HitFix Interview: ‘Harper’s Island’s’ deceased Black Sheep speaks

06.09.09 8 years ago

Kharen Hill/CBS

Oh brother.

Even in the anything-can-happen world of CBS’ “Harper’s Island,” Henry (Chris Gorham) and Trish (Katie Cassidy) still seem pretty safe, thought their nuptials may be postponed indefinitely. But just because “Harper’s Island” doesn’t seem quite ready to kill off its biggest stars doesn’t mean that the mystery serial is opposed to making them suffer, emotionally.

Trish has now spent the past three episodes puffy-eyed and mourning for her late father, bastard though he was. Similarly, while Henry had little trouble believing that his disturbed brother JD might have been a serial killer, he’s still going to be a little worked up over the events of this past Saturday’s (June 6) “Harper’s Island.”

R.I.P. JD.

Played by Dean Chekvala, JD was half brooding loner with a psychotic streak and half misunderstood child. So perhaps it’s appropriately that the killer appears to have tried to bisect him with a sharp object. Or maybe that’s what he (or she) did. In fact, viewers didn’t get much of a sense of what happened to JD, only that Abby (Elaine Cassidy) stumbled upon him at the docks and that Henry, hands covered in blood, was nearby. Grieving sibling or exposed killer? We don’t know for sure.

Days after his character’s apparent untimely demise, Chekvala got on the phone with HitFix to try to explain what happened to JD and who he thinks may be behind all of the mayhem.

HitFix: I feel like I need to ask. Is JD really dead?

Dean Chekvala: Yes.

HitFix: I’m just trying to cover my bases in case one of these “Harper’s Island” corpses ends up not really being dead and being the killer.

DC: I think it’s safe to say that he’s dead.

HitFix: So how’d you watch the episode?

DC: I actually watched it with Matt Barr, who plays Sully. We watched it at one of his pals’ places. There were four or five of us.

HitFix: Presumably Matt knew that you didn’t make it past the episode. Did anybody else know?

DC: No. We pretty much don’t tell any of our friends. But you know what, though? One of them might have found out, because I think he went online to check something right before it started and because it airs earlier on the East Coast, it was already on the blogs and he might have seen something. He gave me this look right before it started and then I saw him get off his computer and somebody said, “Oh, did you look” and he said, “No, I didn’t look.” But it seemed like he did. I want to say he knew.

HitFix: But you’d done a good job keeping the secret?

DC: Oh yeah. I’m watching the other people watch it. They’re so into it. They like that factor of not knowing, that built in suspense. I didn’t want to ruin it for them.

HitFix: How have friends and loved ones responded since?

DC: Oh, they’re bummed. Some are like, “Oh man. I can’t believe they did that to you” and I’m like “I know!” But I think for the story it’s probably a good thing, because I feel like over the last couple episodes they built JD up enough that people got to know him a little, so it was more devastating or more of a surprise that they were willing to kill him.

HitFix: At the end, it was hard to tell what actually happened to JD So what can you tell me?

DC: Well, I think it was on purpose to be left open-ended that way, just to keep all of the suspects in the pot still. Basically, he was stabbed or cut, cut open. I don’t know if you noticed, but it was all in the stomach area. There were several versions we shot with guts and more guts and no guts. And I think they chose a no guts one, because it might have been too graphic. It didn’t seem like there was stuff hanging out, but theoretically there were guts all over the place.

HitFix: Oh, they clearly went with the “no guts” version. 

DC: There were guts versions. Or there were polish sausage versions, that’s what they were.

HitFix: How much make-up time was required?

DC: You know, not a lot at all. Underneath the shirt, where there was the opening, there was this prosthetic they had already made, like a belt almost, that just velcroed on and that just shows the open wound and the gash and then on top of that, they put the guts for some of the takes and then they poured blood on it, so actually the makeup, outside of just laying there and letting them pour blood on you, wasn’t bad at all. 

HitFix: So you never even shot a version of the killing, just the aftermath?

DC: We just shot what you saw, the aftermath.

HitFix: Does that mean you don’t know exactly what went down or who was responsible?

DC: As far as who or what or why? I don’t know any of that. All I know is that I was stabbed, basically. But who did it or why or if there was a confrontation or anything, I don’t know, because that actually wasn’t in the script. It was nothing that got cut and there was nothing that was ever written. It was just like, she comes down and she hears these sounds and she looks over and he’s there holding his guts in. That’s basically what it said. So I’ve had to guess that he got stabbed or macheted or who knows what. Something to that effect. He probably wasn’t shot. He probably wasn’t shot with a bow and arrow or a gun or anything. It was something pretty close, like a hatchet or something. 

HitFix: Since JD had been put out there as a major suspect, or at least a red herring. In your mind, how troubled was he?

