HitFix Interview: The ‘Harper’s Island’ Killer and Survivor Speak

07.15.09 8 years ago


[If you haven’t watched the series finale of CBS’ “Harper’s Island,” which aired in the United States on Saturday, July 11, you probably want to stop reading now.]

When “Harper’s Island” began back in April, the relationship between Henry (Christopher Gorham) and Abby (Elaine Cassidy) was at the show’s core. Yes, Henry was returning to Harper’s Island to marry sweetheart Trish (Katie Cassidy), but the importance of childhood chum Abby was never in question. 

Little did fans know how important.

In Saturday’s “Harper’s Island,” viewers learned that Henry was actually the son of serial killer John Wakefield, the same man who went on a rampage and murdered Abby’s mom years earlier. That’s awkward.

We also discovered that Henry’s mother was actually Abby’s mother, making the longtime buddies half-siblings. That’s awkward, too.

Plus, of course, it was revealed that all season long, Henry and Wakefield’s had been offin
g wedding guests in the gristliest of ways, one-by-one. While Wakefield’s goal was revenge, Henry’s end-game was far more twisted: He just wanted to revert to his childhood fantasy of living out the rest of his days on Harper’s Island alone with Abby. And yes, given the previous discovery, this is well beyond awkward.

All season long, I’ve been interviewing departed “Harper’s Island” cast members, who were all equally in the dark regarding the season’s big surprises. One or two of them mentioned Henry as a logical suspect, but nobody could have guessed how twisted things got on Saturday. 

Three days after the finale, Gorham and Cassidy (calling from Manchester, England) chatted with HitFix about all of the secrets that came to light.

HitFix: Chris, since the finale aired on Saturday, what’s been the ratio of people being shocked and people telling you they knew it all along?

Chris Gorham: It’s been a mix and about the right mix, too, I think. For me, from the beginning, even before I knew I was the killer, it just seemed to make the most sense that it was that character, but you never really know til the end, because you can’t figure out why until we show you at the end. I feel it was the right mix of people who swore they knew it was me from the beginning and then a good chunk of people who where completely shocked.

HitFix: Since you’re over in England now, have you been able to get any reactions, Elaine?

Elaine Cassidy: It hasn’t aired in England yet. It’s airing in Ireland at the moment, so my family and friends, they got Episode Five last night and my mom’s been giving me the feedback and one of her friends thinks that Abby’s the killer at the moment. It doesn’t air in England until the beginning of September. Some people have heard of the show because of the Internet and stuff, but I have to keep the secret. I can’t breath a sigh of relief, because there’s still confidentiality and all that.

HitFix: So for both of you, just in general, what did you know and when did you know it? How was information parsed out?

CG: Well, Elaine found out well after I wanted her to find out. I was told all of the secrets right near the end of Episode Seven, right before we started shooting Episode Eight. From that point forward, the producers really wanted me to know the truth of what was going on. They wanted me to know that I had killed JD when we shot that scene. Things like that, they figure that performance-wise, it was becoming more and more important for me to know what was going on. At that point I knew, but I couldn’t tell anyone. Katie [Cassidy], Elaine and I were particularly close and discussed the series and things. Elaine didn’t want to know anything, so I was very careful not to give anything away. Katie wanted to know everything, so I had to be very careful not to give anything away. And right before we broke for Christmas, we’d finished Episode 11 and we were going to get the script for Episode 12 right before we got back, I was desperately trying to get Elaine to go with me to [producer] Dan Shotz and him quote-unquote “tell us the secret,” because I really wanted to share it with her and she… I got so close to getting her to crack and getting her to agree to press Dan to tell us so that I could talk about it with her and then, at the last minute, she was like, “Oh, no thanks. I think I’d like to wait.” I could have strangled her for real.

HitFix: So when did you actually learn, Elaine?

EC: I found out when we got the script for Episode 12, which would have been very early in the new year. So I was getting ready to go back to Canada and I was on my own and I went, “Oh! Oh my God!” But because of the time difference, it’s not like I could just pick up the phone, so I had to live with that for a little bit. But then Dan Shotz called me, but we still had to keep the secret, because they’d only given the full script to a few people and there were still some cast members and all of the cast and stuff who got a script with the last few pages missing. So we thought we could let it go and relax and talk about it, but everything had to be confidential.

CG: The crew didn’t find out until the day we shot Trish’s murder.

HitFix: For you, Elaine, was your hesitation just an issue of not wanting to know anything your character wouldn’t have known?

EC: I wanted to know everything that she knew and if there was anything that she didn’t know, there was no need for me to know. My job was to portray Abby and even though I was the audience — in a way all of us were, in the making of this, because were were kept in the dark — but I just thought, “Why complicate things? Just keep it simple.” Also, I was a fan. I wanted to know, but then I didn’t want to spoil the surprise for myself. And when I found out and I read it in the script, I went back to that day, the last day before of Episode 11 before we broke for Christmas, and I said, “Ah. That’s why Chris was so eager for us to have that conversation. He wanted to share it with someone.”

HitFix: Conversely, Chris, would you have liked to know for those first seven episodes? This was something your character would have known he was doing… How did it change the way you were playing the part when you found out?

