Michael Emerson on ‘Person of Interest’ Season 5, Amy Acker and The Machine

Thu Aug 27 09:00:00 EDT 2015

“I like pursuing this business of a personal relationship with an artificial intelligence. I think that’s so interesting, and the fact that it has emotional dimensions — I think it’s kind of strange and maybe wonderful.”

Michael Emerson

Jean Claude Photo Michael Emerson

“Person of Interest” is a show that I’ve relentlessly tried to get other people to watch: Jonathan Nolan’s sci-fi drama slipped quietly onto the CBS lineup in 2011, without much fanfare despite an excellent slate of executive producers and an all-star cast. For four seasons it’s hailed consistent critical acclaim, but has been largely unavailable for streaming and thus, unfortunately inaccessible.

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This month, WGN America will present viewers with a much-needed opportunity to catch up through their upcoming “Prime Crime” lineup, teaming “Person of Interest” with fellow CBS crime drama “Elementary” for a 100-episode event starting August 31. For the first two weeks of the program, a total of 100 installments of “Elementary” and “Person of Interest” will air, giving viewers the opportunity to start from the very beginning.

Starting September 1, the first three seasons of “Person of Interest” will also be available on Netflix for online streaming, followed by its fourth season on September 22 — plenty of time to catch up before the show’s Season 5 premiere next year.

Indiewire sat down with “Person of Interest” star Michael Emerson to talk about where the show is headed next season, the paths they’ve taken to get there and how awesome Amy Acker is.  

First off I want to say congratulations on another fantastic season, and a fifth season renewal. It was a little stressful for fans between the finale and the renewal announcement.

Yeah, for everyone I think.

Season 3’s finale was a quite a loss for Team Machine, and Season 4 ended on an even darker note. When did you learn that Season 4 would conclude so grimly, and what were your initial reactions?

I never see what’s happening on the show until we get the scripts for the episode, so I really didn’t know how the season was going to end until we started shooting it, to tell you the truth. It’s no good to me to have many, many episodes of scripts in front of me because I can’t pay attention to all of them and sometimes knowing where things are going affects the way you play. It takes you out of being focused on the moment at hand. Then you start trying to connect dots that maybe don’t need connecting, that kind of thing. So I’m always happy to be the last one to know.

So it all sounds very reactionary, and in that sense more organic.

Yeah, just rolling with it. But that doesn’t mean that when you read the script, you don’t go, “Oh my God, this is a great idea. Who thought of this?” And, “Shoot, how can it be played? How will I play this and make it mean something?” So those are all things you figure out on the day, in front of the camera.

The Season 4 finale — and really everything leading up to it — was sort of a game changer to Finch’s relationship with the Machine. How do you see Finch re-examining this relationship with his creation moving forward?

I don’t know, maybe we’ve been creeping up on it for a long time. Mr. Finch has tried to be so detached and professional about the Machine, about what it’s capable of, about it being a thing and not a person. But I think, when it came down to the wire, when things looked so bad and it seemed like this thing that was so good and had a human articulation, had a memory and thoughts and desires and feelings that could be hurt, and worries and it had existential concerns, I think Mr. Finch has had to — I don’t even know if he’s processing all this — he’s shifted over into kind of instinctive mode where he’s just reacting as a parent kind of. Or at least a mentor. And I’m not sure he’s fully comfortable with it, but it must give him pause, too. He must lay awake at night, and think, “What have I done?”

Warner Bros. Entertainment Michael Emerson and Amy Acker in “Person of Interest”

And Finch has long refused to personify the Machine. What was going through Finch’s mind in that last episode, as the Machine called him “Father?” 

He’s shaking his head “No,” and part of him is going, “Yes. Yes, yes, my child, my child.” And then it is so close to perishing. And how they set it up so great was to go in flashbacks. And show the long, laborious process of teaching the Machine. Teaching it right from wrong, teaching it how to play chess, teaching it how to think about people, and the way to behave. All of that, that’s a more careful education than most human children will ever get. So, I think Mr. Finch cannot stop being a good father, a good person. He just has the instincts of other kind men, but it is a dilemma.

And rebuilding and reprogramming it — do you think Finch will let Root have a hand in bringing the Machine back?

Well that’ll be the drama of the first part of Season 5. We’ve shot a bunch of material already where that’s the issue, because the argument: Did Mr. Finch cripple the Machine, and make it vulnerable to the likes of Samaritan? And can or should that be undone if the Machine can be revived? Should the Machine have a new set of core principles? And of course, Root will argue for one thing, and Mr. Finch will argue for another, but he may not argue as strenuously as he would have a couple of years ago, because the situation is so bad.

