One of the advantages of doing a slasher film (or murder mystery) as a long-form miniseries is that by the end of the run, if the writers have done their jobs, the corpses aren’t just disposable stereotypes, they’re well-rounded characters whose deaths might actually mean something to the viewers.
After the first couple hours of CBS’ “Harper’s Island,” the odds of viewers becoming emotionally invested in the deaths of Chloe (Cameron Richardson) or Cal (Adam Campbell) would have been low. Network promotion had categorized Chloe as The Flirt and she looked prepared to cuckold her British boyfriend at a moment’s notice. Cal, dubbed The Outsider, was more likable, but he was mostly a foppish clown, probably deserving of his cuckolding.
Over the weeks to come, we saw Chloe rebuff the advances of other men in the wedding party. We saw Cal display his medical knowledge, his courage and his devotion to Chloe. While people were dying all around them, Chloe and Cal even had nearly a full episode in an unrelated subplot where they were trying to reacquire his presumed engagement ring. We grew to like the characters and even like their relationship.
That’s why Saturday’s (June 26) “Harper’s Island” was such a blow. After rescuing Chloe from her dark, drippy dungeon, Cal attempted to sacrifice his own life to allow his betrothed the chance to escape from the seemingly unstoppable and unkillable John Wakefield. But Chloe, after watching Cal die (and seeing her own fate as inevitable), plunged off a bridge, rather than giving Wakefield the satisfaction of adding another murder to his belt.
It was sad stuff for “Harper’s Island” fans, but days later, Campbell and Richardson talked to HitFix about their double-demise.
HitFix: So how did you watch the weekend’s episode?
Cameron Richardson: I watched it with my boyfriend. Live.
Adam Campbell: I watched it the next day on Netflix with my wife.
HitFix: How well had you guys kept the secret?
CR: So well.
AC: Incredibly well.
CR: My family members didn’t know. I wanted people to enjoy it.
HitFix: Was the secret-keeping ever difficult?
CR: I actually thought it was fun toying with people’s emotions.
AC: I kept telling people that I was the killer, kept putting that red herring out there.
HitFix: I’ll admit it. I suspected you, Adam. Apparently not?
AC: Apparently not.
HitFix: And what have the reactions been from friends and loved ones?
CR: My family, my aunt just Facebooked me and said, “Is Chloe Really Dead?!?” They don’t want her to be dead, but I’m like, “Yup. She’s done.” Every thought we did a great job.
AC: My family’s all in England, so they don’t get to watch it until it comes out over there, but my friends in LA are all just really obsessed with the show and they don’t stop talking about it.
HitFix: Have either of you died before on-screen?
CR: I died in a movie once.
AC: I’ve never died. This is my first screen death.
HitFix: So what was it like watching yourself die on-screen?
AC: I thought it was surprisingly voyeuristic. I kinda thought, “Wow, I hope I die in such a noble way.” But perhaps with shorter hair.
CR: I’d like the shorter hair as well. It made me cry. It was also just knowing that it was like the closing of a book for me, like the end of an era of that point in my life. So it was almost like a death in work.
HitFix: I need both of your interpretations on this. Cal’s death was heroic, but it was also pretty painful, as he sacrificed himself to let Chloe live. But then Chloe decided she couldn’t live without Cal, which means Cal went through a lot of pain for nothing, right?
AC: Well, we were cornered because that was the only way out and then the way I saw it was that Cal knew he was going to die, so why not die giving Chloe time to at least attempt to escape.
HitFix: So then did she get stuck?
AC: The way it looked like Cameron played it was that it was just insurmountable, that fence was impossible to climb and the fear and the fact that she didn’t want to leave him, me.
CR: What’s the point of living without the love of your life? That’s my take on the situation. Her life is gone without Cal.
HitFix: And she didn’t figure that given how painfully he died for her, she might try to live a bit more in his name?
CR: I think she was probably just in shock and John Wakefield was probably going to get her and she just took that power away from him. Like he can’t take one more thing away from her. Take her love? You can’t have her life.
HitFix: What sort of makeup and stunt work went into those deaths?
AC: On that day, there were actually quite a lot of stunt people there. The two stunt people actually did jump off the bridge on ropes and that looked amazing, didn’t it, Cameron?
CM: Yeah. It was amazing to watch.
AC: We also set up the bridge just a few feet above the ground so we could do some other work, close-ups and stuff.
CM: But we were mostly on that bridge.
HitFix: You seemed to fall back at least a little ways, right Cameron?
