Michael Emerson
Emerson at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con
Born (1954-09-07) September 7, 1954 (age 69)
EducationDrake University (BA)
University of Alabama (MFA)
Years active1986–present
(m. 1998)

Michael Emerson (born September 7, 1954) is an American actor who is best known for his roles as Benjamin Linus on Lost (2006–2010) and as Harold Finch in the CBS series Person of Interest (2011–2016). Other prominent roles include Zep Hindle in the horror film Saw (2004) and the recurring role of Cayden James on Arrow (2017–2018). He currently stars as Dr. Leland Townsend in the Paramount+ thriller series Evil (2019–present). He also portrayed Dr. Siggi Wilzig in Fallout (2024) released on Amazon.

He has won two Primetime Emmy Awards, one Guest Actor in a Drama Series award for portraying William Hinks on The Practice (2000–2001), and the second a Supporting Actor in a Drama Series award for his role in Lost, which he also received three other Primetime Emmy nominations for. Emerson has also worked extensively in theatre, notably originating the role of Oscar Wilde in Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde from 1997 to 1998, portraying Willie Oban in the 1999 Broadway revival of The Iceman Cometh, and playing Guy in the debut production of Will Eno's Wakey, Wakey in 2017.

Early life

Emerson was born in Cedar Rapids,[1] Iowa, to Carol (née Hansen) and Ronald H. Emerson.[2] He grew up in Toledo, Iowa, where he was a member of his high school marching band.[1]

He graduated in 1976 from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where he majored in theater[3] and minored in art.[4] He studied for a semester at the National Theater Institute at The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center,[citation needed] then moved to New York City. Unable to find acting work, he took retail jobs and worked as an illustrator.[1][4][5] In 1986, he moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where (from 1986 to 1993) he appeared in local productions at Theater Jacksonville and The Players by the Sea and worked as a director and teacher[4] at Flagler College.[6] After several years of work including illustration and teaching,[4] Emerson earned a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Alabama in the Alabama Shakespeare Festival acting program.[7]


Emerson landed a starring role in 1997 as Oscar Wilde in Moises Kaufman's critically acclaimed off-Broadway play Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, and then followed up with several other notable stage performances. In 1998, he performed opposite Uma Thurman in an off-Broadway production of Le Misanthrope. In 1999, he played Willie Oban in The Iceman Cometh. He co-starred with Kate Burton in both Give Me Your Answer, Do! and Hedda Gabler.[8]

Michael Emerson filming Person of Interest in New York City

In September 2001, Emerson won an Emmy Award as Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for playing serial killer William Hinks in several episodes of The Practice. In 2006, Emerson began a guest-star role as Benjamin Linus on the serial drama television series Lost.[9] Emerson was originally set to appear in a small number of episodes, then returned for Season 3 as a main cast member and eventually became a main antagonist of the program. He received an Emmy Award nomination in the Outstanding Supporting Actor category in 2007 and 2008 for his work in the third and fourth seasons. He won the award in 2009 after being nominated for his role in the fifth season.[10]

Emerson was nominated in 2009 for a Golden Globe Award in the Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role category. He was nominated for an Emmy for each season in which he was listed in the main cast.[11]

On July 31, 2010, Emerson and Preston read A.R. Gurney's Love Letters, which was a 1990 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, at the Charleston Stage as a fundraiser for the theater.[12]

Emerson was set to reunite with former Lost cast member and friend Terry O'Quinn in a comedy-drama, tentatively titled Odd Jobs, by J. J. Abrams. It was expected to start filming by the end of 2010, but further development has been postponed. Emerson joined the cast of another Abrams series, Person of Interest, that debuted in September 2011 on CBS. He played a billionaire who teams up with a supposedly dead CIA agent to fight crime in New York City.[13]

Personal life

Emerson married actress Carrie Preston in 1998 in her hometown of Macon, Georgia.[14] They met while he was performing in a stage production of Hamlet in Alabama.[1][5] It is his second marriage.[1] The two later starred together in Straight-Jacket (2004). Preston portrayed Emily Linus (the mother of Emerson's character) on Lost in the flashback sequences of the episode "The Man Behind the Curtain".[9] The two teamed up again, with Emerson portraying Preston's next-door neighbor, in the film Ready? OK! (2008).[15] Preston also appeared in several episodes of Person of Interest as Grace Hendricks (the former fiancée of Emerson's character).

