NEW YORK (AP) -- Michael Emerson, who plays the ever-devious Ben on ABC's "Lost," is glad to be back on the island.
Not the mystical time-tripping island that "Lost" calls home. Or the Hawaiian isle of Oahu, where the show is actually based. Emerson is glad to be back on the island of Manhattan, where he lives, having wrapped this season's grueling, gratifying, shoot.
The fifth-season "Lost" finale airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. EDT (preceded by a special catch-up hour), with a scheme afoot to somehow undo the fateful Oceanic Airlines crash and everything that followed.
Meanwhile, Ben seems undone himself.
"Ben looks about as whipped as he has ever looked," chuckles Emerson, who in person has a friendly, laid-back manner far removed from the creepy, cold Ben.
Not that anyone should ever count Ben out.
"He's still operating," says Emerson with an appreciative smile. "He's still looking for opportunities."
From the start, "Lost" has had an epic, mind-bending sweep and a vast array of characters (among them, series stars Matthew Fox, Josh Holloway, Evangeline Lilly and Terry O'Quinn).
But mysterious milquetoast Ben has loomed large through it all — ever since he arrived in Season 2, originally meant for just a handful of episodes.
It was Ben who, on last season's finale, pushed a big frozen wheel to "move" the island" — and moved it into a different realm of time. This season, time-skipping has been a key part of the increasingly prismatic saga.
Emerson assures viewers that "Lost" will tie up all its loose ends by the series' conclusion a year from now.
"Our writers' agenda is larger than just jerking the audience around," he declares. "They're wrestling with some big themes: death, rebirth, redemption, atonement. There are a lot of philosophical and quasi-religious undercurrents in our show, played against a sci-fi/action background.
"And the scripts have gotten more ambitious as time goes on. We get the scripts and say, 'Stop! We're a TV show, not a studio feature!'"
And with that he emits another chuckle, the sign of an actor still savoring his character and unlikely stardom.
Before "Lost," Emerson, now 54, had carved out a career as a classically trained actor who hailed from Toledo, a small farming town in Iowa. He landed stage roles (and, while at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in 1994, met his future wife, Carrie Preston, a fellow actor who now stars on HBO's drama, "True Blood"). He won the occasional TV guest role, and won an Emmy for his performance as a serial killer on "The Practice."
Then came a character Emerson hails for "alertness and calculation," even while conceding that Ben "is deeply flawed. He's a wreck. He's a teller of half-truths."
Not that truth, in any ordinary sense, is commonplace on "Lost," as the finale is sure to demonstrate. It left Emerson "a bit shocked when I read the script," he confides.
"Can they DO that?" Emerson says he asked himself, sounding like any "Lost" fan.
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EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org