Financial literacy - How to prosper
Michael Emerson
'Lost' actor grounded in frugality

Spotlight: Michael Emerson

The old saying "Do what you love and the money will follow" has taken a lot of hits for being far too naive for the real world of work and finance. But for actor Michael Emerson, an edited version of the adage -- "Excel at what you love and the money will follow" -- seems to be working.

At a glance
Name: Michael Emerson
Hometown: Toledo, Iowa
Education: B.A., theater, Drake University; M.F.A., University of Alabama/Alabama Shakespeare Festival
Career highlights:
  • 2009 Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, for his role as Ben Linus in ABC's "Lost."
  • 2001 Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series, for his appearance as serial killer William Hinks on ABC's "The Practice."
  • Film credits include "Saw," "The Legend of Zorro," "The Imposters," "Straight Jacket" and "Ready? OK!"
  • Made his Broadway debut in "The Iceman Cometh."
Not that it happened overnight. Variety magazine recently called Emerson "one of the greatest villains in television history," and his portrayal of the creepy and cunning Ben Linus on the ABC television series "Lost" earned him a 2009 Emmy Award. But his road to fame, critical acclaim and financial success began far from the bright lights and red carpets of Hollywood.

He grew up in a small Iowa farming community, studied theater at Drake University in his home state and moved to New York after graduating in 1976. Struggling to find acting jobs, he took art classes and worked for many years as a magazine illustrator, getting work published in The Boston Globe and The New York Times. After winning a role in a Jacksonville, Fla., production of "Othello" in 1986, he spent the next five years doing theater work around the South, supplementing his acting income as a landscaper, carpenter, teacher and director.

He met his wife, actress Carrie Preston -- who currently stars on the HBO series "True Blood" -- during a production of "Hamlet" at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery, Ala. He returned to New York and saw his career finally take off with a 1997 lead role as Oscar Wilde in the off-Broadway play "Gross Indecency." spoke to Emerson about his attitude toward making, spending and looking after his money.

q_v2.gifI'm told that you are down-to-earth and frugal in your lifestyle. Would you agree with that assessment?


a_v2.gifYeah, I think I am. It's a function of having spent most of my grown-up life without much funds, so I've just always been in the habit of living fairly frugally.

q_v2.gifWhat's an example of how you've maintained a simpler life, or of the kinds of luxuries you've chosen to forgo?

a_v2.gifI have been off and on a New Yorker all of my adult life, so I never had to own a car or pay for car insurance and repairs. I was also one of those New Yorkers for many years that it was just ingrained in me that I would take the subway and not take a taxi unless it was some kind of incredible emergency.

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