CG: Well, in reverse, it didn’t change how I played it. I think, in retrospect, I would have liked to have known, but that being said, I don’t think it would have changed anything that I did up until that point. Really, after I knew, there were only a couple instances where I chose to do things a little differently than I might have done them had I not know. But every time I did that, I would always tell them, “Listen, I want to do a take, this way…” Once we got what we needed, I’d go to them and I’d say, “Let’s try it again and I want to try something a little different,” just so they’d have it in case they wanted to use it. One of those things was in the beginning of Episode Nine in the morgue, when Abby and Henry were standing over JD’s body and Abby comes and gives JD a hug, I thought it was interesting in one of the takes to just kind of hold her a little longer than I might have? To kind of enjoy physical contact with her longer than I might have, had I not known what was going on. It was something that was really subtle and most people wouldn’t notice, but they could go back after they knew the secret and go back and watch the DVD and say, “Oh, that’s interesting.”

HitFix: Presumably that’s something you didn’t even notice, Elaine?

EC: No! No. The relationship between Abby and Henry, they’d been best friends and he’s really important to her, so in a time of need, you don’t know how people are going to react. If it had been an hour-long hug, that would have made sense to Abby, I think.

HitFix: Chris, is Henry’s fantasy of living forever alone with his half-sister, with Abby, is it sort of the fantasy of a child? I mean, is it creepy, but not necessarily icky? Or is it both?

CG: It’s creepy… Yeah, because he’s not a kid anymore, but the idea of them being together has been stuck in his head, so I think what you’re getting at is is he frozen in time? Is his love for Abby still a childish love? I think the answer is “No, not anymore,” but I think he still thinks of it that way. It’s not gross to him. He knows other people would think that it’s gross, which is part of the reason why he’s gone to such extraordinary, like insane, lengths to get her where he wants her, but the whole end of the episode is, to my mind… Abby was never supposed to find out. The plan got messed up when Abby found out that Henry was Wakefield’s son. Because if she had never found out, then Henry would have killed Wakefield the way he did, but without the realization coming for Abby and, in Henry’s mind, he would have been the hero. As long as Abby never found out that they were brother and sister, then I could see them working out, at least in the short. I mean, he’s definitely broke, so long term… But in the short-term, I could see him keeping up the ruse and I could see them living their version of happily-ever-after, at least for a while. 

HitFix: How plausible does that sound to you, Elaine?

EC: [She laughs.] I don’t know. I don’t know if Abby could have ever gone there with Henry. She’s always looked at him as a brother, so I think it would have been a very tricky situation. I don’t think that she would have been able to make the transition into a romantic relationship with Henry, because she’d never thought of him in that way.

CG: Worst case scenario, he could always stuff her and keep her like a doll. I mean, that’s how crazy he is. That’s why he had to be killed, because he was never going to stop. He was never going to stop. He’s just a broken, broken, broken human being.

EC: And you do get that beat at the end, which is what we wanted as well, that when Abby stabs Henry, we wanted to have that moment where she knows that it’s gone so far that’s being cruel to be kind in a way. You know what I mean? It was done very sudden, but it’s tragic and it can’t go any further and that’s the only way to end this. It’s done with love and obviously pain and anger and hurt, a million-and-one different emotions.

HitFix: I don’t know how many viewers will have gone down this road, Elaine, but did you have “Disco Pigs” [A 2001 film co-starring Cillian Murphy] flashbacks when you got to the end?

EC: Oh yeah. Yeah. It reminded me of that in a way. It’s a comfort thing that at that moment it really resembles “Disco Pigs” and I loved that. I love when things are bittersweet and when there’s unrequited love, there’s nothing more romantic, really. It’s better if it’s just kept for the screen and you don’t have to use it in real life, because it’s hard. So much had happened in that last episode and she’s learned so many bits of new information, but ultimately, she’ll always love him. But I think she’s need serious therapy. 

HitFix: My last question is to Chris. Could talk a little about the opportunity to play against type in these last couple episodes, to go from Mr. Nice Guy to… not.

CG: It’s a really rare opportunity and I’m so grateful for it. That last episode, it’s a rare opportunity where you get to play so many different things and you get to show the different levels of what’s been happening all along and you go from showing his true colors and how broken he is, to immediately putting back on the mask that he’s been wearing for the entire show, because the other characters don’t know that he’s the killer yet and still playing with the emotion that he’s still looking for his fiance and he doesn’t know where his friends are and of that lost and hurt and pain and exhaustion and then taking it all away. Then there was the relief of coming clean to the person that he loves most in the world and then going straight in the complete anguish of being rejected by the person he cares most about in the world. It’s just such an incredible range of emotion and it was about the most challenging thing that I’ve had to do in my career and the most rewarding and the most fun. Also, Elaine and I, we knew from the beginning that we had a story, that our characters had a story, but we almost never worked together and it was so great to have those four or five days, where it was essentially just the two of us doing some really great and the kind of thing that you usually just don’t get to do, especially on TV, I’m very, very grateful. 

For more on the “Harper’s Island” finale, check out our recap.

Around The Web