Michael Emerson

Active - 1997 - 2019  |   Born - Sep 7, 1954 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, United States  |   Genres - Drama, Comedy

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A stage and screen actor with an enigmatic stare, Michael Emerson has made a name for himself with roles that capitalize on his unique, expressive face. An Iowa native, he studied theater arts at Drake University in Des Moines before moving to New York to pursue an acting career. Unfortunately, like a lot of up-and-comers, he found himself spending most of his time doing other work to support himself; in his case, it was freelance illustrations for publications like The Boston Globe and The New York Times. In 1986, he relocated to Florida, where he worked in regional theater and, in 1993, enrolled in the Alabama Shakespeare Festival's University of Alabama-sponsored Master of Fine Arts/Professional Acting Training program. It was there that he met his future wife, Carrie Preston, whom he married in 1998. Shortly after graduating, he began scoring bigger and better roles in productions like 1997's off-Broadway show Gross Indecency: The Trials of Oscar Wilde, in which he played the title role. Other prominent roles followed in plays like The Misanthrope and The Iceman Cometh.

It was around this time that Emerson parlayed his success into a career onscreen, starting out with roles in projects like the independent film The Journey and the TV movie Grace & Glorie. A particularly prominent role came in 2004, when he was cast in the sadistic horror movie Saw. The movie was a huge success, setting off a major trend in horror that made graphic, up-close torture a new staple subgenre, and ingraining Emerson's memorably large eyes and eerily placid voice into the minds of millions. He continued to do interesting work, playing a bad guy in 2005's The Legend of Zorro and a butler to a Rock Hudson-style movie star in the comedy Straight-Jacket, which he made with his wife. Then in 2006, Emerson joined the cast of the hit TV series Lost, playing the mysterious and manipulative Ben, whose role in the island's secrets and power over its inhabitants drew in countless viewers who loved how well he played the creepy and nefarious villain. After Lost ended, he moved into a starring role on the TV series Person of Interest opposite Jim Caviezel.

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  • Before acting, he worked as a carpenter, landscaper, teacher and freelance illustrator (his drawings appeared in the New York Times and the Boston Globe).
  • Met his wife, Carrie Preston, while the two were appearing in Hamlet at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.
  • First major New York stage role was as Oscar Wilde in the 1997 off-Broadway production Gross Indecency: The Trials of Oscar Wilde; made his Broadway debut in a 1999 production of The Iceman Cometh.
  • Breakout film role was in the 2004 horror movie Saw.
  • Was originally cast for a three-episode guest stint on Lost, but producers were so impressed with his performance that they decided to make him a series regular.
  • Supports a number of charities connected to the theater community, including Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Gay Men's Health Crisis.