Starting tonight on BBC One, River is a new psychological detective series with a dark twist. On the eve of the gripping new six-part drama, the Xtreme Entertainment Network caught up with the star of the show, Stellan Skarsgard (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Skarsgard stars as John River, a brilliant police officer whose genius is only matched by the fragility of his mind…
So what is River all about? If it was a normal TV series it would be rather easy to tell you about it but it’s not and that’s why I’m in it. You could say it’s a crime story on the surface, but it’s really more about a person’s breakdown or his psychological status. This police officer I’m playing, he has a mental disorder. We’ve heard a lot about people that hear voices, but he actually sees those people as well that he’s talking to, and very often it is victims of crime that pop up and have conversations with him. They’re not like ghosts, they’re his own creations.
Can you tell us a little about the character you play, John River? When you meet River in the first episode, he’s in a car together with his colleague Stevie outside a fast food drive-through joint. That’s where it starts, but his colleague who was probably closest to him, has been murdered three weeks earlier and we learn he is working on the case of solving her murder, as well as all other cases that pop up during his journey. Very often the victims of murder cases show up and have discussions with him, and try to help him solve the crime; ‘manifests’ as we call them. As an audience, we see those victims, or ‘manifests’, as real living people in a room, but of course it’s not the victim that is helping him solve the crime because the victim is dead. We’re not talking about ghosts here, he produces these dialogues himself: they are an internal discussion almost like his own kind of checklist as he investigates their lives and the moments leading to their death. The audience see these characters and get used to them being around, and should be happy (or scared in some instances) to see them when they show up even if you know they’re dead. It’s always interesting when they do: it sort of jars reality, but in an intriguing way.
What’s the effect of these manifests on River’s life and relationships? Well he’s a police officer, and he’s supposed to have a record that shows no psychological problems whatsoever and he’s of course hiding this, but it’s hard when he suddenly starts talking to somebody who isn’t there. Some of those situations become quite comical and some are tragic. His behaviour is of course bizarre sometimes to the people around him, but the audience can see who he’s talking to so the audience are hopefully on his side.
Can you relate to River as a character? I can relate to anybody and I can relate to River too, but it’s not like “Oh yeah I’ve seen a lot of manifests myself’ It’s nothing like that. I relate to him; when he’s angry I can relate to his anger and when he’s sad I can relate to his sadness, when he’s jealous I can relate to his jealousy, as we all do.
Are the manifests serving a purpose that’s helping or assisting River? They serve a purpose for River. First of all he’s a very lonely man and they are his friends, like children have imaginary friends, but in his case it’s pathological. They serve the purpose that an inner dialogue can serve for you of course, but they also terrorize him because some of them represent the darkest sides of him.
How does River differ from so many other cop shows out there? I don’t know exactly how this show will differ from other shows but I think we’re all doing our best to be sure it does. First of all, the satisfaction of the show is not to find out who did it, the satisfaction of the show lies in the beautifully written characters and what’s happening between them and their relationships. Hopefully it will have a tone of its own, and a tone of its own that works. We’re taking some risks in the way we do it and that makes it very interesting. Without risk, it’s not worthwhile is it? It’s a pretty highly strung and tense show because the psychological stakes are high, and the personal stakes for a lot of the people are also high. It’s a mixture of the danger of illegal actions and psychological vulnerability.
What do you hope viewers get from watching River? I hope of course that they would be entertained, not necessarily in the sense that it’s the average kind of entertainment; I want them to be entertained but in a different way and maybe find some fascination in things that they don’t usually see. It’s very much a series about humans and human behaviour; extremely lovely, warm and compassionate without being overly sentimental… It’s all made with a lot of love for life, even if on some levels that can be depressing or sad, on other levels it’s like life; comical and dramatic and funny.