HitFix Interview: ‘Harper’s Island’s’ deceased Hustler speaks

06.01.09 9 years ago

Chris Helcermanas-Benge/CBS

Has anybody else noticed that some of the objective identifiers provided by CBS for the characters on “Harper’s Island” are a bit wonky? Sure, we get why Trish and Henry are The Bride and The Groom, or why Hunter Jennings (R.I.P.) was The Other Man. But other than his glasses, why was Booth (R.I.P.) The Nerd? And why was Malcolm Ross dubbed The Hustler?

Oh and I guess we can add an R.I.P. next to Malcolm’s name as well. The aspiring microbrewer was the latest character to meet his end on CBS murder mystery.

Malcolm’s number was probably up from the minute he and his friends happened upon the still-perplexing sack of money next to Hunter’s body, especially once the cash-strapped groomsman contemplated snagging the money for himself. Had he not seen “A Simple Plan” or “No Country For Old Men”? Did he need a refresher course on what happens to people when they come upon an undeserved financial windfall? Things got worse when Malcolm was there to see his best bud Booth shoot himself in the leg and bleed out. And then circumstances got worse still when he decided to cover up the death and filch the dough.

The Harper’s Island Killer (or Killers?) got to Malcolm on Saturday (May 30) night as he was disposing of the money in the hotel furnace. What happened to Malcolm, though, is still a bit obscure. After several weeks of extra-graphic carnage, “Harper’s Island” retreated this past episode and Malcolm’s death took place almost entirely off-screen.

Fortunately, the man behind The Hustler, “Eureka” veteran Chris Gauthier, got on the phone with HitFix on Monday morning to discuss what actually went down in the boiler room and the more graphic death scene we never got to see.

HitFix: If I’ve learned anything from film and television, it’s that if you don’t see a body, the person isn’t dead. Is Malcolm dead?

Chris Gauthier: Oh, I think he’s pretty dead. Yeah. I think so.

HitFix: So what happened to him?

CG: That was a pretty dicey situation. He got pretty sliced and diced. There was actually an edit where you saw bits of him going flying into the furnace, the incinerator. But they liked this edit better with just the hand and the insinuation and the Bruce Campbell-esque screams.

HitFix: Is that what you were aiming for?

CG: No, I think I was just giving it 100 percent, as I try to do, and that’s sortta what came out and I saw it and I was like, “Whoa. That’s pretty blood-curdling.”

HitFix: Well, since we heard the screams and saw the fingers, what took place down there?

CG: They left it pretty loose, didn’t they? Maybe that was their intention. I’m not totally sure. It was such a cool scene to shoot and everybody was really gracious about it. The whole thing was done with a lot of sensitivity as people were getting killed. It was probably pretty tough for a lot of people to be leaving the set because it was so much fun, but it was cool to shoot.

HitFix: What was actually shot that day?

CG: I had a rig around my midsection and I went down, dumped the money into the furnace, and somebody off to the side would pull me with the rig and they just yanked me off-screen. They yank me off-screen, I scream and the hand comes back on, the hand gets ripped off and then all of a sudden you see the arm go into the furnace and then the head go into the furnace. It was really cool.

HitFix: So you figure there’s a different version for the DVD?

CG: I hope so. I would love to see that. We put a lot of time and effort into that. I had to get a head cast made for that, which is a grueling two-hour process of getting every orifice on your covered, so it was a pretty scary moment for a little bit. It’s not too scary, but when you get your ears covered, you lose one sense there. And then you get your eyes covered. Then they cover your mouth, because they have to have it in that deathly sort of position. And they also cover the bridge of your nose and then the goo drips down. It’s like a soft cast that turns into a dry cast really quick. Some of the stuff dripped down in front of my nostrils. We got it out right away, but there was a sense of panic there for a minute. The whole process was scary arduous as it was. 

HitFix: There’s still a chance then that we may see your body in the next episode?

CG: Or bits of me? I’m not sure. I didn’t get any scripts, because once you’re done, you’re done.

HitFix: Have you died on-screen before?

CG: I have. I’ve died a couple times. I died once on “Supernatural” and I died once in “Freddy vs. Jason.” I got a flaming machete through the back. I actually got killed by Jason. It was very cool and sort of a childhood dream of mine, to be killed by Freddy or Jason.

HitFix: And what’s it like watching yourself die on-screen?

CG: I like it, myself. I’m a character type, so for me, you get killed. I think it’s cool and it adds to the fantasy of it.

HitFix: How well had you kept the secret of your demise?

CG: Very well. It’s really hard. You have a lot of people asking you, as more and more people start watching it. With the advent of Facebook, too, you can’t help but put on “‘Harper’s Island’ tonight” and then you just get this barrage of questions from people going, “So, is it you? Is it you? Is it you?” and wondering if they should invest their time in it and I’d just say, “You just have to wait.” I didn’t want to spoil the surprise.

