An Island of One, Christopher Gorham

A boatful of beautiful people is headed to scenic Harper’s Island, where Henry and Trish, the also-beautiful perfect couple, are soon to be wed. Liquor flows; everyone is ready to celebrate. Or are they? What sounds like an introduction to any other boring ship-wreck or exotic monster movie is actually the set up to a genuine murder mystery program, the likes of which America has rarely seen. The 13-episode series takes cues from British programming by creating an entirely self-contained storyline, in which at least one character is killed off each episode in a surprising and graphic new way.

Christopher Gorham stars as Henry Dunn, the lovable boy next door and seemingly innocent groom to be. Fans of Ugly Betty will recognize their old friend Henry Grubstick, but Gorham is quick to caution that while his character on Harper’s Island may initially come off sweet and simple, he couldn’t be more different from Betty’s Grubstick. Gorham speaks to Interview about the highly secret series.

LUCY SILBERMAN: I feel like I should call you Henry.

CHRISTOPHER GORHAM: Actually, that’s all I answer to these days.

LS: Should we just jump right in? Should we talk about Harper’s Island?

CG: Yes, please.

LS: How much did you know about the plot and about your character before you started filming?

CG: It was a strange process. I wanted to talk to the show runner [Jeff Bell] to find out how it was going to work. I felt very confident in what he wanted to do, which was to create a closed-end murder mystery story in the vein of Agatha Christie, with some modern elements of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer—with really great characters that you really care about so that, as they’re getting picked off one by one, it matters. We have 25 characters to introduce in the beginning so there’s a lot going on.

LS: From the pilot, it seems like almost all of the characters have a secret or something going on behind the scenes. You know it’s a murder mystery and you find out pretty quickly that people are going to be picked off.

CG: In the tradition of great murder mysteries, you’ll find you’re suspecting someone else every week and being convinced it’s someone else every week, which is part of the fun and also part of the reason why they’ve taken great pains to keep the secrecy about the project.

LS: So you’re done filming, and you know who the killer (or killers) are. Did you know from the beginning?

CG: No, no one did—well, none of the cast did. We had the experience of being the first audience for the show. An embarrassing amount of our off-camera time was spent trying to figure it out.

LS: I was just going to ask you if you guys theorized about who the killer was [LAUGHS].

CG: I challenge the audience of this show to come up with a theory that we didn’t come up with when we were making it. As a cast, it’s an exercise in trust of your producers that they’re not going to lead you down the wrong path. None of us knew who the killer was, which meant that any of us could be the killer. None of us wanted to make acting choices that might undermine some choice that comes later in the show. So we all had to just trust what they were putting on the page was there for a reason and as long as we played what was there, and played it honestly, then it would all pay off in the end.

LS: This isn’t your first foray into horror acting. You were on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But Harper’s Island is far more graphic. Have you had a lot of experience with that?

CG: No, not at all. We got this 10 PM time slot, and they were shooting two versions of things sometimes: The version that they wanted and then they’d have to dial it back and shoot the version that they thought would probably air. But surprisingly some of the versions I think that they wanted are going to make it. For instance, there’s a scene in the pilot, the post-coital moment between Henry and Trish in the show. That was the racy version that we thought would never make it on TV.

LS: I saw the final cut and it was in there.

CG: For me that’s exciting, because it means that CBS is really going for it and they’re going to be able to push the boundaries a little bit.

LS: It encourages you to relate to the characters a little bit more, too. I know I’m finding myself wondering about your character, Henry. Are we going to find out more about his family and why there are so few of them? With Abby, are we going find out about the relationship with her father and everything that happened? Are we going to know more about the Wakefield murders? There’s a lot of back story.

CG: And I can answer very little of that [LAUGHS].

LS: I understand.

CG: But you will be learning a lot more about these characters… until they get killed. I’m very happy to hear that you want to hear more about them. My fear with the pilot was that there are so many characters to introduce that maybe it has a danger of getting so watered down that you end up not caring about anyone. Of course, the longer the show goes on, you start to lose people that really you’ve gotten attached to.

LS: But because everybody’s getting offed, everybody is a kind of main character. How did the cast get along? Did you guys know each other before shooting started?

CG: No, we all got to know each other pretty quick while we were shooting. There are a lot of big group scenes and it’s a lot of getting ready for this wedding. So we had a lot of time together at the beginning to make nice.

Harper’s Island premieres Thursday, April 9, 10pm on CBS.