'The River': Leslie Hope on playing scared and her character's 'big love'

leslie-hope-the-river.jpgThe things that scare the characters in ABC's new series "The River" come from potentially supernatural sources. The things that scare Leslie Hope, who stars on the show, were all around her during filming in Hawaii.

"In my case, a lot of it is grounded in reality, because I'm really afraid of the water and I'm really afraid of bugs," Hope tells Zap2it. "But [on camera], you kind of have to take a leap of faith as an actor. ...

"You have to go big or go home. A few times, I can tell you, I was out there running for my life or sobbing uncontrollably, doing what I think of as big acting and thinking, 'Please, God, don't let me be a jerk for doing this. Please let me be doing the same show as everybody else.' It was a definite leap of faith to do it that way, but for me I didn't really know another way to do this show."

In "The River," which premieres at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday (Feb. 7), Hope ("24," "plays Tess Cole, the wife and on-camera partner of a famous explorer, Emmet Cole ( Bruce Greenwood), who has gone missing in a remote part of the Amazon River basin. She, her son ( Joe Anderson), the daughter ( Eloise Mumford) of Emmet's missing cameraman and a documentary crew filming the expedition for a TV show go searching for him and find a whole lot of creepy things along the way.

We talked with Hope about what she likes about Tess, acting in the found-footage style and where the show will take viewers in its eight-episode run.

Zap2it: What was the appeal of the character for you?
Leslie Hope: I liked that she was her own, complete person and was strong and determined enough to mount this expedition. But what I really responded to was the big love of it all. That's been a really important part for me in the show -- what would drive somebody to go this far and risk not only her life and the crew's life, but her son's life? That's massive, right? So it has to be, in my mind -- and Bruce and I talked about this a lot -- built on this foundation of big love. ... I was interested in to what lengths humans will go to find their love, and for her Emmet Cole is her true love, in the classic sense. That really appealed to me. I know it's sort of romantic and girly, but I thought it was super-cool.

And presumably that's part of what will keep people coming back week to week, beyond just the scary parts.
I think so. All the characters have these grand motivations that are revealed over the course of the series, so it's not like they're just being dragged along. They all have really big reasons for being there too. Everybody gets a turn in the first season.

Tess' relationship with her son is pretty strained at the start. What's the source of the tension?
There's definitely [a sense of] he resents having grown up on camera -- he never loved it. ... For my character, there's a little bit of guilt attached. We did it anyway -- we wanted him to love it the way we loved it and ignored the signs that he didn't. We pushed through anyway. ... I think it's in some ways disappointing to us that he didn't love it the way we did, and we love him anyway. There's a lingering resentment between [Emmet] and I that maybe he pushed the kid further than I might have, and resentment from him that I maybe babied the kid more than I should have.

What's it like working on a show where there are so many cameras running?
What I like about it is it keeps me on point all the time, because at any moment you could be seen by the camera. I like the puzzle of these characters, or my character anyway, is used to being in front of the camera. So sometimes, she'll deliberately play it for the camera, and other times she could give a s**t, because she's used to having these things in her face all the time. She's savvy in that way, and I thought that was really interesting. It also gives you tremendous freedom because we're not perfectly lit. We're perfectly lit for the show, but we're not having to step into beauty light. We're not on a mark. The scenes have a loose fluidity to them that I really like.

Where does the show take you during these eight episodes?
What I know is the more you find out about these characters, the greater the mystery becomes about who they are. That's part one. Part two is the rules continue to change in this area we're in. And it's not going to let us go. But I feel like these guys [showrunners Zack Estrin and Michael Green] are wrestling with major good-vs.-evil themes. I think they're really poking at spirituality and ancient myth, in terms of the wars we're waging. ... It's big, big themes.

I also feel like as the show goes on and the characters are more and more revealed, there are a lot of triangles that start to move around within the show. And I can also tell you, without divulging anything, we don't stay the same group. There are other characters that come into our world. Some really good ones, actually. It's not just us, isolated. We're not only waging outside wars but also psychological wars within the confines of this boat.
Photo/Video credit: ABC
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