In ABC’s new series THE RIVER, Tuesdays at 9 PM, a group of documentary makers journey into uncharted offshoots of the Amazon River in search of missing naturalist Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood). The group is headed up by Emmet’s wife Tess (Leslie Hope), who refuses to turn back, even when it becomes clear that something deadly and supernatural is at work here.
Shot in the documentary style utilized by series co-creator Oren Peli in his PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise, THE RIVER relies in narrative terms on footage shot by both mounted cameras and by the characters. Shaun Parkes plays Andreas Jude Poulain, aka A.J., the group’s surviving cameraman – his colleague was killed by an invisible force with everyone else horrified and A.J. still rolling tape. The London-born Parkes has worked in the U.S. before, appearing on NO ORDINARY FAMILY. PBS Mystery fans will recognize Parkes as DC Winston Nkata in THE INSPECTOR LYNLEY MYSTERIES and DOCTOR WHO fans know him as Zachary Cross Flane.
Parkes takes time to talk about playing a man whose professionalism sometimes trumps his self-preservation – and about his love for the series LOST.
ASSIGNMENT X: Your character A.J. seems to have a rock-solid work ethic. In the pilot, his fellow camera operator is killed by an unseen supernatural force, and A.J. seems pretty determined to keep going, even at the potential expense of saving his own ass.
SHAUN PARKES: In terms of what he’s there to do, he’s there to get the job done. Like any cameraman or reporter, you’re here to do your thing. You’re not here to be distracted by the bells and whistles, you’re here so that when you go home that night, you have something to work on and sort out for the next day. And so that’s where he is, that’s what his job is. In terms of the saving his own ass, I get that, but if your job is to have your arm bitten off by the lion, my job is to film it coming off. Because if I miss you getting eaten by a lion, I haven’t done my job. So there is the element of, do you put the camera down and help, or do you actually film [something terrible that’s happening]? Well, what my character knows is, filming it will get more ratings that will essentially bring in more money for the show, so that these people can carry on searching for their man.
AX: So A.J. is not inclined to put the camera down – he’s that guy in CLOVERFIELD who’s carrying the camera and recording, even as the monster is running after him.
PARKES: Yeah. And you know what the thing is, what’s great in this day and age? We don’t have to justify it necessarily, but as far as I know, there really is this thing these days, to be your own journalist/cameraman. I mean, the amount of spying that’s going on right now, it’s incredible. The amount of people who are out and about and have a camera-phone, see something and decide to film it, that kind of thing happens daily. So I don’t think it’s too much to stretch one’s imagination when it comes to the idea that someone who’s terrified out of their wits might actually carry on filming.
AX: Now, if you were on stage or filming a scene, and all the things that A.J. sees started happening, how far into it would you personally go, “This job is not worth this”?
PARKES: [laughs] I would have left – I’d be interested for awhile and then I guess would have left. I can take quite a lot, actually, because I’m aware that there are things out there that I have seen and heard about that I didn’t know what it was, but it was very interesting at the time. I’ve also been in absolute panic and a riot. I’ve been in a riot. And I’ve stood there and I’ve watched everyone lose their minds. I wasn’t one of the ones running for my life – I was one of the ones just standing there and watching people panic and damn near break their necks running away. They damn near died just running, really. So I know that I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to panic too much. But yeah, by the time someone’s dying and you realize the fact that you can see someone die, who’s kind of a friend of yours, and carry on with this thing that essentially you’re doing just to get paid. People are dying. How many more people do you want to see die? That’s the question, then, that you have to ask at that point.
AX: So is A.J. the most cold-assed character you’ve played?
PARKES: [laughs] No, it’s not the most cold-assed character I’ve ever played. He certainly is very cold.
AX: Paul Blackthorne plays Clark Quietly, A.J.’s producer/boss. Do your character and his character have any passionate artistic differences?
PARKES: [laughs] Well, I guess it’s like anyone and their boss. [Getting documentary footage] not like a creative industry where you need to like the people who you work around; it’s an industry where you get the best people. So where you’re just hoping to get the best people, there can be problems with ego and there can be problems with, if you make desperate moves and you make desperate choices, then that can come and bite you. I don’t think this is a desperate move by him, but I don’t think we particularly love each other. I just think that we respect each other for the jobs that we do.
AX: When you were cast as A.J. or during the audition process, was there discussion about whether you’d use your normal speaking voice, which you do in the show, or whether you should use an American accent?
PARKES: Yeah. I went in for three or four different auditions, two different roles, and two different accents. And essentially, they opted for the English accent, because what they were saying was, they wanted the element of realism or naturalism and they wanted the actors to be able to just off the cuff do something. Sometimes with an accent, if it’s not your natural accent, that can be difficult. So I think they wanted the British crew – Paul’s British [and uses his own accent] and then he’s got the cameraman – and I think that makes sense.
