American actor Michael Emerson appeared in many stage productions before being shot to fame with his Emmy Award winning guest role of a suspected serial killer on the ABC legal drama “The Practice” (2001). However, the Shakespearean actor did not become a household name until he was cast as the manipulative leader of the mysterious Others, Ben Linus, on the popular fantasy series “Lost,” a role he has played since 2006. In addition to overnight success, the show also brought Emerson two Emmy nominations, two Satellite nominations, a Saturn Award (plus two nominations) and a Teen Choice nomination. Talking about his character on the show, he said, “I don’t know that he’s any more a villain than he ever was, to tell you the truth. I’m still holding out hope that when the details of his real mission are revealed, we’re going to think he’s a little more heroic than we have.”
Emerson is also recognized for playing supporting roles in such movies as “The Impostors” (1998) “Playing by Heart” (1998), “For Love of the Game” (1999), “The Laramie Project” (2002), “Saw” (2004) and “The Legend of Zorro” (2005). Always a hit on stage, Emerson acted in such Broadway productions as “Iceman Cometh,” “Hedda Gabler,” “Tartuffe” and in other productions like “Gross Indecency: The Trials of Oscar Wilde,” “The Importance of Being Earnest,” “The Misanthrope,” “Hamlet,” “Someone Who'll Watch Over Me,” “Bach at Leipzig” and “Every Good Boy Deserves Favor.” “I've been blessed by doing classic plays on Broadway, which was one of my great dreams forever,” he confessed.
Emerson has supported charities related to the theater community for a long time. Among them are Broadway Cares, the Actors Fund, and Off-Off Broadway.
5' 8” Emerson has been married twice. His first marriage lasted from 1986 to 1993. He is now the husband of actress Carrie Preston, whom he married in 1998.
Childhood and Family:
Born on September 7, 1954, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Michael Emerson was raised in Toledo, Iowa. He graduated from South Tama County High School in Tama, Iowa. He went on to study theater and art at Drake University in Iowa and after graduating in 1976, moved to New York to try his hand at acting. When unable to work as an actor, Emerson worked retail jobs and as a freelance illustrator for newspapers like “The New York Times” and “The Boston Globe.” In 1986, he got married and shortly thereafter, moved to Jacksonville, Florida, with his wife to start a new life. He would stay there until his marriage ended in 1993. While living in Florida, he performed in local theater productions and worked as a director and teacher at Flagler College. Michael considered giving up acting in favor of teaching, but instead attended the MFA program at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, which was sponsored by the University of Alabama. After graduating in 1995, he returned to New York to try his luck with acting once more.
In September 1998, Michael married actress Carrie Preston (born on June 21, 1967), whom he met on the set of a stage production of “Hamlet.” Since the wedding, the couple has acted together in such movies as “The Journey” (1997) and “Straight-Jacket” (2004) and in an episode of “Lost” called “The Man Behind the Curtain,” where Carrie played the mother of Ben Linus.
After a failed first attempt in New York City, Iowa's Drake University graduate Michael Emerson spent seven years in Jacksonville, Florida, where he began acting again and worked various jobs. He appeared in such productions as “Othello,” “Noises Off,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Importance of Being Earnest,” “Parts Unknown” and “Hamlet.” His television acting debut came in 1990 when he landed the role of a clown in the TNT TV film “Orpheus Descending,” opposite Kevin Anderson and Vanessa Redgrave.
Emerson left Florida in 1993 to enter the MFA program at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival (University of Alabama). After completing his studies in 1995, the former illustrator once again moved to New York and performed in the annual Alabama Shakespeare Festival showcase, including “The Tempest” (as Ferdinand), “The Way of the World,” “All's Well That Ends Well,” “Henry IV, Part 1,” “A Christmas Carol” and “Androcles and the Lion.” 1995 also saw him in the Arkansas Repertory Theatre production of Peter Shaffer's “Amadeus.”
