Michael Emerson calls it stillness, a trait he’s developed as an actor that audiences are instinctively drawn to.
Whether on Broadway or broadcast television — where Emerson can be seen on ABC’s “Lost” as the creepiest of the Others — he has the ability to create tension with only the slightest head movement or, sometimes, just by blinking.
“Audiences react to something. Maybe it’s those intense eyeball-to-eyeball scenes, which have a lot of nuance,” Emerson says from Hawaii, just a few days after shooting the final episode of the cult-followed series before heading back to his Gotham home. “I continue to play the role instinctively, and that (creepiness) is what people think of me.”
It was on the same Alphabet network that many first became aware of Emerson’s innate talent to frighten. As stalker William Hinks on a six-episode arc of “The Practice” in 2001, the Iowa-born actor won the Emmy for guest performance in a drama.
He says the perf caught the attention of casting directors and opened up more auditions, but it didn’t fast-track him to a higher level of stardom.
“People knew who I was,” Emerson says of his “Practice” turn. “It was something to talk about, but it didn’t change the fabric of my career in a big way.”
But it was from that role that Emerson became Henry Gale on “Lost.” When series exec producer and co-creator Damon Lindelof was looking to cast the role of a man who can be menacing and conniving yet seemingly trustworthy and persuasive, he immediately thought of Emerson.
After getting the call to come onboard, Emerson asked his wife — a huge fan of the show — to bring him up to speed on the plot. Soon after, he was on a plane heading to the islands.
“You fly halfway around the world and show up in a jungle,” is how he describes his indoctrination to the show. He’s first introduced to viewers trapped in a dangling net in a dense forest. “We didn’t sit down and chat about (the character). I get there, and suddenly I was hanging from a tree. We winged it.”
A stage actor by trade, Emerson admits many of his brethren often look down upon TV work as too superficial, without any depth. But he considers “Lost” a find — and is content on being on the island for an indefinite period of time.
“I always have in the back of my mind that nothing lasts forever.”
Favorite moment of the past season?
“I like the intense scenes, maybe the one where I was bound and chained to the floor. And it was fun to play the scene where they let me out of the cell and have breakfast with them.”
“I try to see as many ‘Law & Order’ episodes as possible because I know so many of the New York actors. It’s a way to keep up with friends.”
Actors that don’t get enough credit?
“Not sure about that now but it used to be Paul Giamatti. He gives hope to us non-leading men and slightly eccentric actors who are skillful but don’t get leading parts.”