‘Person of Interest’s Amy Acker on Root’s New Beginning
Spoiler alert: Do not read this post unless you’ve watched the Person of Interest episode “The Day the World Went Away.”
“As long as the Machine lives, we can never die,” Root (Amy Acker) told Finch (Michael Emerson) in the pivotal 100th episode of Person of Interest.
The duo—who long disagreed about the correct path to take with the artificial intelligence’s path—but their final conversation proved to be one of their most important ones.
“I know you have apprehension about what the Machine is,” Root said. “About what she will become. And I trust you Harold. I walked in darkness for a very long time until you guided me to light. And I wouldn’t change any of it. But we’re not going to win this way. We can’t afford to lose. When the time comes, you’ll know what to do. And I know this is an ugliness you never wanted, but sometimes you have to fight a little.”
“We’re fighting a war that’s already over,” Finch replied. “All this mayhem, it’s not some underground, plucky resistance movement. It’s an extinction burst.”
Unfortunately, Finch was correct, and though he was able to survive, Root was not. But she will live on in another way: the Machine chose Root as her new voice.
We spoke with Acker about Root’s new form, and filming the powerful 100th episode. [To read what the executive producers had to say, check here.]
When did they tell you this was Root’s fate?
Amy Acker: Well, they told me over the summer. Right before we went to Comic-Con, they had me do a recording of the trailer for Comic-Con, where it sounds like Root is talking [over their] subway [hideout], but they told me, this is the Machine telling it after she has taken Root’s voice.
How did that impact your decisions in Season 5?
Acker: This season was interesting, just in general, because it was truly up in the air what was going to happen with this show, and we only had 13 episodes. I think [executive producers] Jonah [Nolan] and Greg [Plageman] made it really clear that they didn’t want to hold back on any of those episodes, and they didn’t want to take chances. If that was the end, they wanted to feel like they had gone out on a strong note. It feels like they really accomplished that.
I don’t think it impacted the overall performance, but I was sad about losing all my friends. I kept thinking, “If it does go on, I’ll be sad I’m not there!” But they had such a specific idea of what they wanted it to be, and this ultimate decision for Root had been set in motion once she entered the show. When you look back at the things that had happened with her character and the things she had been saying about the Machine and A.I. in general and singularity and wanting to set the Machine free, it ultimately became the perfect ending for Root, and at the same time, almost what she would consider a beginning.
There was a good amount of foreshadowing that Root’s time might be coming up—much of it from Root herself. What was her mindset in those final hours?
Acker: I think as it got closer to this happening, and all along, she had never really been afraid of dying for the Machine. She was never one to be cautious or careful, and her number one priority was always that the Machine be taken care of and be saved. And then as she became involved with Team Machine, she put Harold up there on that same pedestal. And then Shaw, and even Reese and Fusco. She was always ultimately trying to save the Machine. The value of her life to herself was what can she do to give Harold and the Machine the most opportunity at success.
What was it like filming those scenes with Michael, especially as they’re being chased and having this serious conversation?
Acker: That was one of the hardest filming experiences I’ve had. [Laughs.] We were doing all that action, and driving, and then having these Root and Finch conversations in the middle of being shot at, and everything else.
I thought about it after the fact; everything they said. And now knowing what happens in the episodes following the 100th episode, Root really sets up this idea that just because you die, it doesn’t mean that you’re gone; the Machine knows us better than we all know ourselves. We’re pretty much stored as data in the Machine. When we were filming that, I didn’t think I’d quite know what that would mean for the final few episodes. But seeing how they set that up and what follows, I think it was really interesting, and kind of the perfect ending for Root and Harold’s relationship.
What was your final scene you filmed for 100?
Acker: Here’s the thing that happened: I thought I was not going to see anyone ever again, and that was really sad, and I said goodbye to everyone. But being the voice of the Machine, we decided it would be beneficial that as the season progresses, as Harold and the Machine Root are talking, I ended up being on set for a lot of those scenes anyway. So I was like, “Never mind, I’m back!”