HitFix: And so what have the reactions been?

CG: There was a lot of “Noooo!” and “No way!” And some people were like “That’s what you get, man. That’s what you get.” They’re like, “You were a jerk, man.” A lot of people were really mad at me for what I did to Booth. Really mad. They took it personally. A lot of people did. I scoured the net a little bit too, just looking at blogs and stuff like that, and some people were really, really pissed at me. Made me feel a little bad.

HitFix: Scouring the Internet rarely makes people feel good about themselves…

CG: Oh, I know. There was a show in Australia called “Neighbours,” ages back, the one Kylie Minogue was in when she started, and there was was a lady on there called Mrs. Mangel and she was the nasty next door neighbor. She actually had rocks and stuff thrown at her, so I’m not doing that bad right now. No rocks flung my way yet.

HitFix: Well Malcolm started off as mostly comic relief, the big boisterous groomsman, but by the end, he’s nearly a tragic figure. How much of the arc did you know up-front?

CG: We had heard there was going to be something to do with money, but we weren’t sure who was going to be involved with the money. None of us knew anything, so the course and the direction were totally up to the writers and producers discretion and they wrote what they thought that we could handle. I’m glad that it went that way, because it added a little bit of depth and something that you might not normally see. It portrayed me as being really greedy and making some bad choices, but the remorse that I showed, or at least that I felt I showed, I thought was really genuine. I really enjoyed getting to play something like that. If you put yourself in that position, what would you do? More than likely you wouldn’t, but there’s that Choose your Own Adventure aspect where it’s like, “What if you did? And then you felt so bad about it afterwards?” It was neat to get to play that, because normally they won’t take you down that road.

HitFix: To this point, Malcolm may have had the fullest character arc on the show.

CG: That’s right. They fleshed me out, no pun intended. And being the rotund guy, normally you stay as just the comic relief, right? So it was nice to play some real emotion.

HitFix: But you still kinda had to know Malcolm was doomed from the second they found that money, right?

CG: Yes. As soon as I got the script for No. 4, I was like, “Oh man.” I just wasn’t sure how imminent it was going to be or how long they would drag it out for in terms of me having to suffer through it. But I’m glad they did, though. I was nice to play the nuance of me telling Booth at his grave that I would not sell him out. And I did. And just feeling that remorse and going through it.

HitFix: In that scene where he followed Booth out into the woods, how far do you think Malcolm was willing to go to get the money?

CG: Oh, I don’t think the thought even crossed his mind that something like that would happen. Never crossed his mind. The way I played it, I was going to do good by him by taking that money back and giving a portion to his mom. I think he was pure in what Malcolm said about giving his portion to his mom. I think as far as it was going to go was him trying to convince Booth like, “Let’s just stash the money in a certain spot and come back for it. Or split it up now.” It’s a low and shallow thing, but he did it and it turned out tragic for him.

HitFix: You don’t think he might have gotten violent to take the money?

CG: No way. No way. No way. I think he’s a nice enough guy and I don’t think it was that important to him. I think as far as some of the relationships on the show, I think Booth and I had somewhat of a bromance, at least in the remorseful scenes where I’m at his grave. It seems as though I really and truly loved him. And Sean was such a good guy, such a great charismatic guy that it was really easy to play and easy to be super-pals.

HitFix: Are you disappointed, though, that Malcolm never got to be a red herring?

CG: I feel like my story arc was really cool and I think you need those. I think you need some pawns as well. I’m not disappointed at all with what I got to play. 

HitFix: There had to be some part of you, though, that wanted to be put out there as a possible killer?

CG: Oh, for sure. For sure. And Jon [Turteltaub] said that it could be anybody. When we were all asking at the beginning, he was dropping those sort of hints say like, “You know what? It could be the chubby, funny guy that everybody likes… You never know how it’s going to go.” He’d drop things like that and everybody’s hopes went up and he’d lift off everybody’s stereotype and say “It could be this because of this.” Of course you get your hopes up, but if it had to be something else, if I wasn’t a red herring for it, I’d have absolutely preferred exactly what happened, to get to play that.

HitFix: If you didn’t get any scripts after your demise, do you have any theories on what’s going on on the island?

CG: It’s hard to tell. It’s such a tricky one. The whole thing with [Cassandra Sawtell’s] Madison, I’m not sure why they’re letting her in on some of this. Somebody’s talking to her and I’m not sure if it’s necessarily spirits or something like that. I don’t know. I’m just really excited to see it unfold. Super, super excited. I’m going to stick with what I said the beginning and say it’s [Brandon Jay McLaren’s] Danny. We haven’t seen much fleshing out yet, so I think there’s going to be a lot more to come.

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

Previous “Harper’s Island” Death Interviews: 

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