Most things are cliches because they have actually been proven to be true time and time again, but in the case of ABC’s new murder mystery competition series, Whodunnit?, the old adage most certainly is not true: the butler definitely didn’t do it. How are we so cocky to proclaim that as fact? Well, for one thing, Gildart Jackson, who plays the somewhat dry and dark butler is a decorated actor from shows like General Hospital, Providence, Charmed, and most recently Hellsing Ultimate. He’s not a one-season wonder but rather a bridge between incarnations of this story.
“Giles’ sad story is that he is cursed and in the book he discovers that he is cursed, and in the same way when I was young, I was playing cricket and a guy stepped forward to hit the ball, and it was the last ball of the match, and I just knew I was going to catch that ball. I dived forward in a way that you wouldn’t do unless you were a lunatic or in some way touched, but I just knew that was going to happen. In the same way, Giles just knows his future is sadly, inextricably linked with this terrible curse of being picked by these lunatic mass murderers to go and be the butler and guide the guests through the tragedy of the situation with as much aplomb and hopefully subtle humor as he can muster,” Jackson said to LA TV Insider Examiner over the phone earlier this week.
Jackson is part of a much bigger picture than just nine-episode season of Whodunnit?. His character gets introduced in a special tie-in novel written by uber producer and show co-creator Anthony Zuiker (who also created the character of Giles right down to writing the weekly dialogue he delivers to the “guests” aka contestants). The prequel of sorts to this season explains this curse of death following Giles, only for him to wind up in the mansion of doom on Whodunnit?, further proving the curse correct. There is a planned second book to bridge the time between the end of the first season and the start of the second, should the show get renewed, as well.
For Jackson who has enjoyed a successful acting career with much more traditional programming, the draw of a show that is one-part reality and one-part episodic drama was really within the character of Giles himself.
“Sometimes characters come along that you just feel right to play,” Jackson said, “and so for me it was very easy to make the decision to want to do this because it is a great part.”
Though Jackson shared that from the minute he put on Giles’ coat in the morning, he was pretty much in character the whole time, that came with its own set of challenges. For one thing, the assorted “guests” in front of him were not actors playing parts or reading lines, and often they would take him off on tangents. He found himself with one foot in a traditional scripted role and one foot as a more spontaneous, improv-friendly host, as well.
“As an acting job, it was pretty fascinating. I had a lot of latitude from Anthony and…of course it was live, so I think one of the good things about me as an actor is I am pretty present when I deliver stuff. Sometimes the situation would take me away from what I had to deliver, and I would follow that for awhile and then bring the conversation back to where we were, where we needed to be,” Jackson said.
“The [guests] wanted to use me to answer their questions. So they wanted to befriend and have Giles help them because you know, Giles clearly knew more than they knew, and that was another fascinating interaction.”
But one of the things Jackson was adamant about was not having all of the answers or having anything more than the character was supposed to have at any given point.
“I didn’t know who the killer was, for sure, until the end. And everything that was done with that individual was done while I was not there…I didn’t know specifics about how to put the clues together. Some clues by the very nature of what I had to say, I knew, but I preferred to be kept in the dark. I preferred to have Giles be the real Giles and being led along by the killer, not really knowing what’s going on,” Jackson said.
“I just think it’s so much more fun to try to figure it out as you go along. I discovered in the course of the final episode of the show, live, who it was, and I was completely astonished. It was an absolute surprise. I had my suspicions about who it was, but week after week, those people would be gone. But I think that’s the fun of a show like this.
“The thing about the show is, in my analysis, it’s like a roller coaster. It’s like the Haunted Mansion…at Disneyland. When you get on, you know you’re not going to die– you know people aren’t dying—but you know you’re going to be thrilled and spilled, and you know you’re going to come out the end with a jolly good laugh. The question is how you get surprised, what you see, and how you get entertained. So it’s not to be taken too literally or too seriously; it’s a ride. The thing to do is to get on and just enjoy yourself.”
Whodunnit airs on ABC on Sunday nights at 9 p.m.
Want more Whodunnit news and interviews? Follow LA TV Insider Examiner on Twitter!