The River - Leslie Hope
Episode 1.04 "A Better Man" - Doctor Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) © 2012 American Broadcasting Companies

With a career that spans over twenty years, Bruce Greenwood is one of today’s most versatile actors. Best known for his performance as President John F Kennedy Jr in Thirteen Days, his other credits include Being Julia, Capote, I’m Not There and JJ Abrams’ Star Trek.

In ABC’s new paranormal thriller The River he portrays Dr Emmet Cole, a world famous wildlife expert and TV personality, host to the series, The Undiscovered Country. After Cole goes missing deep in the Amazon, his wife Tess (Leslie Hope) funds a rescue mission by allowing Cole’s cagey ex-producer Clark (Paul Blackthorne) to film the mission documentary-style, but nobody can imagine the horrors they will find.

I spoke with Bruce Greenwood at the TV Critics tour about his scary new show.

Why do a TV series when you have such a successful film career?

The River 1.02 - Leslie Hope
Episode 1.02 "Marbeley" - Doctor Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) © 2012 American Broadcasting Companies

Because it was so different. You don’t know how long it’s going to last, it might only last a year or two, and to do something this different [was great].

I play a lot of guys in suits, and even though I’m wearing a suit today, I got pressure from people who wanted me to look nice, but it was nice to play a guy who’s not a cat in a suit with a hidden agenda.

How did they pitch this to you to get you to even read the script?

I talked to Michael (Green, the Executive Producer of the show) and he talked to me thematically, and the big themes that we’re trying to explore ultimately through the course of this series are things that I found really appealing.

And then, of course, you get on the set and you realize, ‘Oh, I’m making a scary show.’ It’s very different, and I’m not used to that.

What are those large themes, could you be more specific?

Life and death, what it means to be here. Is there a collective unconscious? Large things like that. The more connected we are in a technological way, the more you begin to allow your mind to imagine that maybe without this technology some of these connections are possible as well.

Did you base your character on the late Steve Irwin?

The River 1.02 - Leslie Hope
Episode 1.02 "Marbeley" - Doctor Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) is catpured © 2012 American Broadcasting Companies

No, not really. I watched a lot of movies and nature shows, and I watched them a lot as a kid, so I already had an idea in my mind of who I wanted this guy to be.

From the pilot this series seems more like The Blair Witch Project than Crocodile Hunter, but I’m curious what it was like for you to play the Steve Irwin-type character?

One of the things that appealed to me the most about the character at the outset was he’s a guy that’s happy to wake up in the morning.

He’s got a lot of joy in him. I’ve played a lot of people who have hidden agendas, who are not particularly savory, and this guy was a guy that believed deeply in his love for his wife and his love for his son and was happy to wake up in the morning.

So as a starting place of joy, for me, I thought that would be a fun zone to be in when you go to work, particularly if the show succeeds and you’re doing it for a long time. However, he discovers something out there that changes his view of the world and his ability to tap into that joy.

There’s a wrestling match there for him which is fun to invest in.

Is this a small part for you where you just pop up in some videos every now and then?

The River - Leslie Hope
Doctor Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) © 2012 American Broadcasting Companies

Yeah, two or three minutes a show I just pop my head up out of the water and get scared. (he laughs) No, they’re searching for me. So as we go along, they find more and more evidence. So you see me more and more until we come to the moment when they find me – if they find me! (he laughs)

What is the process of shooting these videos that they are going to find along the way?

Virtually everything in the pilot it’s me holding the camera. All that stuff in the hold of the boat, every time I’m talking to the camera, I’m holding it.

We used all kinds of cameras, including little video cams. Some of the cameras are strapped to our arms, and all the actors get to shoot. It’s really fun and it’s intense to try and balance what you have to do emotionally with what you have to do practically and logistically with the camera.

Did that affect your performance?

The River 1.01 - Leslie Hope
Episode 1.01 "Magus" - Doctor Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) shows off a snake © 2012 American Broadcasting Companies

It’s almost as though there’s another gear in your brain, or another compartment that you didn’t realize that you could actually click on for that process.

It’s just a little bit more juggling than you’re used to, but once you get the rhythm down you can operate [the camera] and you can have part of your brain go, ‘I want to frame this so this doesn’t feel perfect, but I also don’t want to be shooting up my nose.’

How much do you get to work with the other actors?

I’m not sure how much I’ll give away by answering that question. Eventually they find him, I hear (he laughs). Let’s put it this way, I have had the experience of working with the cast. Ultimately we ended up working quite a bit together.

You’re shooting the new Star Trek movie now.

Yeah, it’s great to be back with the gang again. It was really fun. It’s a good script, but I can’t say anything about it.

I know, but are you happy with how Captain Pike is being handled.

Yes of course. I’m really content with it, it’s a great script.

Are you surprised by how positively the first film was received?

My experience of making the first film was so full of fun and joy, I usually don’t have high expectations, but the experience was so great that I did. Generally speaking, when you have the high expectations they collapse, but not with this. It was fantastic.

Episode 3 “Los Ciegos” is aired Tuesday February 14, 2012


Judy Sloane

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