Source: Crimiere - September 26, 2015
London-based police officer John River has a mental
disorder. He doesn't just hear voices - he actually sees crime victims,
who pop up and have conversations with him. But theyíre not like ghosts
- they are still his own creations.
Swedish actor Stellan SkarsgŚrd talks about his title role in River, BBC
One's very unusual new six-part crime thriller which starts on 13
Who is John River and where do we join him in the story?
When you meet River in the first episode, heís in a car with his
colleague Stevie [Nicola Walker] outside a fast-food drive-through
joint. Thatís where it starts, but his colleague who was probably
closest to him has been murdered three weeks earlier and we learn he is
working on the case of solving her murder, as well as all other cases
that pop up during his journey.
Very often the victims of murder cases show up and have discussions with
him, and try to help him solve the crime; Ďmanifestsí as we call them.
As an audience, we see those victims, or Ďmanifestsí, as real living
people in a room, but of course itís not the victim that is helping him
solve the crime because the victim is dead.
Weíre not talking about ghosts here; he produces these dialogues
himself. They are an internal discussion almost like his own kind of
checklist as he investigates their lives and the moments leading to
The audience see these characters and get used to them being around, and
should be happy (or scared in some instances) to see them when they show
up even if you know theyíre dead. Itís always interesting when they do:
it sort of jars reality, but in an intriguing way.
Whatís the effect of the manifests on Riverís life and relationships?
Well, heís a police officer, and heís supposed to have a record that
shows no psychological problems whatsoever and heís of course hiding
this, but itís hard when he suddenly starts talking to somebody who
Some of those situations become quite comical and some are tragic. His
behaviour is of course bizarre sometimes to the people around him, but
the audience can see who heís talking to so the audience are hopefully
on his side.
Are the manifests serving a purpose that's helping or assisting
They serve a purpose for River. First of all he's a very lonely man and
they are his friends, like children have imaginary friends, but in his
case it's pathological.
They serve the purpose that an inner dialogue can serve for you of
course, but they also terrorize him because some of them represent the
darkest sides of him.
Have you enjoyed working with Abi Morgan's writing and bringing that
I took the job for her writing, because it doesn't look like anything
else. Her writing is not linear. It's more filled with odd impulses.
It throws you from one thought to another thought in a less organised
way, and to me that resembles life much more than a lot of the writing
you get which is extremely structured and polished and is by the book of
ĎHow to Write a Screenplayí.
I find Iím looking for what I can do with the words because the poetry
is there in her writing. Her dialogue often takes the character and
repositions them so often in a short dialogue that it becomes very
interesting. Very different, but very interesting for the actors to work
How does River differ from so many other cop shows out there?
First of all, the satisfaction of the show is not to find out who did
it, the satisfaction of the show lies in the beautifully written
characters and whatís happening between them and their relationships.
Hopefully it will have a tone of its own, and a tone of its own that
Weíre taking some risks in the way we do it and that makes it very
interesting. Without risk, itís not worthwhile is it? Itís a pretty
highly strung and tense show because the psychological stakes are high,
and the personal stakes for a lot of the people are also high. Itís a
mixture of the danger of illegal actions and psychological
How do you practically do it, acting with the manifests?
We usually shoot the scene first with the actor who plays the manifest
and then we shoot the same scene exactly the same way but without
anybody there. It looks fantastic, because you walk around, you gesture
and talk to somebody that isnít there and itís quite interesting
To me, Iím the kind of actor who doesnít want to act towards a mark
beside the camera; I want the real actor to be there, and I feed so much
off the other actors. So itís very unnatural to me to do it, but since
we always do the scene with the actor first I have a very clear memory
and then we do it with the real actor saying the lines, so I still get a
response and it becomes more like playing a game of ping pong.