What was it like being there in person to film those interactions, but not able to rely on body language and some of your other tools to convey the right emotion?
Acker: I thought it was pretty challenging, actually. I think so much of their relationship is just like the looks and the body language. So having dialogue, and even though the Machine is able to replicate Root 99 percent accurately, what is that leftover that has the Machine saying words, that maybe Root does believe or doesn’t. It was really fascinating to try and figure it all out. I think ultimately Root in the Machine, it’s the same page of the Machine that has been speaking for so long. or the Machine has been speaking through Root. But now that the Machine has taken her voice, it’s seamless, but at the same time, complicated.
The Root and Shaw (Sarah Shahi) relationship was a pivotal one. What did it mean to you to have them reunite, for real, even if it was only fleeting?
Acker: That’s something Jonah and Greg said, coming into this last season, even with the video clips they had at Comic-Con: “Is anyone alive, we don’t know.” These things were going to happen, and I think these things are going to continue to happen. It’s not going to be all sunshine now. I feel like Root’s death was predetermined before the Shaw/Root relationship was established. The things Root was saying before she and Shaw met, the Machine was kind of Root’s first love. That is what brought her into this group. It is her love of the Machine and her wanting to free the Machine, and the fact that she found Shaw and this beautiful relationship; and this family with Harold; and was able to change her belief about humanity being bad code and all the things she used to preach about to Harold. Now she sees value in human life, and so much of the way she’s growing, there were times this season and last she was questioning her loyalty to the Machine because of her love for Shaw.
I’m so proud and thankful and blessed that I got to play this character; and when they saw how Shaw and Root or Sarah and I responded to each other on screen that they couldn’t shy away from that. They just made it part of the story without making it what the story was all about. It was just accepted, and this is what it is; these two people love each other. The fans I’ve met who this has had such an impact on—I just feel lucky and proud that the writers did this and I got to be a part of it.
In the previous episode, Root was willing to kill herself if Shaw committed suicide. When she made this sacrifice to save Finch, was there a part of her that worried what this could do to Shaw’s tenuous grasp on reality?
Acker: I think if you don’t have the Machine or if Samaritan is in control, none of the other stuff is going to help in any way. I feel like by sacrificing for Harold, she was doing the same thing for Shaw and everyone else. If Harold is not there, in Root’s mind—and probably in reality—there’s no hope for the Machine. I think Root really believes if they’re not able to have the Machine in control to take on Samaritan, they’re all doomed anyway. I think it’s all a lot more connected. It’s all about all of them; them being her family, and the world [at stake], everything. Basically, Harold has to live.
Looking back at your time on Person of Interest, what stands out the most to you?
Acker: I mean, there were so many wonderful parts to it. The stuff with Sarah has been really special. To see how that’s had an impact on people; that seems like that will be something that is a lasting thing from the show that will hopefully continue. That’s been unique and interesting, and I feel lucky to be able to do that.
Also, for me, getting to do all the scenes I had with Michael. The interesting topics the writers were talking about with artificial intelligence. I feel like the discussions we had are going to be more and more relevant over the next few years. The writers were predicting things that are going to happen, and having conversations we’re going to need to have, that maybe we’re not ready to have yet. It was all great to be a part of.
With flashbacks and Episode 12’s different timeline, is there anything you can say about viewers possibly seeing you again in the flesh on Person of Interest??
Acker: [Laughs.] I don’t know the answer to that, but like I said, I said goodbye a lot of times!
Is there anything you’d like to say to the fans?
Acker: Thank you guys! It’s been such a fun experience for us. They’ve been so amazing and supportive. they’ve stuck with us through the end, and watched four episodes a week. [Laughs.] It’s exciting to be a part of.
Person of Interest, Tuesdays, 10/9c, CBS.