Michael Emerson by Art Streiber/ABC Michael Emerson by Art Streiber/ABC

Say what you will about wily Ben Linus, but Michael Emerson is easily one of Lost's most interesting cast member interviews. Maybe it's the way he searches for just the right words - always cryptic, yet sometimes telling. On the eve of the conclusion of the ABC hit's big finale, I decided to kick off a two-parter of my own. Here, Emerson talks of Ben's fractured bond with the island, names the other (Other?) character that makes his "mouth water," and chimes in on a tale of two Emilys.

TVGuide.com: Give me three words to describe the season finale.
Michael Emerson:
[Thinks] Dark.... Violent.... Casualties.

TVGuide.com: About a year ago, you and I spoke about how Ben was loath to ever leave the island. And yet we've now seen that it is something that does happen. What do you think changed there?
Ben's attachment to the island was... provisional. He's always been able to leave it. But now there's some question of him maybe having to abandon it and that's as a result of developments in this last season.

TVGuide.com: So it's always been there as an option, and it's only recently that he has chosen to avail himself of it.
I think so, yes. Things have gone so wrong. Events have forced his hand in a number of ways. And John Locke appears to have been "anointed" somehow....

TVGuide.com: And Ben appears to be making some sort of peace with that shift.
Yes. His gut reaction is that of a teenage boy, which is to be vengeful and full of rage and bitterness. But eventually, he will always play the board as it is in front of him. He will accept the terms.

TVGuide.com: "Whatever makes Jacob happy."

TVGuide.com: When you first were pitched this role, did they give you any hint as to the scope of Ben's involvement in the mythology?
No. I doubt if they even knew it at that time! As far as I knew, it was to be three episodes. I think it was an experiment, one that worked out happily.

TVGuide.com: They've told me that the same thing happened with Nestor Carbonell. They didn't have any "grand plan" for Richard Alpert, but once he became available, they said, "We could do something here."
Yeah... And he's a great character. It makes my mouth water to think what they could do with Richard Alpert.

TVGuide.com: The guy is just flitting around time no worse for the wear, no nose bleeds....
Right, and he's just one of the eeriest characters.

TVGuide.com: You received an Emmy nod last year for Lost. Does an actor ever settle into a role and think, "You know what? This could be an award-winning project, if I do the right things with it"?
I tend to just show up and do the work. I don't think too much about those more popular issues. Partly because I'm a creature of the theater and am therefore more superstitious. Some things are not to be said or thought, if you can avoid it. It begs for the gods to punish you for your hubris. It is flattering when it comes, though. Last year, I thought, "Oh my god, I am having more impact that I thought."

TVGuide.com: And with a dark role that doesn't always connect with voters.
And we work in such isolation, too. That's a contributing factor. We're out there in Hawaii, there are no paparazzi, there are no fancy parties.... We get up before the sun, drive to some remote location, and punish ourselves all day long. You don't get a strong grasp as to how it's received on the rest of the globe.

TVGuide.com: Are we to make anything of the fact that both Ben's mother and Locke's mother were named Emily?
Well, that very idea occurred to me last week - and I'm usually the slowest on the uptake with those kinds of clues. I thought, "let's hold onto that." They don't make those kinds of accidents. The guys who write Lost are very careful about names. [ Laughs]

Coming Thursday, in Part 2 of this Q&A: Who is "her"? What could bring Ben and Desmond together for the very first time? And more!