Michael Emerson on How He Creates Characters and the Advice He Gives to Actors

“It’s not a race. You don’t have to get there first. Yes, someone you went to college with has just won an Oscar, and you can’t get arrested… do not despair. It is a long game.” – Michael Emerson

Emmy Award-winning actor Michael Emerson has had an incredibly successful run on television: first, as Ben Linus on Lost, then again as Harold Finch in Person of Interest, and now as the villainous Dr. Leland Townsend in the CBS series Evil. Speaking with SyFy about his career, Emerson details how he portrays his characters and shares the best advice he has for actors.

On how he manages to play characters that are mysterious or, well, evil, Emerson explains, “I just try to find some kind of character logic that’s based on the lines he has to speak. The villainy comes in so many different shades. I look for an interesting angle, an interesting villain strategy that may set it apart from other roles I’ve played or other roles I’ve seen. I look to find the things that the character feels good about — pride, efficiency, articulation — those things I think serve. At the same time I don’t get too busy defining the personality, because whether I’m playing a good guy or a bad guy, it always works better if they’re mysterious on some level.”

When it comes to sharing advice to young actors, Emerson shares the best advice that he had ever received from an acting class, revealing, “The best advice I got, I didn’t get much, but I did have a teacher sort of yell at me and say, ‘This scene is not about you, get it out past the footlights.’ Of all the BS acting classes I have taken over the years, that was the single most meaningful piece of direction — meaning get over yourself, deliver the goods.”

On the other hand, Emerson does have advice that he shares to young actors. He says: “I give the advice, because no one gave it to me as a young actor, I just say try to be kind. Be patient, be patient with yourself. It’s not a race. You don’t have to get there first. Yes, someone you went to college with has just won an Oscar, and you can’t get arrested… do not despair. It is a long game.”

About Author

In college, overachiever Christopher McKittrick double-majored in Film and English because he loves to read, write, and watch movies. Since then Chris – who was born and raised on Long Island, New York and currently lives in Queens – has become a published author of fiction and non-fiction, a contributor to entertainment websites, and has spoken about literature, film, and comic books at various conferences across the country when he’s not getting into trouble in New York City (apparently it’s illegal to sleep on street corners...) For more information about Chris, visit his website here!

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