AX: The producers have said that they had handed cameras to all of the actors and actually had you roll tape on whatever you thought was interesting. As your character is actually a camera operator, what was that like for you as an actor?
PARKES: We actually did film a lot. I was there every day filming and actually rolling, and it was a challenge, and as much as it was a challenge, and as difficult as it could be sometimes, when you realized that actors are looking to you to get something, because it could be that you’re the only one who’s actually going to get this shot, so there is slightly a little bit more pressure. So actually, as it turns out, I was little bit more paranoid about two jobs than I would be [with one], because normally, I’d just be worried about my lines and hitting the mark. Now I’m worried about my lines, hitting the mark and everybody else hitting their mark, getting an artistic point of view from the camera that tells the story and whatever else and it was a challenge, but I enjoyed it.
AX: When you were videotaping the other actors, do you think, “All right, I should follow them, because I know they’re going here” or are you in your character’s mind and thinking, “I don’t know where they’re going”?
PARKES: There’s an element of both. There’s an element where [as the actors, we have] rehearsed it, so we do know, but there’s the element that fortunately, when we do rehearse, I’m given a camera and I don’t know where they’re going [during the rehearsal]. So there’s an element of when we actually are rolling, that I have to hold onto what I had [psychologically] at the rehearsal when I didn’t know. Did that make sense?
PARKES: [laughs] Okay.
AX: Had you been living here in Los Angeles, or did you just come to the U.S. to do THE RIVER?
PARKES: I made an effort two years ago to come over toL.A. before I got too old and withered, so I decided to come over January of last year. It’s been great so far.
AX: You came to L.A. and wound up in Hawaii.
PARKES: Actually, I came to L.A. and wound up in Puerto Rico. Last year was crazy, because I did this thing for the British station Sky in Puerto Rico called TREASURE ISLAND. I’d never been to Puerto Rico before, I was there for five weeks. I came to L.A. for about four weeks, I got THE RIVER, I went straight back toPuerto Rico. So I’ve filmed twice in Puerto Rico.
AX: So the pilot for THE RIVER was filmed in Puerto Rico and then …
PARKES: And then they did the next seven episodes in Hawaii, where essentially, as far as I could tell logistically, it was easier for them.
AX: Is there a television production infrastructure in Hawaii that’s like shooting in London in L.A.?
PARKES: Well, obviously, LOST didn’t finish too long ago, and we were using the stages that they used and the [crew] people that were around there. It’s amazing, we had these men on THE RIVER, these greensmen – they call them the greensmen – and they make everywhere look very green and foresty. Fortunately for us, we had the same people working on our show [who had worked on LOST]. So they know what they’re doing and they brought that element of professionalism that was very impressive.
AX: And is working in Hawaii what you thought working in Hawaii would be like?
PARKES: Well, I’ve been to Hawaii. I have LOST on DVD and Blu-ray. And I watched it on TV. I’ve watched LOST two and a half times. I love LOST, as you can imagine. Hawaii – what was it like? I know those hills, the LOST hills, very, very well.
AX: So when you get to the location, are you thinking, “They shot this scene from LOST here”?
PARKES: I tell you what it is – I’m not doing that, but I know the [LOST] music really well. So my brain works like this – I’ll be in Hawaii and I’ll be walking around, and I’ll hear a bit of music from LOST, because the music [by Michael Giacchino] was amazing. I’ll hear a bit of music, and I’ll just think, “God, I’m in LOST. I’m doing scared acting, in Hawaii, looking for someone who’s lost, experiencing supernatural things.”
AX: Has anything on set actually scared you?
PARKES: Came close to scaring me, but it wasn’t the thing that was on set that was close to scaring me. It was the idea of [the history of the location]. I think you must have heard we filmed in this haunted old children’s asylum where the kids were mentally challenged, if you like, and were sent there. So what you have is this asylum and what you have next door is the cemetery for the asylum. What you also have are the stories of the guy that maybe was fiddling with [sexually abusing] the kids, and then the story of the nurses who maybe killed that guy because of his dealings with the kids. And then what you have, as a result of the place being haunted, so many people having heard or seen things, the stories, and the fact that people would refuse to go in there. So when you’ve got people asking you, “Are you going in?” And I’m saying, “Yeah,” and you’ve got the [local residents] saying, “I’m not going in, I refuse to go in,” it got scary. Because you realize that people in their life, they really believe this stuff and it was interesting being there, because it took a couple people out, that place.
AX: Do you have any other projects coming up that we should know about?
PARKES: Well, I’ve just done something in England called TREASURE ISLAND, which is a pirate thing, which I believe is coming out on BBC America. I do a lot of voiceover work for cartoons in England; I don’t know that they’ll be coming out over here, though.
AX: Anything else you’d like to say about THE RIVER?
PARKES: I’ve just loved it because it’s an American show, I love American shows, and I’m very, very happy to be part of something that has such a budget and such an ambition.
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Article Source: Assignment X
Article: Exclusive Interview with THE RIVER star Shaun Parkes