Michael Emerson in Person Of Interest

Mysterious billionaire Harold Finch teams up with former CIA hitman John Reese to investigate and stop crime in new US drama Person Of Interest.

Finch has created and sold a computer programme to the Government that predicts terrorist acts, and as a by-product also indicates when other violent crimes are about to be committed. While the Government isn’t interested in this, Finch is, although the ‘machine’ can’t reveal whether the person it selects is the perpetrator or the victim.

Meanwhile, there are also plenty of flashbacks for both men as the show reveals how Reese came to be a drunken bum when Finch first meets him, why both are presumed dead, and why the billionaire has been crippled. Former Lost star Michael Emerson, who plays Finch, tells TV Choice more about the series, which also co-stars Jim Caviezel as John Reese…

What’s Person Of Interest about?
It’s a smart idea. I would call it a vigilante thriller for the cyber age.

There’s an interesting reference at the end of the pilot episode where Finch says they are both presumed dead. What happened, and did we detect Finch walking with a limp?
Yeah, he’s crippled for reasons that we will eventually find out but haven’t yet. I don’t know the answer but I think it’s fair to assume since you see him in flashback. You see as recently as five years ago that Finch was physically normal. Something has happened.

And I think the idea that they are both physically dead, it’s the only way that both of them can remain alive.

Person Of InterestWhat happened to Reese’s girlfriend Jessica that led him to drink?
That’s a relationship that we go back to every so often, so that gets fleshed out fully in the future.

Would you say that Finch is essentially a good guy?
Yeah. I think he’s a good guy. I tend to think of him that way. It may help me to separate him in my mind from previous characters I’ve played who were morally ambiguous.

One of those characters being Ben Linus in JJ Abrams’ Lost. What are your own recollections of Lost and what it meant to you?
Lost was a special kind of show and had a tremendous reach and impact. I’m not sure if the numbers of people who watched Lost are greater than some other hit shows, but their passion for the show, their fanaticism about it was intense. That will follow me wherever I go, for ever probably.

Interestingly, there is a JJ Abrams connection with Person Of Interest since he's executive producer.
I really do feel like I’m a part of a JJ Abrams repertory company in a way. It’s funny but it’s true. JJ is a guy who is given a great deal of loyalty and reflects it back as well — he will always find work for the actors that have helped him realise shows.

Was JJ Abrams’ involvement a draw for you?
Yeah. I felt and continue to feel that any script that is laying around on JJ’s desk that has his attention probably has something worth looking at in it. JJ can be counted on for good storytelling and a kind of mystery, and that appeals to me. He has that whole concept of the black box and I like it too. I don’t much mind if all the mysteries are answered or everything is tied up neatly at the end. I just like the mysterious journey and the questions.

The premise of Person Of Interest is using technology to predict crime. What’s your take on the whole Big Brother encroachment in real life where surveillance and CCTV cameras seem to be everywhere?
I know the creator of the show Jonathan Nolan always says that London was his inspiration for this notion of a permanent overlapping surveillance system, because anywhere you look from just about any place in town, you can be seen by some camera or other.

And it’s growing more everywhere. It’s not a thing I thought about much, to tell you the truth. I’m not a reader of science fiction — or science fact for that matter — but I’m much more aware of it now, since it’s an issue that we deal with in every form on every episode. And now since we shoot on the streets of New York all the time, you don’t have to look far to see a vantage point from which we could be watched electronically. It’s striking.

What are your thoughts on that, since America is known as the land of the free?
It’s like most things technological — it’s upon you before you have a chance to think about it or before you have a chance to vote on it, it’s in place already.

When I started on the show I thought, ‘Oh, this is a science fiction show,’ and it’s happened before I thought about it twice. The people of any country or city aren’t really asked whether they want such a system in place. It just happens on its own.

The pilot episode of Person Of Interest drew 13.2 million viewers in America, and quickly got renewed for a second series. Why do you think it’s struck a chord with the audience?
It’s a cool idea and the style of filming is fantastic. I really feel like we’re making half a feature film every nine days. It’s a great look — the promotional materials are very smartly cut together. And it promises and delivers thrills and puzzles, which are two things people like.

You also have to be aware that American audiences have a hunger for avengers I guess — the vigilante, the lone operators that will cut through the red tape and set things right. That’s such a strong theme in the States, and it’s part of what we are delivering. It goes back to cowboy movies and everything like that.

Channel 5, Tuesday

Nick Fiaca

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