuries, it's hard for me to put down the limp. Because I'm like a trained dog. As soon as they say action, I automatically stiffen up.

3 Speaking of trained dogs, Finch has a canine sidekick this season. Didn't you ever hear the old Hollywood saying about acting with kids and animals being a bad idea?

W.C. Fields was absolutely right. Any time someone is behaving fictionally and someone else, like a baby or a dog, is just being, the audience will inevitably be more interested in the person who is just being. Somehow they're more real. But I don't mind being upstaged. The real problem is that dogs and babies have to be tricked or positioned or manipulated into giving something that appears to be natural for the camera.

4 Did you have anything to do with casting your actress wife, Carrie Preston, as your TV love interest?

I had nothing to do with it. Jonah called me one day and asked, 'Would you have any objection to us approaching your spouse to do a part on the show?' I said, 'Not at all. Go ahead. It would be fun.' It's exciting, but it makes for weird playing on the set.

5 Weird why? Shouldn't your history together make it easy to pretend to be in love with her?

You would think. But I find that it's a degree more complicated than to do the same scene with a stranger. Because first I have to turn off her "wifeness" on the set. We find ourselves giggling through scenes a lot.

-- David Martindale, Special to the Star-Telegram

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