More than 13.5 million people tuned in for the series finale of “Lost” on ABC on Sunday night and while there were plenty of surprises in the two-and-a-half-hour show, one of the biggest was Benjamin Linus making it until the very end.
While fans were surprised, so was actor Michael Emerson — who plays Ben — when he found out that his island-obsessed character – the series’ most polarizing figure — found his way into one of the final scenes. To refresh your memory, he was found sitting on a bench outside the church, where Dr. Jack Shephard reunited with his friends on the other side.
On Monday, the morning after watching the season finale at home in Los Angeles with friends, and where he admitted to getting a little misty-eyed, Michael spoke with AccessHollywood.com about his post-mortem thoughts on the end of the beloved television series – and why Ben never made it inside the church.
Access: Now that you can talk about it freely, were you surprised Ben made it to the end?
Michael: I never expected him to go all the way to the end and to still be standing or sitting, so I was pleased about that and I was delighted with the way they resolved the Ben storyline, to leave him in the middle zone, to leave him unresolved.
You had to play both good and bad on the series finale. Difficult to jump back and forth?
Not too much. I mean, we’ve been doing that a lot on ‘Lost’ for many years, so I’ve just been in the habit of going with the flow and playing whatever was sent my way and I didn’t worry much that Ben seemed to have made a deal with the devil in the previous episode. I think he was just trying to stay alive, you know.
And he thought it would help his singular obsession of ruling the island.
Yeah, that thing that he cannot let go of.
Before the end, Hurley became the new Jacob and Ben became his No. 2. We’re you surprised he was able to take second chair or was he so desperate, he’d take anything?
I think Ben wants to do the work he felt that he was made for – he’s been humbled over the last season or two, and yes, I think he’s willing to take an assistantship if it means he gets to hold on and do the thing he feels he needs to.
And maybe because Hugo isn’t a real threat in the No. 1 position.
I think Ben has had an epiphany about what good governance is or should be and I think he sees that he may not be a perfect fit for the top spot. That maybe No. 2 suits him better.
Why do you think Ben didn’t get to go into the church with everyone else?
Oh, it makes perfect sense to me – that he’s not ready. He’s a long way from being able to let go.
A lot of people were seeing the church as a heaven or celestial sort of place, is that how you saw it?
Yeah, I felt like it was a waiting room or a staging area for the afterlife.
Did it end the way you expected it to, when you thought about the end several seasons ago?
I have to say, in the very early going, when I first came on the show, I thought this works for me if it’s some kind of purgatory. But everyone dismissed the literal version of that idea, but it turned out to be a sort of metaphorical purgatory and I’m pleased with that. I don’t mind that as a system or a notion. I think that that’s satisfying.
Has the finality of the show sunk in for you yet?
It began to last night. Matthew [Fox] and I talked about it during the commercial break when we were shooting [‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’] and he said, ‘It’s hard not to feel now, isn’t it? This is the last day. These are the last comments.’ And then we step off the cliff into forever, forever after. So yes, this last day is a day when it has hit home.
How do you feel inside?
It feels like it has always felt when I’ve been in a good show and it’s closed — you’re tired, you feel a bit washed out, you feel like you’ve stood too close to the light for too long, that you’re a little scorched around the edges and that you need to go somewhere and be quiet for a while. I guess that’s how I feel.
What was the last scene you actually got to film?
The last scene I filmed was a miserable one where Jorge [Garcia] and I are standing on top of a 40-foot platform that’s been made to look like a waterfall. It’s where he and I are pulling Desmond up by the rope. That’s the last scene I shot. So it’s not a very tender or reflective moment, it’s more procedural. The work was hard, exhausting, dangerous and we were doing it at 5:30 in the morning after a 20-hour day and no one was in the mood for a party or a fond farewell, so it didn’t make for a great last workday. You can’t predict what you’re going to be shooting in the moment.
I guess that’s not the day you’re feeling motivated enough to take something sentimental home from the set.
I hadn’t the strength to take anything. Plus, there wasn’t much to take. My costume has always been a set of bloody rags for the most part and I don’t know, hand properties. I don’t know what happened to that hand carved wooden statue that Annie (Ben’s childhood friend) gave Ben, I don’t know what’s become of that. ABC came around and tagged a lot of things. I think there’s gonna be a big eBay sale of ‘Lost’ paraphernalia.
Rumors have it you and Terry O’Quinn are working on developing a new series together?
Terry had a couple of really good, strong ideas and he pitched them to someone in the world of producers and they seem to respond to it. So I don’t know where it’s at or whether it will come true, but there’s a good idea out there kicking around and if it comes to life, it would make me very happy.
So Terry was your on-set buddy?
Yeah, we were close and as you know, we had many days where it was he and I working together and those days were great working days, some of the best of my career.
So what are your plans for the summer? A return to the stage perhaps?
I think it’s too soon to go on stage this summer. I have family and friends and domestic projects to catch up with. I’m gonna lay low for a while.
Your wife (“True Blood’s” Carrie Preston) must be going insane and going, ‘Garage! Kitchen!’
She’s happy just to have me home and I’m lazy enough that it would suit me fine to be her personal assistant for a couple of months.
I think she deserves it.
She does! That’s a hard working girl. She works way harder than I do.
And it’s probably not the most fun to have one’s partner commuting for years.
Right. We’re enjoying the luxury of being in the same place at the same time for a while.