The River - Leslie Hope
Tess Cole (Leslie Hope) © 2012 American Broadcasting Companies

In ABC’s new paranormal thriller The River, it appears that any of the characters could face their demise at any time. That’s not a scenario that actress Leslie Hope is looking for, as she portrayed Jack Bauer’s wife, Teri, on the classic series 24, and was murdered at the end of the first season.

In The River she plays Tess Cole, whose husband, Dr Ernest Cole (Bruce Greenwood), a popular wildlife expert and TV personality, goes missing deep in the Amazon. Just when they’ve giving up hope of ever seeing him again, Dr Cole’s emergency beacon goes off, urging Tess, her son Lincoln (Joe Anderson), along with Cole’s ex-producer, Clark (Paul Blackthorne), and a documentary crew to fund and film the rescue, to go in search of him. What they find is more frightening than they could ever have imagined.

I spoke with Leslie at the TV Critics tour about her scary new series.

Had you been looking for another show?

The River - Joe Anderson, Paulina Gaitan, Paul Blackthorne, Bruce Greenwood, Daniel Zacapa, Shaun Parkes, Thomas Kretschmann, Leslie Hope and Eloise Mumford
Joe Anderson as Lincoln Cole, Paulina Gaitan as Jahel Valenzuela, Paul Blackthorne as Clark Quietly, Bruce Greenwood as Doctor Emmet Cole, Daniel Zacapa as Emilio Valenzuela, Shaun Parkes as Andreus Jude (AJ) Poulain, Thomas Kretschmann as Captain Kurt Brynildson, Leslie Hope as Tess Cole and Eloise Mumford as Lena Landry © 2012 American Broadcasting Companies

I have actually been pursuing directing. I’ve been directing for television and documentary, and a short film I just did called Gaykeith. I wasn’t so much looking for a TV job as an acting gig, but I so admired Michael Green (the series’ producer) that my manager said, ‘You should go. He’s a documentary filmmaker.’

I went. I wanted to meet Michael because I loved Kings so much, and I really wanted to meet him for that. And the notion of a character who’s a documentary filmmaker appealed to me, I thought, ‘Oh, I won’t have to work so hard in the audition.’ And here I am.

On screen, you come off as a really tough person, is that something you like?

In this show, ironically, the toughness drives her on this journey, but it’s completely driven by a huge emotional connection to Bruce’s character. In fact, I have cried more in this, and broke down and fell apart more on this show than any job I’ve ever done.

It was almost operatic at the end of it, and that’s based on a vulnerable and emotional side as opposed to being tough.

So you were attracted to this particular project because of the documentary aspect of it?

The River, 1.02 - Leslie Hope, Joe Anderson and Eloise Mumford
Episode 1.02 "Marbeley" - Tess Cole (Leslie Hope), Lincoln Cole (Joe Anderson) and Lena Landry (Eloise Mumford) © 2012 American Broadcasting Companies

For me in real life, I’ve made documentary films. I’ve been to the Amazon and lived with a tribe in the jungle. So that lined up with my real personality.

The reality is, doing a TV show, you’re kind of left with yourself, right? There’s only so much acting you can do week after week after week. And what you want to line up, in my world anyway, is something that is close enough to you that when you’re not as good on the day, your own stuff can maybe prop you up a little bit.

I felt very, very privileged to have a job that lined up with my own character of me, Leslie, as closely as this did.

Can you talk about why you went to the Amazon and what you were doing there?

I travel so much, and I’m so interested in going to places that have been framed in the media with a point-of-view that I wasn’t sure about, and with the Amazon I knew that they were ripping it apart for oil, and I wanted to see for myself what that was all about, so I went down there to visit.

It was a long time ago, I left the Amazon to come to the TCAs about nine years ago, when I was doing Line of Fire, I think. So that’s when I was there, and I was fascinated with what was happening down there, and it’s worse than you can imagine.

Being in an adventure show like this, how important is it for you in terms of the physicality, are you a really active person?

The River, 1.01 - Leslie Hope and Thomas Kretschmann
Episode 1.01 "Magus" - Tess Cole (Leslie Hope) and Captain Kurt Brynildson (Thomas Kretschmann) © 2012 American Broadcasting Companies

On this show, by definition, I have to be because that’s how the show works. We have a lot of adventure things to do, we are trekking through the jungle, we are in the water. I found it challenging which is to say it’s really hot, it’s really humid, and we’re loaded down with gear.

I cheated, I didn’t put my pack filled with 80 pounds of gear, I lightened up that pack. But I found it challenging in a good sense.

Also, because we’re not shooting on a soundstage per se, there are really no surroundings facilities for us, which is all great because what happens is you get even further immersed into that world as you’re shooting it.

It makes you have to work less hard in a way because you don’t have to think so hard about what could be tough.

Do you feel the docu-drama way the series is shot is sustainable on a weekly basis?

The River, 1.01 - Leslie Hope and and Eloise Mumford
Episode 1.01 "Magus" - Tess Cole (Leslie Hope) and and Lena Landry (Eloise Mumford) © 2012 American Broadcasting Companies

It’s an interesting point that you rise, and it’s working for our advantage to use this found footage and these hidden mounted cams, because to me it makes it more real, it makes you more engaged, you feel like stuff is really happening to these people.

I feel like the other way, which is more produced and polished, I find as a viewer I start to lose interest a little bit because my belief is not sustainable for that many episodes.

Here, I think it’s working, and for me because of the core of it, I’m not there to be scared, I’m there to find my husband. This emotional drama I think runs through as the spine of the show and I think that is sustainable, and the relationships between all the characters I think is sustainable too.

How disposable are the characters in this?

Let me just say, I was on a TV Show (24) where I got killed sort of unexpectedly, in my mind, [the first year], where I thought I was in good shape because I was playing the wife of the hero, and I was pregnant!

And I ended up getting stabbed in the guts. So Michael made a promise that it would be at least 40 episodes before they would kill me and stab me in the guts. Call it a spoiler!

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.