This is the second of two parts of a batch of actor interviews I conducted on Lost’s set in Oahu (and in the case of Matthew Fox, over the phone) in April for my feature in TIME. Part one, with Terry O’Quinn, Evangeline Lilly and Josh Holloway, posted yesterday.
As I said then, there’s nothing horribly spoilery in them (at this point we know that all six actors are in the finale, for instance), but spoilers are in the eye of the beholder, so if you’re especially sensitive to anything that even hints of spoilage, do not read this. Or wait until Monday.
Below, excerpts from my chats with Michael Emerson, Matthew Fox and Jorge Garcia:
On his late arrival to Lost, and learning how to play Ben:
“I had given up on the idea that I could ever be a regular on a show. I’m a man who has never booked a pilot… [But] I didn’t have any anxiety about how to play the part. I knew right away, Oh, I see how this goes. This is to be played in a neutral key. This a role where ambiguity is everything, and a sense of mystery, and let’s just not give too much away ever.
“I’m grateful for my theater background playing this part. There are a lot of roles on Lost where you could play yourself, or play something close to yourself. But Ben requires a little crafting.”
On how the production team has kept secrets around the finale:
“A script can never be left with a third party. It can’t be left with a doorman, it can’t be left in a box. It has to be placed in your hands by a production crew member… There’s a missing piece [in his finale script] that I suppose is the linchpin, that I’ve never read it, I’ve wasn’t there when it was shot. There is a third or a half of a page that I don’t know, and I think that the key to it all is in there.”
On how the audience’s attitude toward Ben has evolved as the show has:
“I think we feel kind of cuddly about Ben now. He seems so much more of us than some of the bigger and darker forces on the show.”
On the legendary “Got any milk?” scene that cemented Ben as a favorite:
“In my life in the theater, I’ve usually done comedies, [and the “milk” line] is great writing, but it’s also about timing. There have been stretches in Ben’s existence on Lost where I’ve thought: I’m in a comedy. Maybe nobody else is, but Ben is. It’s a kind of grave comedy, but Ben gets off a good line every now and then. He’s always been kind of dry and sarcastic. I’ve always enjoyed that about him.”
On keeping Jack’s reactions realistic when, say, he finds he’s been watched from a magic lighthouse:
“The less the actor is concerned with [the fantastical elements], the better.The actor has to be focused on the reality that you have to deal with… You do definitely sort of have to orchestrate how it would effect them. But it has to be an effect that will be rooted in some emotional truth.”
On playing the part while not knowing what was in store for the characters in the finale:
“Don’t assume that we all didn’t know what was going to happen. I actually had some in-depth coversations [with Damon Lindelof] early in the season about it, so I could have some kind of understanding of what was going on.”
On whether Lost is anything like what he expected it to be when he first read the pilot:
“It’s become so much huger than anything I could ever have imagined when we started. … The finale is tremendously spiritual. It becomes much more character-driven, and focused on some of the big philosophical questions. What’s the nature of humanity? What happens when we die? I was incredibly happy what Damon and Carlton reached for. It was incredibly moving to me.”
On his reaction to the finale:
“I’m satisfied with the finale. I think both storylines that were introduced in the season, the finale wraps them up well. They make a bold choice. Anytime you do that on a show like this, we know we’re gonna get–the reactions will be mixed. It’ll be interesting hearing the reactions over the summer. It’s nice not being a writer around here when finale time comes around.”
On the actors’ back and forth with the writers:
“Sometimes I might do to the writers and say this seems unrealistic [for Hurley]. And the answer I would get would be, ‘Well, he was institutionalized for a while.’ [For example] I didn’t understand why a stick of dynamite was the way to respond to the idea that he was in charge… You can go to the writers or the producers for explanations, but sometimes it’s better for the moments where you kind of act in the dark.”