NYCC | Amy Acker, Michael Emerson Talk Technology & Person of Interest

Amy Acker and Michael Emerson on "Person of Interest"

Technology isn’t something to be trifled with on Person of Interest. That’s something we’ve learned repeatedly, thanks to Amy Acker‘s hacker character Root and the computer that’s at the center of the CBS drama.

This season, both of those characters (and yes, we are describing the machine as a character for a reason) will come to the forefront. It was announced at Person of Interest‘s New York Comic Con panel that Acker will have a recurring role, something she confirmed that when we caught up with her later in a roundtable interview.

“I am coming back, but it’s going to be a minute,” she said. “I’m sure that Finch is very sad and misses me. Hopefully it won’t be too long.”

Michael Emerson, who plays billionaire computer genius Finch, didn’t seem too upset about the delay when we talked to him later because he’s more invested in another aspect of the show: the computer. As he says, the device was more in the background in the first season but it will be looked at in a different way in Season 2.

“You’ve already seen how the machine is starting [to change],” he said. “I mean, all of Season 1 the machine was just sort of the technological backdrop. It was the background noise of the show, but now it’s just shy of having a personality of its own at this point. Now that we’ve seen its infancy and its childhood, it’s kind of cool when you think about it being raised kind of like a being.”

He continued, “I think the machine can only get more important and independent. What did Root say? ‘I don’t want to steal the machine, I want to free it.’ What does she mean by that?”

Acker admitted that the technological element of the show has her a little terrified. Both her character and Emerson’s can manipulate devices like cell phones and computers to get pretty much any information they want, and the Dollhouse alum said that scares her because it’s not a fictional concept.

“The scary thing that they all say is, ‘It’s not really all that far off from the truth and someone is watching you right now,’ she said. “It’s more safe to think of it as science fiction.”

Emerson admitted he feels the same way.

“I’m a little more worried about my own cell phone because of the stuff we do every episode,” he said. “We’re bluejacking phones, we’re using it to track people, we’re listening to them, we’re spying on them. That’s just with the smallest unit of super-technology that’s available to every person. What could you do with some really sophisticated equipment, so that will give you pause.”

We asked if he thinks that there are elements of Person of Interest that are a critique on technology, or if creator Jonathan Nolan just used that as a jumping point for a sci-fi television show. After a bit of consideration, Emerson admitted he did see elements of critique and criticism in the show.

“To tell a story, you need a set of problems,” he said. “Nolan thinks clearly that these new technologies are fraught with and rich with problems: ethical and technological, political. Maybe there is a little bit of a critique, or just a caution. Just a note of caution. Think twice about what you’re carrying around in your pocket, because here’s what it could be used for.”

Acker’s Root uses technology to her advantage, and although she’s a villain it’s important to note that her character’s motivations often align with Emerson’s. She explained she thinks Root might not be as black and white as she seems to appear in this season.

“When I did the first episode last year and made the switch from being the damsel in distress to shooting the woman in the head, [producer] Greg [Plageman] came up to me and said, ‘Your character is just evil. It’s not one of those ones where you’re walking a fine line and maybe she’s nice,’” Acker explained. “When I got these scenes this year and [Root's] talking to Michael’s character about basically the same ideals that he believes in and basically has just a little twist where you can also shoot people in the head that don’t believe with you, I don’t think that she’s setting out to cause harm. I think she does believe that she’s setting things right in her own way.”

She continued, “That’s kind of the great thing about being on a genre show is the character can go in so many different directions because I have no idea what will happen when I come back, and that’s really exciting. I’m sure I will be doing mean things, but it could go so many different ways.”

It’s unclear if Root has been evil from the get-go or if it was something that developed over time. Acker seemed to think it was the latter.

“Based on the last episode that happened where you see her friend go missing, she looks very nice and normal when she’s playing Oregon Trail with her friend, so I think that her friend’s disappearance and the murder of her friend and not being able to speak out about it was a catalyst for whatever happened,” Acker said. “There seems to be a big jump between there and where she is now, so it’s exciting that the show does so many flashback elements so I hope that they kind of fill those gaps in and I get to find out what happened.”

Considering the intense and dramatic elements of this show and their previous projects like Lost and Angel, both Emerson and Acker expressed interest in switching to comedies following their stints on Person of Interest.

“I don’t know if I could do sitcom, really, but yeah I would like to lower the intensity level a little bit,” Emerson said. “That would be fun.”

Person of Interest airs Thursday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

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