CM: I would just lean back. I’d never let go of that bridge. I had a harness on, but I think I could have fallen. There was no safety net underneath that bridge, because I had the harness on. I never actually let go. I was white-knuckling it.
HitFix: So on a show like this, is it better to make it this close to the end and go out in such dramatic fashion, or would you have preferred to survived until the end.
AC: I think it would have been nice to survive if our death hadn’t been quite so poetic and beautiful. I think they wrote a fantastic death scene for us, and personally I think that’s the best way to leave the show.
CM: Yeah, to have people upset that you’re dead and sad that you’re gone is better than being like, “Oh. They survived. Oh cool.”
HitFix: Having made it this far, were you sort of assuming that you’d make it all the way?
CM: I didn’t think I was going to make it as far as I did. I thought I was going to be done after Episode Seven.
AC: I was the same. I thought we were very fortunate to make it to Episode 11. At the end of Episode 10, I was filming with Matt Barr and Karim [Zreik] just sidled up to me and I think he just said, “Dude.” And I said, “OK.” And I knew that was it.
HitFix: Both of your characters ended up in very different places from where they began. How much did you know in the beginning about the potential evolution of the characters?
CM: I, personally, had no idea that my character would eventually have so much depth. I was really happy the way it turned out and she showed more than just one spectrum of Flirty Fun Girl. They showed her having a heart and being in love and wanting love and fighting for her love. That made me really happy.
AC: We knew very little about it. We were literally going from script to script and every script we learned something new about ourselves. I think that was a good way to do it, because it meant that we didn’t give any hints away in previous episodes and we weren’t trying to play certain characteristics that weren’t really there.
HitFix: Going back to your point, Cameron, was there a certain relief on your parts at the evolution? As you said, Chloe starts off as the Flirty Fun Girl and Cal is the Foppish Wimpy British Guy. Did you guys had concerns that maybe it would stay that way?
CM: It was a huge relief for me, because I just didn’t want to be seen as one-dimensional, as just that girl on the show. I’m so thankful to the writers for giving me a soul and Adam to making him even more charming than he already is.
AC: Cameron’s right. It was great that we had such an arc. We started being very jokey and jovial. I certainly started, like you said, foppish and a bit stupid. And by the end, what a great journey we had and to die in that way, we ended as heroes, really.
HitFix: Could y’all talk about how the atmosphere on set changed as actors started being killed off and the plotlines started getting darker?
CM: It didn’t changed the way we cared about each other. We all loved each other and hung out off-set and on-set. But when Sean [Rogerson], Booth dies pretty early, we were all really upset that he died so early and we were still hanging out and going out to dinner with him the entire time that we came to film. It didn’t really change, like “Once you’re dead we don’t like you anymore.”
AC: But there was also tension, too, because no one knew anything. So people waiting for that phone call or that conversation with a producer that’s going to send them back to LA. It was basically, how long can we stay up here in Canada.
HitFix: How about the transition from shooting fun bachelor/bachelorette party stuff and crouching in a gutter screaming a crying?
CM: When I finished my very last day, when I say on the bridge, “You can’t have me,” that was on smaller set, and Elaine [Cassidy] and Chris [Gorham] and Matt Barr and Brandon [Jay McLaren], they were all there, so after I’d finished the hysterical crying and all of that stuff, they call came up to me and hugged me and I’m going to cry now just thinking about it. It was really emotional. It was really sweet. I love those guys.
AC: I don’t think I was there.
CM: No, you weren’t there.
CM: It was mostly like Elaine’s sweet little face. I love that girl.
HitFix: Was there anyone you particularly missed after they’d been killed off?
AC: I missed Richard Burgi a lot. He’s one of the funniest men I’ve ever met.
HitFix: So do you know what happens in the finale, or are you in the dark?
AC: I’m kind of in the dusk. I kinda know little bits, but I don’t know everything.
HitFix: Are there any unresolved questions you hope to have answered in the finale?
AC: I don’t necessarily want to know “Who,” but I want to know “Why.”
CM: Yeah. I want to know the “Why” as well.
HitFix: Any theories you want to share?
CM: I think Madison’s involved. I think she didn’t get what she wanted for Christmas, so she joined up with John Wakefield.
AC: You know? I actually don’t have any theories. Or none that I can legally say. I just shouldn’t.
Lucy (“The Socialite”) and Kelly (“The Outcast”)
Hunter (“The Other Man”)
Booth (“The Nerd”)
Richard (“The Brother-in-Law”)
Malcolm (“The Hustler”)
JD (“The Black Sheep”)
Katherine (“The Step Mother”) and Beth (“The Single Girl”)
Sheriff Mills (“The Sheriff”)