Michael Emerson

Michael Emerson

Emerson at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con.
Born (1954-09-07) September 7, 1954
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, U.S.
Nationality American
Alma mater Drake University (B.A., Theater Arts, 1976)
University of Alabama (MFA, 1995) in the Alabama Shakespeare Festival acting program [1]
Occupation Actor
Years active 1986–present

Unnamed first wife (divorced) [2]

Carrie Preston (m. 1998)

Michael Emerson (born September 7, 1954)[3] is an American film and television character actor who is best known for his roles as serial killer William Hinks on The Practice, Benjamin Linus on Lost, Zep Hindle in the first Saw film, and Harold Finch on the CBS series Person of Interest. Emerson has also worked extensively in theater and narration. He has won two Primetime Emmy Awards and been nominated for three others, as well as receiving other awards and nominations. Emerson is married to actress Carrie Preston, who plays his fiancee, Grace Hendricks, in the series Person of Interest.

Early life

Emerson was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Carol (née Hansen) and Ronald H. Emerson.[4] He grew up in Toledo, Iowa, where he attended South Tama County High School. In 1976, after graduating from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where he studied theater and art, Emerson went to the University of Alabama seeking a Master of Fine Arts. After a semester at the National Theater Institute at The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center,[5] he moved to New York City. Unable to find acting work, he took retail jobs and worked as a freelance illustrator.[6] In 1986, he moved to Jacksonville, Florida, and here (from 1986–93) he appeared in local productions at Theater Jacksonville and The Players by the Sea and worked as a director and teacher at Flagler College. .

Emerson met actress Carrie Preston, while he was performing in a stage production of Hamlet in Alabama.[6] They married in September 1998, and both Emerson and his wife starred in Straight-Jacket (2004).


Emerson decided to further his studies with a Master of Fine Arts which might have helped to introduce him to theatre professionals and directors in his chosen trade. In 1993, he enrolled in the Alabama Shakespeare Festival's University of Alabama-sponsored Master of Fine Arts/Professional Actor Training program. Upon graduating in 1995, he returned to New York where he appeared in the annual Alabama Shakespeare Festival showcase.

Emerson got a starring role in 1997 as Oscar Wilde in Moises Kaufman's critically acclaimed off-Broadway play Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, and then followed up with several other notable stage performances. In 1998, he performed opposite Uma Thurman in an off-Broadway production of Le Misanthrope. In 1999, he played the role of Willie Oban in The Iceman Cometh. He co-starred with Kate Burton in both Give Me Your Answer, Do! and Hedda Gabler.

In September 2001, Emerson won an Emmy Award as "Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series", for playing serial killer William Hinks in several episodes of The Practice. In 2006, Emerson began a guest-star role as Benjamin Linus on the serial drama television series Lost.[7] Emerson was originally set to appear in a small number of episodes, then returned for Season 3 as a main cast member and eventually became a main antagonist of the program. He received an Emmy Award nomination in the "Outstanding Supporting Actor" category in 2007 and 2008 for his work in the third and fourth seasons, respectively. He finally won the award in 2009 after being nominated for his role in the fifth season.[8]

Emerson was nominated in 2009 for a Golden Globe in the "Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role" category. He was nominated for an Emmy for each season in which he was listed in the main cast.[9]

On Lost, Preston portrayed Emily Linus, Emerson's character's mother, in the flashback sequences of the episode "The Man Behind the Curtain".[7] The two teamed up again, with Emerson portraying Preston's gay next-door neighbor, in the film Ready? OK! (2008).[10] Most recently, Preston appeared in several episodes of Person of Interest as Grace Hendricks, the former fiancée of Emerson's character, Harold Finch.

On July 31, 2010, Emerson and Preston read A.R. Gurney's Love Letters, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, at the Charleston Stage. They performed it as a fundraiser for the Stage, a South Carolina theatre. The reading was followed by a brief and intimate Question and Answer session.[11]

Michael Emerson filming Person of Interest in New York City

Emerson was set to reunite with former Lost cast member and friend Terry O'Quinn, in a comedy-drama tentatively titled Odd Jobs, by J.J. Abrams. It was expected to start filming by the end of 2010, but further development of the show has been postponed. Emerson joined the cast of another Abrams series, Person of Interest, that debuted in September 2011 on CBS. He played a billionaire who teams up with a supposedly dead CIA agent to fight crime in New York City.[12]


He is a long-time supporter of the charities connected to the theatre community, including the Actors Fund, Broadway Cares, and Off-Off Broadway, in addition to publicly supported radio stations and Habitat for Humanity.[3][13]