After having faced Samaritan and seeing what Samaritan can do, do you think that’ll have any effect on how he tries to rebuild the Machine?

“I try to hold onto that idea that what they’re up against is the end of humankind potentially.”

Samaritan is now an obsession with him. And it’s more dangerous. In a way, it’s more dangerous than we can even portray on television, because the idea of what Samaritan is and how plausible it is, is hair raising. I try to hold onto that idea that what they’re up against is the end of humankind potentially. Those are high stakes.

Yeah, the stakes seem to be getting higher and higher with every season. What do you think are Finch’s priorities moving forward? Survival, definitely, but beyond that?

He’s divided a bit. He understands that their original mission is intact. It still needs to be done. He still needs to get the numbers, and they need to sort out victims and perpetrators. At the same time, they are now a counterinsurgency underground, against a globe-controlling program. How do you distribute your resources in a situation like that? I don’t know.

And I really hope that Bear will be around next season as well, to help you guys out.

We shot the Bear scenes already.

That’s good to know, then. I’m glad. One of my favorite relationships on the show is yours with Root. You guys go from opponents — as Root proclaims in her first episode — to close companions. Can you talk a bit about that dynamic and how it developed?

Yeah, that’s a strange evolution, isn’t it? I don’t know how to explain it, because she kidnapped and tortured him when we first met her. But now I think, just the work they’ve had to do, the dangers they’ve braved, the good they have done, their need for one another as soldiers — and I think she’s, over time, shown him vulnerabilities that weren’t apparent when we first met her. We see how easily she’s hurt by the Machine, or by the Machine ignoring her. She’s given her life to the Machine, and if the Machine’s not talking to her, there’s not a lot to live for. So I think Mr. Finch recognizes that and feels tenderly toward her because he’s an empathetic person. And also because the thing that she’s fixed herself on is the thing he made. She, more than any living human, understands and appreciates his life’s work. It’s complicated.

It definitely is, but it’s a great relationship. And Amy Acker is a very charming presence on-screen, even when she’s trying to threaten other people.

She’s the greatest, I so love working with her. Our scenes, they just crackle when we do them.

And her character seems to have that same effect on other characters, especially with Shaw. How aware were you, or your character, with regard to that particular relationship and its development?

I was as surprised as the viewers were when that whole thing blew up. I wasn’t expecting it. But, then it’s very entertaining. The two of them side by side, in black, with guns in both hands, that’s a choice image. [Laughs]

Warner Bros. Entertainment Amy Acker, Sarah Shahi, Graubaer’s Boker and Michael Emerson on “Person of Interest”

I hope to see more of it in the future.

Yeah, I hope so too.

We’re all holding out for a season beyond this upcoming fifth, and hopefully getting onto Netflix and onto WGN will help pull in some extra viewers. For people who may not be too familiar with the show, how would you describe “Person of Interest” to get them to watch?

I would tell them it’s a really entertaining show about some interesting – what to we call them – it’s about these interesting vigilantes, who join forces with an artificial intelligence to prevent crime. I mean, that’s the basic code of it, and then it goes places.

Okay, that sounds good. What have you enjoyed most about filming Season 5?

So far, I like the complication. I like pursuing this business of a personal relationship with an artificial intelligence. I think that’s so interesting, and the fact that it has emotional dimensions — I think it’s kind of strange and maybe wonderful.

And what has been your favorite relationship on the show, with your character?

You mean, what character do I like interacting with?

Yeah.

Root. I love her. It’s always dangerous, it’s always unpredictable.

It’s always fun.

Yeah.

And, anything you’re allowed to say about next season? Any chance we get to see Carrie Preston?

Well, you’re going to see her.

Okay, good. Is there anything else you’re allowed to tell us?

You’ll see Sarah Shahi and Carrie Preston, and I think because we’re thinking of this like an ending — although I’m guessing it will be ambiguous enough to be pursued later on — it’s an ending. Splashy endings usually involve casualties. So I think we’re likely to either lose characters or have them somehow transformed.

“Person of Interest” will return midseason next year. Catch the first three seasons on Netflix starting September 1, as well as Season 4 on September 22.

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Source: Michael Emerson on ‘Person of Interest’ Season 5, Amy Acker and The Machine

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