In horror television and movies, there is almost always a character that propels the story into darker and darker territory, endangering their own life and the lives of everyone around them. On The River, ABC's genre show filmed like a reality TV series, 43-year-old British actor Paul Blackthorne plays that man, Clark Quietly, a manipulative producer who wants cameras rolling no matter what perilous situation his crew finds itself in while searching a scary and magical stretch of the Amazon River for presumed-dead explorer Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood). In sharp contrast to the many propulsive characters who are simply idiots—following spooky noises with zero sense or instinct towards self-preservation—Quietly pushes on despite knowing better because that's where the unforgettable shots and ratings are.
With the season one finale airing tonight at 9 p.m., Complex sat down with Blackthorne to discuss his character's redeeming qualities, why there haven't been more deaths on The River, his scariest world traveling story, and why it would be awkward for everyone if reality TV cameras were to follow him around 24/7.
Interview by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)
Aside from it being a paying gig, what about The River interested you?
Just the fact that there was a different approach to it, almost as if you are watching a reality show, and shooting it in such a fashion. And this character [Clark Quietly] being the producer of the reality show you are seemingly watching results in television sort of coming back in on itself in a sense. And, of course, the ambiguous nature of the character—is he a good guy trying to help find this guy or is he a self-serving guy getting a TV show out of somebody else's misfortune? Who knows.
I assume it didn’t hurt that you filmed in Puerto Rico.
We did the pilot in Puerto Rico and the series in Hawaii, so yeah, clearly that was a bonus.
When coming up with your take on the character, did you have any specific overbearing producers in mind?
Yeah, I did look at one or two very successful reality show producers. Not the obvious British one, Simon Cowell, more the people that are behind the scenes that have been successful in reality production. I certainly drew some inspiration from those guys, or the experiences that those guys have had.
You've been working on a documentary about America. Having been behind the camera, did you relate to Clark’s desire to capture everything and get the juiciest stuff no matter how it affected the subjects?
It was certainly a great help that I spent a good year or two prior to this TV project making my own documentary film, and I had interviewed people across America, obviously looking for the good shots, but my personal approach wasn't perhaps as ruthless as Clark Quietly’s approach, I would like to think. His was a little bit like, "Well, yes, I know our lives are in danger but let’s keep pressing forward.” I don’t think I did that. I think maybe we were close to running out of gas once on our film but I think that was about as close as we got to a life-threatening situation.
What has been your worst encounter with a ruthless producer?
Well, bearing in mind producers are generally the people that help you get employed...I’m not going to say anything untoward about producers right now! So that’s not going to happen! And, to be honest, and I do say this honestly, I haven’t had that many shocking experiences with producers.
I’m amazed by those guys. To me, it’s like a drummer; I can’t understand how a drummer does all those things at the same time, and a producer does the same thing. How they cover all the bases, whether it's dealing with networks or studios, actors or directors, to creating the shows, it's amazing. I take my hat off to those guys. And the guys on The River were great, Zack Estrin, Michael Green—so I don’t have any shocking “let me tell you about a Hollywood producer" story. No!
I bet that admiration and ringing endorsement of producers gets you at least a couple more jobs.
It is horror and there’s got to be some threat to people's lives or else we will never truly be scared. I do believe that if The River gets a second season [the showrunners] might be a little bit more ruthless on that front.
What is something that you consider to be positive about Clark?
Well, I think that as much as he is definitely quite ruthlessly pushing the people on this adventure in order to get his good television I do believe that underneath it all he does ultimately care very much about them, and especially Tess [Dr. Emmet Cole's wife, with whom Clark had an affair]. He has great feelings for her, and I do believe, as far as he is pushing it, he doesn’t always sleep well at night when he pushes it a little bit far. I think some of these adventures on the trip made him learn that you gotta be a little bit careful sometimes, not push too far. So he does have a conscience buried deep down there somewhere…which is a great conflict to him, 'cause he’d rather not have one.
One problem that my fellow genre fans and I have had with The River is that it seemed like it was going to be more hardcore than it has been, especially when one cameraman died early on. Since then, the show has pulled some punches, repeatedly establishing a life-threatening danger that everyone ultimately survives. Is that simply because network television frowns upon constant body-dropping?
I mean, yeah, it is horror and there’s got to be some threat to people's lives or else we will never truly be scared because we’re like, "Ah for five years now no one actually got killed. Why should I ever be scared?” But I do believe that if the show gets a second season...I definitely got the feeling that [the showrunners] might be a little bit more ruthless on that front. But I don’t know. We’ll see. And who knows what will happen in the finale... Dun dun dun!