DC: There is that scene where they find his medication and it’s revealed that he’s probably not taking it. I felt like, doing the research, there were several reasons why people who would stop taking them. It really does make them foggy, if you’re on antidepressants. It does, kind of, in a sense, not numb you, but it does something to your energy level, where it makes you foggy and down. I can understand why somebody would stop that and at the same time be mad at themselves and at the situation that they had to stop, because it wasn’t working. In that sense, he’s troubled, but outside of that, I feel like he’s more troubled with the fakeness of the world. The island, to him, is definitely this symbol of, “This isn’t who I am, but this is who he tried pretending to be” and that probably got to him over the course of his life. So is that troubled? Probably, because he takes it to the extreme. He doesn’t know how to deal, so he cuts himself and he tries to commit suicide and just doesn’t know where his place is in the world. But as far as “troubled” in terms of psychotic? I never thought so, but that’s probably because I was playing him. Somebody watching would probably be like, “Yeah, this dude is a psycho.” But I don’t know. I feel like there were a lot of endearing qualities about him.

HitFix: What was the process to figuring out just how far you could push the character to leave that doubt on just how psychotic he might have been?

DC: I really let the writers and, in a sense, the director and editor worry about that. For me, I never thought he was… Well, actually, there was a point when I was like, “Oh!” They didn’t tell anyone who the killer was, so as far as I was considered, it could have been me. There were definitely points where I was like, “Oh. I’m probably the killer.” You know? But then more stuff came out and I thought, “This stuff is so interesting,” like with Cole, the burned man, and how he relates to people on the island. I was like, “Maybe he’s not.” Then once the idea came into JD’s head like, “I see Wakefield.” And I had to think, “Is that his delusion? Does he want to believe that? Or is it real?” I made the choice that it was real for him. So I was like, “In that case, then I’m not the killer.” So I played it that way and if they wanted to push me as the killer, I felt like “Well, I’ll probably be vindicated eventually.” As long as I really focused on, “I’m not lying,” then it would play better at the end.

HitFix: A few other cast members have talked about what a great group dynamic it was, like actually being at a long wedding party. Because your character was the outsider, did you miss out on some of that dynamic?

DC: Oh, not at all. We definitely were a tight-knit group, especially since we didn’t have anybody else who we knew or could hang out with. We were away from home, most of us. And then the people that lived in Canada were great hosts, took us around and showed us what they do and where to go and hang out. Eventually I got into that group. But yeah, the first time I arrived, I didn’t know anybody and most of them kinda knew each other from before, so I kinda worked in my favor in that aspect of “I don’t belong here” or “This character doesn’t belong here,” just being distant and feeling your way out. That helped in the beginning, but that quickly turned into loads of fun off the set.

HitFix: Did the steadily dwindling cast cause the atmosphere to change as the show progressed?

DC: A little bit, because we’d no longer see some people. It was reall
y sad to see people go every week. It was never personal. It was never like you got fired, which is a whole different atmosphere. Nobody ever felt like they were in trouble. Everybody felt like it was for the benefit of the story, that this is going to make the story stronger, so everybody’s like “Yes, I’m willing to do that and let’s make this as awesome as possible.” But then they’re not around and you’re like, “Ah, I miss so-and-so” or “Oh, I wish so-and-so was here.”

HitFix: Since it sounds like you’re in the dark on where things went after you left, what’s your hunch? Give me some theories…

DC: Oh, I’ve blamed that little girl, from the beginning. Not to be trusted. I’ve always thought it might have been Abby, you know? Every week, we’d be like “Who do you think it is? Who do you think it is?” and talk amongst ourselves and try to convince each other on who we thought it was and from the very beginning, I created my own scenario, based on new evidence whatsoever, but I was like, “I think it’s going to be Abby, because that might be cool.” I don’t know how they would tell that story, but it might be her. Then I switched every week, like “Oh, it’s the sheriff!” and then “Oh, it’s Jimmy, the native kid.” So I’m kinda anxious and really interested to see what new information they’re going to start revealing about these peoples’ relationships that will make it more clear. That’s where the story is at now. You definitely know the premise, but what you always constantly learn are the secrets that they hold. They’re not necessarily out-of-nowhere secrets, where sometimes you’re like “Well, if I’d know that, of course I would have known.” But in this case, it works because the people involved, seeing it through their eyes, have to earn those secrets being told, they have to discover them. And that changes the game plan for them and for the audience. As long as they keep that consistent, it should be really interesting.

HitFix: Do you think viewers paying attention might be able to figure out the clues, or will there be a lot of explaining done in the finale?

DC: I think a little of both. Let’s say, after the finale, you’re like, “Really? Does that really work?” Then I think if you’d go back and rewatch them, you’d be able to see the clues. But to remember the clues? I don’t know. I probably won’t be able to
. It’s way too much information, since you don’t really know what even is a clue. At this point, every move that someone makes, you could be like “That’s a clue!” There are clues all over the place, I’m sure, but I’m not that good at figuring out what’s a clue and what’s not. They’re doing a really good job of, not tricking you, but making you believe something else is important, while you miss the important thing. I feel like you could figure it out and you probably will by the end, but if you go back, you might see more clues from the beginning. I’m hoping that they put that in there.

“Harper’s Island” airs on CBS on Saturday nights at 9 p.m.

Previous “Harper’s Island” Death Interviews: 

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