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Person of Interest – How Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson are paired to work outside the law

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Person of Interest - Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson
Person of Interest - Reese (Jim Caviezel) and Finch (Michael Emerson) ©2011 CBS Broadcasting, Photo by Michael Muller

Talk about good and evil – Jim Caviezel is probably best known for portraying Jesus in Mel Gibson’s controversial movie The Passion of the Christ, and Michael Emerson is famous for playing bad guy Benjamin Linus on the JJ Abrams’ cult favorite Lost.

Now Executive Producers JJ Abrams and Jonathan Nolan have paired Caviezel and Emerson for their new crime thriller Person of Interest. Caviezel portrays Reese, a presumed dead former-CIA agent, who teams up with a mysterious billionaire, Finch (Emerson), a software genius who has invented a program that uses pattern recognition to identify people about to be involved in violent crimes. Using state-of-the-art surveillance technology, they work outside the law to stop crimes before they happen.

Jim, can you describe Reese for us?

Person of Interest, 1.01 - Jim Caviezel and  Jermaine Crawford
Reese (Jim Caviezel) and Michael Pope (Jermaine Crawford) © 2011 CBS Broadcasting

Jim Caviezel: Well, simply former special forces CIA on the surface, but deep down, a guy who is searching for a purpose, and Finch seems to offer that, and I think that purpose probably is justice.

People often say person of interest, but I like to think of it as people of interest. The thing about the material is that we all have a value out there, and I think that that is going to hit ?? like it hit me, it’s going hit other people that there’s something more than just all the technology out there, [there’s] a story.

Michael, your character seems to have some secrets about him, as your character on Lost did. Can you describe him?

Michael Emerson: I play a shadowy tech billionaire who’s had some kind of transformative experience in his psychological life.  And he’s decided to dedicate himself to a justice mission. He has a physical handicap and can’t intervene in dangerous situations personally, so he needs to team up with someone who is more active and skilled than he.

Your character on this seems somewhat to be similar to how your character ended up on Lost. Can you comment on if you see any sort of segue between the end of one character and the way we’re presented with this one?

Person of Interest, 1.01 - Michael Emerson
Finch (Michael Emerson) © 2011 CBS Broadcasting

Michael: Well, I like that notion of a segue from a character to another character. I think you’ve put your finger on something there because part of me wants to leave behind everything I’ve ever done before and find something completely new and unrecognizable and chameleon-like. But at the same time, I do have a working method.

I get down inside the scene, and then the scene is the world, and I seem to only know one way to rattle around down in the world of scenes. And it has a certain sound and feeling to it. So I think the evolution of something new and completely different will be a gradual one maybe. I hope I’m allowed that.

It’s just that at the end of Lost, Ben was coming out of guilt and going around trying to find ways to do good, and this is where we meet your character in Person of Interest.

Michael: I hope you’ll write that, because that’s not an idea I had had. But I see that. That’s great. If I may, I’ll use that in future interviews!

Jim, you recently did a miniseries of The Prisoner, which also dealt with surveillance gone haywire and the paranoia that can result from that. Is that coincidence or is that a theme that resonates with you?

Person of Interest - Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson
Reese (Jim Caviezel) and Finch (Michael Emerson) © 2011 CBS Broadcasting

Jim: Goes back to the material. That one was with a great actor, Ian McKellen, and great material; and I guess it just goes back to my thing, I look for stuff that’s great. It just happened to be that.

Michael: The idea you could live life and never have a minute unobserved seemed like such a stretch when the series originally came out (with Patrick McGoohan in 1967). Now, follow it to logical conclusions, and a show like ours, and it doesn’t seem so far out.

Jim: Ironically, I was doing press for The Prisoner, and we were in England with Ian McKellen, and this volcano blew up.

We got stuck there for a while, and I happened to be staying at the same hotel as Kiefer Sutherland. One evening he and I were talking, and I turned to my agent, and said, “If you ever find a show like 24, let me know.” So he calls me up a couple months later, and he says, “I found you your 24.’ So it was the volcano that started all this!

Michael, you were a respected character actor, but not easily recognized by the public. All of a sudden Lost comes along, and your world has changed so much. Did you know originally how good that role in Lost was going to be and what it was going to do for you? And how has your life changed since then?

Person of Interest, 1.01 - Michael Emerson and Jim Caviezel
Finch (Michael Emerson) and Reese (Jim Caviezel) © 2011 CBS Broadcasting

Michael: My part on Lost was just another guest spot, as far as I knew. I think every character actor has a secret dream inside them that one day they will play it so well, they will hit it so far out of the park that they will become somehow indispensable overnight and they’ll be asked to stay, and that’s kind of what happened on Lost.

I never was allowed to go home from the Hawaiian Islands.

Now I’m a little more visible, and it’s a little harder for me to hide; and that’s an adjustment. I’m hoping that I still get to do the odd turn. I want always to be able to play something offbeat or eccentric or colorful.

Jim, you’ve gotten this question every day of your waking life for the last seven years, but I’ll give it a shot. There was this controversial movie you made, The Passion of the Christ, and the attention paid to it was so great. How do you feel that role and the movie impacted you and your career?

Jim: It’s a little bit more controversial than I thought it was gonna be. I think for a time there we might have been a little bit more popular than the Beatles!

Now I’m working with JJ Abrams and Jonah Nolan and a great cast. It was one of those things I did, and we just keep moving on.

Have you noticed when you’re strolling down the street in New York City these days, that there are more surveillance cameras?

Michael Emerson: Oh, yeah.

Jim Caviezel: I’m less concerned about the cameras around us. When we are filming, I’m more concerned about the New Yorkers. When I’m beating up people in the middle of the streets, a lot of the New Yorkers think, “Look at that guy beating that guy up in the middle of the street.” Some of them actually come over and want to take a swing at me for doing it.

Michael Emerson: It’s a problem. When the cameras are too far away, the civilians on the street have no idea that there’s a fictional situation at hand, and so they may react unpredictably to moments of violence!