Emerson supports charities connected to the theater community, including the Actors Fund, Broadway Cares, and Off-Off Broadway, in addition to publicly supported radio stations and Habitat for Humanity.[4]



Year Title Role Notes
1997 The Journey Michael
1998 The Impostors Burtom's Assistant
Playing by Heart Bosco
1999 I'll Take You There Tom
For Love of the Game Gallery Doorman
2001 Sounds from a Town I Love Man Short film
2002 The Laramie Project Reverend
Unfaithful Josh
2004 Saw Zep Hindle
Straight-Jacket Victor
2005 29th and Gay Gorilla
The Legend of Zorro Harrigan
2006 Jumping Off Bridges Frank Nelson
2008 Ready? OK! Charlie New
2010 Goldstar, Ohio Steve Harper
2012 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 The Joker Voice, direct-to-video
2013 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2


Year Title Role Notes
1990 Orpheus Descending Clown Television film
1998 Grace and Glorie Arnold Dudley
1999 Stark Raving Mad Mr. Putnam Episode: "The Psychic"
2000 The District Man in Bar Episode: "Pilot"
2000–2001 The Practice William Hinks 6 episodes
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series
2001 The Education of Max Bickford Unknown Episode: "Herding Carts"
2002 Law & Order: Criminal Intent Gerry Rankin Episode: "Phantom"
The X-Files Oliver Martin Episode: "Sunshine Days"
2003 Without a Trace Stuart Wesmar Episode: "Victory for Humanity"
Skin Scarpelli Episode: "Secrets & Lies"
Whoopi F. Thomas Erickson Episode: "The Fat and the Frivolous"
2004 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Allan Shaye Episode: "Ritual"
2005 The Inside Marty Manning Episode: "Pre-Filer"
2006–2010 Lost Ben Linus 79 episodes
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor on Television
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (2007–08, 2010)
Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film (2006–07)
Nominated—Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor on Television (2007, 2009–11)
Nominated—Teen Choice Award for Choice TV Villain
2007 Lost: Missing Pieces 2 episodes
2010 Front Line John Winthrop Episode: "God In America"
2011 Parenthood Andy Fitzgerald Episode: "Amazing Andy and His Wonderful World of Bugs"
G.I. Joe: Renegades Doctor Venom Voice, episode: "The Anaconda Strain"
Generator Rex Alpha Nanite Voice, episode: "Ben 10/Generator Rex: Heroes United"
2011–2016 Person of Interest Harold Finch 103 episodes
2014 The Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements Narrator Voice, 3 episodes
2017–2018 Arrow Cayden James 7 episodes
2017 Claws Ted Episode: "Ambrosia"
2018 Mozart in the Jungle Morton Norton 2 episodes
2019 The Name of the Rose The Abbot 8 episodes
2019–present Evil Leland Townsend 31 episodes
Nominated—Critics' Choice Super Award for Best Actor in a Horror Series
Nominated—Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor on Television
Nominated—Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
2023–present My Adventures with Superman Brainiac Voice, 3 episodes
2024 Fallout Wilzig Episode: "The Target"

Video games

Year Title Voice role
2008 Lost: Via Domus Ben Linus
2020 Crucible Brother


Other work


  1. ^ a b c d e Michael, Emerson (2012). "Interview with Actor Michael Emerson". Stated. Interviewed by Jimmy Aquino. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  2. ^ Speer, John (July 7, 2010). "Michael Emerson at the Wieting". The Toledo Chronicle / The Tama News-Herald. Iowa. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved December 1, 2014.
  3. ^ "Theatre". Des Moines, Iowa: Drake University. Archived from the original on May 6, 2008. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Ben Linus: Played by Michael Emerson". ABC. Archived from the original on August 5, 2011. Retrieved December 1, 2014.
  5. ^ a b Emerson, Michael (March 8, 2007). "[Untitled]". The Morning Show with Mike & Juliet (Interview).
  6. ^ "Emmy winner has local ties". The St. Augustine Record. Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  7. ^ "Alumnus Michael Emerson wins Emmy Award for work in 'Lost'". Des Moines, Iowa: Drake University. October 5, 2009.
  8. ^ Isherwood, Charles (2001-10-05). "Hedda Gabler". Variety. Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  9. ^ a b Audio commentary for "The Man Behind the Curtain", Season 3 DVD set of Lost.
  10. ^ "Primetime Emmy Nominations for 2009". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved April 10, 2012.
  11. ^ "Primetime Emmy Award Database". Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Retrieved April 10, 2012.
  12. ^ Jackson, Erica (2010-08-03). "Prime-time stars chip in for Charleston Stage fundraiser". Charleston City Paper. Archived from the original on 2015-09-23. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  13. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (2010-02-16). "Lost's Michael Emerson Reunites With J.J. Abrams In CBS Pilot Person Of Interest". TVLine.com. Retrieved 2011-02-17.
  14. ^ Ingrassia, Lisa (March 15, 2010). "Michael Emerson & Carrie Preston Lost in Love". People. Vol. 73, no. 10. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
  15. ^ "Ben Linus Wants A True Blood Cameo". io9.com. 2009-03-18. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  16. ^ a b Charlie Patton (1999-05-16). "If he can make it there..." The Florida Times-Union. Archived from the original on 2015-07-01. Retrieved 2008-03-24.
  17. ^ "Theatre Jacksonville, season 67". Theatre Jacksonville. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
  18. ^ "Letters to the Editor, "Cheers for Michael"". First Coast Community. 1999-06-12. Archived from the original on 2011-08-12. Retrieved 2008-03-30.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h "Emerson's career took him through Montgomery". The Anniston Star. 2008-01-31. Retrieved 2008-03-15.