Today, Yahoo TV begins its week-long countdown of the 30 Best Bad Shows of the Last 30 Years — series we genuinely enjoyed watching and remember fondly while acknowledging that, yes, they had at least one challenge to overcome.
Coming in at #28 on our list is CBS’s Harper’s Island, a 2009 one-season wonder that made a lasting impression on those who tuned in to watch unfortunate souls who traveled to the titular locale for the Destination Wedding From Hell get killed in comically lurid ways. What made it even better (spoiler alert!): the bad guy turned out to be one of our favorite TV good guys, Christopher Gorham (Ugly Betty, Covert Affairs).
Still harboring his own affinity for the show, Gorham graciously emailed us answers to our burning questions, including when he found out his character, Henry, was the killer and if anything in his career will ever top his own death scene on Harper’s Island. He also reveals why he’d be up for revisiting the show…
‘Harper’s Island’ stars Adam Campbell, Christopher Gorham, and Elaine Cassidy
How did the Harper’s Island role come to you?
I was asked to come in and read for the role after the pilot had already been picked up to series. Katie Cassidy and I both joined the show this way, so they had to re-shoot every pilot scene we were in. Weirdly, the day before I got the call to come read, [actor] Adam Campbell and his wife, Jayma Mays (with whom I had just worked on Ugly Betty) were at our house for dinner, telling my wife, Anel, and I about how his pilot, Harper’s Island, had just been picked up. Crazy timing.
One of the best parts of the whole series is the reveal that Henry is the killer at the end — did you know going into it that you were going to be the bad guy?
They didn’t tell me, but I would have bet the house on it. At the first cast lunch, [executive producer] Jon Turteltaub told us all that the producers would prefer to keep it a mystery but, if we need to know, they would tell “the killer” privately. We all decided to play along. Well, ALMOST everyone. One of the cast called Jon afterward and found out… it wasn’t her.
I always felt that Henry being the killer made the most sense, but I didn’t have a clue about his motive. But knowing, one way or the other, wasn’t going to affect how I played the part. As long as Henry was pretending to be a good guy, I was committed to doing the same.
The producers called me to their hotel one rainy Vancouver night before we started production on episode 8, where Henry kills his brother, and gave me the news. As I said, it wasn’t a surprise that I was the killer, but I was fascinated by the motive. It’s the “why” that makes the end of Harper’s Island work so well. Even if you were convinced from the start that Henry was the guy, everyone was shocked by the “why”!
What was the best part of playing a psycho?
Honestly, the process of playing a nut case like Henry isn’t any different than playing a straight-laced accountant, or a blind CIA officer. The goal is always to find the truth for that person. Henry was very focused and had a hugely ambitious goal, it just happened to be a sick and twisted hugely ambitious goal. One nuance I loved exploring was who he enjoyed lying to (Sully) and who he, maybe unexpectedly, didn’t enjoy backstabbing (Trish — well, front stabbing). By the last few episodes, life was imitating art as I had to keep the secret from the rest of the rapidly shrinking cast.
Since going off the air, the show has built a following via DVD and streaming — how often do fans still ask you about it? Are they still angry at you for killing Katie Cassidy?
Most often people want to know if/when I knew I was the killer. And, yes, they’re all still angry. She’s fine, guys! She’s on Arrow!
How would you describe the appeal of the show?
Harper’s is a guilty pleasure show. It’s fun, has some really nice emotional beats throughout (I mean, Cameron and Adam on that bridge!?), and the ending works whether or not you had me pegged from the beginning. Being on network television made it impossible to push the horror envelope as far as our writers would have liked to. I think that the weaknesses of Harper’s came largely from how we had to tell the story. I’d love the chance to do it all again as a streaming show.
What would you say is its signature moment?
Cutting Harry Hamlin in half.
Will anything in your career ever top being stabbed through the stomach with a harpoon (or whatever that stabby metal object was)?
Ha! It was a whaler’s boarding knife and, no, probably not. It’s not often you get to play stabbed through the stomach by your half sister while feeling utterly confused and betrayed because you thought she would love you back and live happily ever after on the island where you and your dad killed everyone she cares about. “But… I love you.” Hard to top.
Watch the death scene below.