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!
It seems like it would be very uncomfortable having Big Brother-style reality TV cameras on you 24/7. If you were filmed in such a manner what would you be most nervous or embarrassed about people seeing?
I mean, apart from the obvious private things, I think probably some of my obsessive-compulsive disorder habits, which are a bit peculiar. I think it would be difficult keeping those under wraps under 24-hour surveillance.
How does your OCD manifest itself?
I just have to do things, generally, in fours. I’m not really good at doing things in other ways. Why am I telling you this?
Because I'm asking.
[Laughs.] Oh, dammit!
In fours—that's interesting. I've heard of threes.
Oh, no, no, no. Threes, you've got your Holy Trinity, whatever, but for me, I have to go one step beyond. [Laughs.]
You just had to be special.
I just had to be special. I had to be different. I just couldn’t help myself. I take things to the next level, you see! Not exactly. No, I 've just got this peculiar…I’m a bit obsessive-compulsive and I think that would be a little bit peculiar for people to see.
Doing things in fours doesn’t sound that bad.
But you don’t know what those things are that I have to do in fours—and I am not revealing those!
[Laughs.] All right, all right. In real life, you are actually quite a world traveler. What is the craziest, most dangerous situation that you’ve found yourself in?
Two come to mind. I went for a walk in the Arabian Desert once on New Year’s Day and I got lost. A Bedouin tribesman helped me on my way but then things went a little bit awry after that as well. I managed to wave down a Dutch guy on a four-wheel drive who was thankfully not driving too far away and he told me I was 4.2 miles away from the nearest town—and that was at 4 o'clock, about an hour before the sun was going down.
I was in the Himalayas, at 15,000 feet in an electrical storm, with visibility of about five feet, trying to get down 900 feet on a roughly 45-degree rocky ice slope. It was one of the moments when you go, Oh yes, this is when the tourist died in the middle of an electrical snow storm in the Himalayas! Stupid idiot!
That was unnerving, but the scariest one I’ve had was being in the Himalayas in India, at 15,000 feet in an electrical storm—and when I say in an electrical storm I mean in it, because you are in the clouds with the electricity sort of buzzing around your ears, with visibility of about five feet, trying to get down 900 feet on a roughly 45-degree rocky ice slope. It was one of the moments when you sit there and go, Oh yes, this is when the tourist died in the middle of an electrical snow storm in the Himalayas! It’s just that classic, they went a little too far, and well, what the hell was he doing up there anyways? Stupid idiot!
So you're a bit of an adventurer?
I am not very dynamic. I’m not one of these people who jump out of airplanes, bungee jump, or ski lofty peaks. I tend to just sort of ramble but I suppose I do ramble in some interesting places. I like to get out…away from people. That’s my quest when I go out on journeys, and whether that is on the top of the Himalayas or in the middle of deserts I am, I definitely like to hear the silence.
When we first met, I discovered that you lived in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where I grew up, in the early '90s. Do you have any favorite Brooklyn rappers?
I don’t have any favorite Brooklyn rappers. Back in '93, I kinda got into the Ice Cube music whilst I was living in Spike Lee country. Where is Dr. Dre from?
Dre is from L.A.
OK, because on Saturday I was driving down Sunset Blvd. with a friend of mine and this great big massive Rolls-Royce rolled up alongside us in the traffic with the windows down. I have a beaten up old hybrid I’ve had for the last 10 years, and I rolled down the window and I said to the guy inside, an African American gentleman, “Hey buddy, is that the new hybrid?” and he looked at me and went, “No, not exactly.” And I said, “Well, it’s a very nice car all the same,” and he said, “Yeah, man.” I said, “How big is the engine?” He said, “It’s a 12,” which I really didn’t understand—I think it was a V-12 or something.
My buddy next to me is laughing and when the traffic went off, my buddy said, “You know who that was, right? That was Dr. Dre.” So I just had a hybrid conversation with Dr. Dre, who was driving the world’s biggest Rolls-Royce.
I wasn't aware anybody rich enough to own a Rolls-Royce actually drove themselves in it.
Yeah, he looked pretty happy to be driving in his Rolls-Royce.
Sure, I just always pictured it as a chauffeur car.
Well, it was pretty blinged-up; it had a little extra razzle dazzle about it. [Laughs.] It wasn’t quite the English countryside Rolls-Royce. Or maybe it was a Bentley. I don't know. They're pretty similar to me.
I know you're a passionate supporter of Arsenal in the English Premier League, so I must admit to betting $100 that your team will fail to finish top four in the table and miss out on the Champions League.
That's it! Interview's over!
[Laughs.] So I need to know, will the Gunners finish top four? Will they finish higher in the table than their rival, Tottenham?
I think because of the implosion that is taking place in Chelsea... I mean, there is a great spirit going on at the moment. It’s still fragile, the Arsenal spirit, but generally it’s very good. They have their fragile moments but I actually think they are getting stronger and stronger in that sense and I’ve got a feeling we are going to have a good run in.
I think Spurs are going to be a little bit shaky because they have the uncertainty of whether or not Harry Redknapp will stay on as manager or leave to manage the English [National Team], and just the general inexperience at being at that end of the league at the end of the season—it's just gonna play against them I think. And I wouldn’t be surprised if, after one of the shakiest seasons ever, Arsenal ends up finishing in third place, ahead of Spurs and Chelsea.
Speaking of Redknapp and the England job, what are you expecting from England at the Euros this summer?
Absolutely nothing. The English National Team is, let’s just politely say, in a period of great transition. [Laughs.] Let’s say politely we have some promising youngsters in the future, but naaah, that’s just a team that’s not going to win anything.
As told to Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)