Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ready for the Lighter Side; Jacksonville Theater Alum Has Built Emmy-Winning Career Playing Dark Characters

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ready for the Lighter Side; Jacksonville Theater Alum Has Built Emmy-Winning Career Playing Dark Characters

Article excerpt

Byline: Charlie Patton

The way Michael Emerson remembers it, he did a lot of comedy during his seven years performing on Jacksonville stages, including "Much Ado About Nothing," "Noises Off" and "The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940."

His television career has taken him in a very different direction. First, he won an Emmy for a guest arc as a serial killer during the 2000-01 season on "The Practice." Then he was the villainous Ben Linus, leader of "The Others," for five years on "Lost," receiving four Emmy nominations and winning a second Emmy. He followed that by playing eccentric billionaire inventor Harold Finch for five years on "Person of Interest." He wasn't a villain in "Person of Interest," but it was a very dark show.

"It was a good show but physically punishing," Emerson said during a recent visit to Jacksonville. "I played a character with a limp and a fused spine. After five years my fake stiff neck has become a real stiff neck."

Emerson was in Jacksonville in July to perform in "Swamp Radio," an eclectic blend of music, comedy, arts and storytelling exploring Northeast Florida's culture produced by Emerson's long-time friend Ian Mairs. During the July 16 performance in St. Augustine, Emerson gave a reading of "The Fountain of Youth," part of "The Dream Life of Astronauts," a new short story collection by Florida native Patrick Ryan.

On Monday an edited version of that "Swamp Radio" performance will be broadcast at 9 a.m. on WJCT (89.9 FM) and will be available as a podcast at

With "Person of Interest" having ended last season, Emerson said he's ready for something different.

"I would like to do something a little lighter in tone," he said. "I would love to let a little sunshine in. ... I've run out of serial killing juice. I don't want to dive down into those dark thoughts for a while."

He said he's auditioned to do voice work for some animated projects. And he's ready to do some theater. The last time he performed in a play was in 2005 at the New York Theatre Workshop in "Bach at Leipzig." While New York Times reviewer Charles Isherwood found the play "windy," he praised Emerson's "wonderful gift for graceful physical comedy."

"I would like to do theater work again," Emerson said. "That's all I knew for years and years."

The 61-year-old actor's seven-year stay in Jacksonville, from 1986 to 1993, came after he became intimidated as a young actor trying to find work in New York and followed his first wife to Northeast Florida. He quickly became celebrated as a star, a dazzling actor, director and teacher.

In 1993 Mairs convinced Emerson, who had grown discouraged at his inability to make a living as an actor, to get a master of fine arts degree from the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and return to New York. …

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