Everyone loves a murder mystery–the chance to see the clues, evaluate the suspects and find the culprit. When you can do it in front of millions of television viewers, well, that’s an opportunity not to be missed.
Actor Gildart Jackson realized that the minute he was first approached to host ABC’s new summertime hit, “Whodunnit?” The reality series, which airs on Sunday nights, is like a combination of the board game “Clue,” the TV series “Survivor,” and has a crime scene investigative element in it as well. Not surprisingly, it was developed by Anthony Zuiker, who also created the “CSI” series for CBS.
Jackson plays Giles, the butler who hosts a group of (originally) 13 contestants who are placed together in a stately mansion, where one of them is killed off each week by someone within their circle. During each episode, the contestants use authentic CSI-type technology to try to find the culprit, discussing the evidence amongst themselves and forming alliances. After all, this is a reality show competition. The contestant who does the worst is the murder victim at the end of that week’s show, setting up the investigation for the next episode. Contestants (now down to 9 after four aired episodes) are competing for a $250,000 prize if they’re the last innocent person standing—or in this case, living.
“Our contestants are similar to those on other reality shows,” Jackson said in an interview for On and Beyond. “They come from all walks of life. We have a bounty hunter, a crime investigator, a couple of lawyers…really, a mixed group with different experiences they bring to the show. It was important to the producers that they have professionals as contestants—people interested in solving crimes. And it’s been great—lots of energy and really one big, happy family. Except for the murder part, of course,” he added with a smile in his voice.
Jackson was hooked on the role the minute he heard about it from a long-time friend in ABC’s casting office.
“Sandi Logan has cast me in several shows before,” Jackson said. “When she read the script, she told me she turned to Anthony and said, ‘I know exactly who you need to play Giles.’ I’m very grateful to her!”
He had worked with Logan on shows such as “Judging Amy,” “Vegas” and “Boomtown.” He may best be known for his work as Gideon on “Charmed,” Jackson Palmer on “Providence” and as Simon Prentiss on “General Hospital.” And he loves being Giles.
“I’ve never played a butler before, but being British, it fit me pretty well,” he said. “It was great fun—kind of like being the Angel of Death each week because I was there hosting these investigators when one of their peers is murdered. Rest assured, it was all staged—no one was actually hurt.”
Even though much of the show is scripted, the unexpected can still occur. Emotions are real when one of the contestants is killed off—bonds were formed early amongst the contestants. Everyone, including “Giles” himself, was kept guessing at who was next to go, and of course, ultimately, whodunnit.
“The way we made the show, it was like being on stage,” he said. “I had to get my lines out properly to set things up, and I asked to be kept completely in the dark just like our contestants. I was totally in character from the minute I got to the set until the moment I left. I was Giles every second of the work day. I didn’t know who the killer was until the last day we taped, and I was flabbergasted. The killer was remarkably good at seeming to be innocent.”
The show, which is doing well ratings-wise in its time slot each week and is building an audience following, will air a total of nine episodes this summer, until the killer is revealed. Along with the entire cast and crew, Jackson remains tight-lipped about the identity of the murderer. Even his wife, actress/singer Melora Hardin, and their two daughters can’t pry the information from him.
“We wrapped in May, but Melora and the girls are going to have to wait just like everyone else to find out the identity of the killer,” he said. “This has been a great joy ride for me—really, continual fun and adventure. I’m hoping the series catches on and they’ll keep doing new seasons. I’m all for ‘Whodunnit: Hawaii’ or ‘Whodunnit: Paris.’ I think my family would love to come along for those seasons as well.”
Anyone else out there besides me wanna be a contestant for season 2 in Maui?