Emerson's hard work paid off when he was cast in his breakthrough role of Oscar Wilde in the Moises Kaufman critically acclaimed off-Broadway play “Gross Indecency: The Trials of Oscar Wilde” (1997). The performance won him sparkling reviews. Roles in films soon followed and he received supporting roles in Harish Saluja's “The Journey” (1997), in which he appeared alongside future second wife Carrie Preston, Staley Tucci's “The Impostors” (1998) and Willard Carroll's “Playing by Heart” (1998, starred Angelina Jolie and Sean Connery). He then offered a memorable performance as a gallery doorman in Sam Raimi's “For Love of the Game” (1999), which starred Kevin Costner, Kelly Preston, John C. Reilly and J.K. Simmons. Emerson also returned to TV in the CBS Original Film “Grace & Glorie” (1998), which starred Diane Lane and Gena Rowlands.
Returning to the off-Broadway stage, Emerson costarred with Uma Thurman in “The Misanthrope” (1998) and Kevin Spacey, Tony Danza, Paul Giamatti, and Robert Sean-Leonard in the award winning Broadway revival of Eugene O'Neill's play, “The Iceman Cometh” (1999). He also worked with Kate Burton in the off-Broadway production of Brian Friel's “Give Me Your Answer, Do,” playing David Knigh, and in the Williamstown Festival staging of “Hedda Gabler” (2000). After runs in Boston and Washington D.C., “Hedda Gabler” was brought to Broadway in 2001 with Emerson reprising his role of George Tesman.
Also during 2000 and 2001, Emerson played the noteworthy recurring role of William Hinks, a serial killer, in six episodes of the David E. Kelley-created series “The Practice.” For his effort, Emerson was handed a 2001 Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series. He stated, “It worries me a little bit, the reach and power of TV. More people saw me in 'The Practice' than will ever see me in all the stage plays I ever do, which is sort of humbling, or troubling, or both.”
Emerson next received guest roles in “The Education of Max Bickford” (2001), “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (2002, as Gerry Rankin), “The X Files” (2002) and “Without a Trace” (2002). He also briefly appeared in the Sundance-premiered “The Laramie Project” (2002), which was directed and written by Moisés Kaufman, and the Richard Gere/Diane Lane thriller “Unfaithful” (2002, as Josh).
After guest spots in “Skin” and “Whoopi” (both 2003), Emerson offered a strong supporting portrayal of a sexually ambiguous orderly named Zep Hindle in the cruel horror film “Saw” (2004), opposite Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell and Monica Potter. He then appeared as Victor in Richard Day's drama “Straight-Jacket” (2004), costarring wife Carrie Preston and Matt Letscher. In between the films, he appeared as Allan Shaye in the “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” episode “Ritual” (2004).
Emerson was next directed by his wife in the comedy film “29th and Gay” (2005), portrayed a fundamentalist Christian assassin named Harrigan in Martin Campbell's “The Legend of Zorro” (2005) and costarred with Bryan Chafin in “Jumping Off Bridges” (2006), a drama directed and written by Kat Candler. On TV, he made a guest appearance in a 2005 episode of the short-lived Fox show “The Inside.”
Emerson did not enjoy a massive breakthrough until he won the role of Benjamin Linus in the second season of J.J. Abrams' serial drama “Lost” in early 2006. Originally contracted to play Ben (Henry Gale) for three episodes, he was so impressive that producers turned him into a key character in season three. Emerson’s acting in the series brought him a 2007 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, an honor he received again the following year, and a 2008 Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor on Television. He also received two Saturn nominations for Best Supporting Actor in Television (2007, 2009), two Satellite nominations for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television (2006, 2007), and a 2007 Teen Choice nomination for Choice TV: Villain. Talking about the cast on “Lost,” he stated, “Yeah, it's funny, working on a show with as large a cast as we have here, your work gets sort of compartmentalized. There's still about half the cast that I've never had a scene with, but I have missed working with Terry (O'Quinn). I think there might be something coming up where we get to do some scene work together.”
In 2008, Emerson was reunited with his wife in the comedy “Ready? OK!” He also continued to appear on stage and was seen in “Tartuffe” (2003), “Measure for Measure” (2003), “Someone Who'll Watch Over Me” (2004), “Hamlet” (2005), “Bach at Leipzig” (2005), “Likeness” (2008) and “Every Good Boy Deserves Favor” (2008).
Saturn: Best Supporting Actor on Television, “Lost,” 2008
Emmy: Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series, “The Practice,” 2001 (for playing William Hinks)