Paulina Gaitan – pronounced GUY-tahn – was only nineteen years old when she filmed her role as the psychically attuned Jahel Valenzuela, daughter of the ship’s mechanic, in the ABC series THE RIVER, which airs Tuesdays at 9 PM.
Although by now everyone involved in the expedition to find missing naturalist Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) has a pretty good idea that deadly supernatural forces are involved, Jahel is the only one with real insight into the dangerous ways in which local mythology and reality come together.
The now-twenty-year-old Gaitan, a native of Mexico City, has starred in a number of Spanish-language films, including the award-winning SIN NOMBRE. THE RIVER is her first major American production.
ASSIGNMENT X: When ABC and THE RIVER production company were casting the role of Jahel, did they find you in Mexico, or did you come to the U.S. to audition for it?
PAULINA GAITAN: They sent the casting [director] to Mexico City and my manager talked to the show and [asked], “Do you want to do it?” I said, “Okay.” I made it down there and they called me and they said, “You’re in.” I said, “Okay. Really? Good.”
AX: How would you describe Jahel as a character?
GAITAN: Well, she’s a very serious woman. The problem is, she doesn’t know English. “Okay, I want to talk with the people and I want to tell the crew this is a bad idea, we don’t need to stay here because something bad is going to happen.” She tries to say this to the crew, but all of the crew are like, “No, she’s a girl, she doesn’t have an idea.” But she knows everything about the river.
AX: Is it that the other characters don’t understand Jahel, or they are ignoring her?
GAITAN: Ignoring her, yeah, because they understand. Joe Anderson’s character Connor speaks Spanish in the show. Leslie Hope’s character Tess speaks Spanish, Paul Blackthorne as Clark a little bit – all the characters speak a little bit of Spanish, and my character sometimes speaks English, like only one word or something like that.
AX: Do you get to make suggestions about your character to the writers? “I would like it if my character could do this or say this?”
GAITAN: Yes. It’s only a change a little bit there, the text, the lines, because sometimes I feel uncomfortable [with how the lines sound] in Spanish. In English, it sounds great, but if I’m going to say it in Spanish, I come to the director or [show runners] Zack Estrin] or Michael [Green] and say, “Maybe it’s not good to say it this way, maybe it’s better if I say the other thing.”
AX: The producers have said you learned English in three months after being cast. Nearly all of Jahel’s dialogue is subtitled, so you didn’t need to learn English for the role. Did you just learn English for better communication with the crew, or did you learn it for future roles?
GAITAN: For both [laughs]. Yeah. I went to Hawaii [where most of THE RIVER was made] – well, first I went to Puerto Rico [where THE RIVER’s pilot was shot], and then I tried to speak with the people, but it wasn’t so hard in Puerto Rico, they speak Spanish. But the big problem in Hawaii is no one speaks Spanish. I was like [communicating by saying], “Hamburger number two!” It was really hard and I felt really bad, but then I started to learn English with the crew and I talked to the people – “Please show me, because I really want to learn English and be more comfortable [talking] with you guys.”
AX: How would you describe the RIVER cast and crew as a working unit?
GAITAN: We are a family. After three months together, day and night, we are a family now and I’m really happy.
AX: How was working in Hawaii?
GAITAN: So great. Amazing. I never [before knew] Hawaii – when I was there, oh my God. Beautiful place. I had two weeks to vacation there, like, “Oh, my God, I go to the beach!”
AX: Did you have any close encounters in the ocean? Paul Blackthorne he had an interaction with a moray eel …
GAITAN: One time I was snorkeling and I started to swim and swim and I could see the [ocean] floor, and I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, I can see the floor, I can see the floor, no problem.” And then when I look up, “Oh, my God.” I tried to see the land, and I can’t see it. And I know in Hawaii, they have shark attacks. And I start to swim really fast, with my face into the water. “Oh, my God, go, go, go!” And then I stop because I see a shadow. “Oh, my God, it’s a shark and it’s going to eat me.” And I started to swim really slow [and got safely back to shore].
AX: Was there anything in THE RIVER that scared you, either as an idea or being there physically?
GAITAN: When we worked in the night on the river, it’s really scary, because you can see nothing. We just stay in the middle of the river, and if the people shut up, you can listen to the water and [the nature sounds from the shore]. It’s really creepy.
AX: Is there anything else you’d like to say about THE RIVER?
GAITAN: It’s an amazing show and I love it.
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Article Source: Assignment X
Article: Exclusive Interview with THE RIVER star Paulina Gaitan