Year Title Role Notes
1997 The Journey Michael
1998 The Impostors Burtom's Assistant
1998 Playing by Heart Bosco
1999 I'll Take You There Tom
1999 For Love of the Game Gallery Doorman
2002 The Laramie Project Reverend
2002 Unfaithful Josh
2004 Saw Zep Hindle
2004 Straight-Jacket Victor
2005 Saw II Zep Hindle Uncredited; archive sound
2005 29th and Gay Gorilla
2005 The Legend of Zorro Harrigan
2006 Saw III Zep Hindle Uncredited; archive footage
2006 Jumping Off Bridges Frank Nelson
2008 Ready? OK! Charlie New
2010 Saw 3D Zep Hindle Uncredited; archive footage
2010 Goldstar, Ohio Steve Harper
2012 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 The Joker (voice) Straight-to-Video
2013 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 Straight-to-Video


Year Title Role Notes
1990 Orpheus Descending Clown Television movie
1998 Grace & Glorie Arnold Dudley Television movie
1999 Stark Raving Mad Mr. Putnam Episode: "The Psychic"
2000 The District Man in Bar Episode: "Pilot"
2000–2001 The Practice William Hinks 6 episodes
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series
2001 The Education of Max Bickford Unknown Episode: "Herding Carts"
2001 Sounds from a Town I Love Unknown Television movie
2002 Law & Order: Criminal Intent Gerry Rankin Episode: "Phantom"
2002 The X-Files Oliver Martin Episode: "Sunshine Days"
2003 Without a Trace Stuart Wesmar Episode: "Victory for Humanity"
2003 Skin Scarpelli Episode: "Secrets & Lies"
2003 Whoopi F. Thomas Erickson Episode: "The Fat and the Frivolous"
2004 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Allan Shaye Episode: "Ritual"
2005 The Inside Marty Manning Episode: "Pre-Filer"
2006–2010 Lost Ben Linus Main role, 79 episodes
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor on Television
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (2007–08, 2010)
Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film (2006–07)
Nominated—Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor on Television (2007, 2009–11)
Nominated—Teen Choice Award for Choice TV Villain
2007 Lost: Missing Pieces Ben Linus 2 episodes
2010 Front Line John Winthrop Episode: "God In America"
2011 Parenthood Andy Fitzgerald Episode: "Amazing Andy and His Wonderful World of Bugs"
2011 G.I. Joe: Renegades Doctor Venom Episode: "The Anaconda Strain"
2011 Generator Rex Alpha Nanite Episode: "Ben 10/Generator Rex Heroes United"
2011–2016 Person of Interest Harold Finch 103 episodes
2014 The Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements Narrator 3 episodes

Video games

Year Title Role Notes
2008 Lost: Via Domus Ben Linus (voice)


Other work


Primetime Emmy Awards:

Golden Globe Awards:

Saturn Awards:


  1. "Alumnus Michael Emerson wins Emmy Award for work in 'Lost'", Drake University Newsroom, October 5, 2009
  2. http://www.statedmag.com/articles/interview-actor-michael-emerson-of-lost-and-person-of-intere.html#
  3. 1 2 Michael Emerson profile, michaelemerson.net; accessed December 1, 2014.
  4. Profile, tamatoledonews.com; accessed December 1, 2014.
  5. Profile, drake.edu; accessed December 1, 2014.
  6. 1 2 Interview on The Morning Show with Mike & Juliet, March 8, 2007.
  7. 1 2 Audio commentary for "The Man Behind the Curtain, Season 3 DVD set of Lost.
  8. "Primetime Emmy Nominations for 2009". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved April 10, 2012.
  9. "Primetime Emmy Award Database". Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Retrieved April 10, 2012.
  10. "Ben Linus Wants A True Blood Cameo". Io9.com. 2009-03-18. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  11. Jackson, Erica (2010-08-03). "Prime-time stars chip in for Charleston Stage fundraiser". Charleston City Paper. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  12. Andreeva, Nellie (2010-02-16). "Lost'sMichael Emerson Reunites With J.J. Abrams In CBS Pilot Person Of Interest". tvline.com. Retrieved 2011-02-17.
  13. Biodata, beta.abc.go.com; accessed December 1, 2014.
  14. 1 2 Charlie Patton (1999-05-16). "If he can make it there...". The Florida Times-Union. Retrieved 2008-03-24.
  15. "Theatre Jacksonville, season 67". Theatre Jacksonville. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
  16. "Letters to the Editor, "Cheers for Michael"". First Coast Community. 1999-06-12. Retrieved 2008-03-30.
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Emerson's career took him through Montgomery". The Anniston Star. 2008-01-31. Retrieved 2008-03-15.
  18. 1 2 3 4 5 "Primetime Emmy® Award Database". Emmys.com. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  19. "HFPA - Nominations and Winners". Goldenglobes.org. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
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