Are the ghosts in River real?

ABC series star Stellan Skarsgard reveals the truth – watch out for spoilers!

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The first episode of new crime drama River began with a bang, as chatty detective Stevie (Nicola Walker) was revealed to have been dead for weeks despite spending a whole scene helping Stellan Skarsgard’s John River solve a crime. Sixth Sense, eat your heart out – she was a ghost the whole time!

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As the story continued it emerged that Stevie was just one of many deceased “manifests” apeearing to River, from victims of crimes he hadn’t solved to a Victorian poisoner played by Eddie Marsan. But were they really just a symptom of River’s mental breakdown, as the character claimed, or real ghosts that only he could see?

It could be an interesting grey area for the series – but put the question to Skarsgard himself, and you get a very black-and-white answer. 

“There’s nothing superstitious about it – it’s not ghosts, nothing metaphysical or anything,” Skarsgard says.

“He’s got some psychosis or something, there’s something a problem with him. But there’s no condition we know of that is exactly – it’s a fantasy in a way. But it resembles a sort of schizoid behaviour, [where] people hear voices and stuff.

He added: “All those people that do not exist that he sees, it’s his own imagination. It’s like people hearing voices, you know. It’s real to him, but he knows also they’re not there. And he knows that many of them are dead already.”

Skarsgard went on to discuss the issues faced by co-star Nicola Walker, who apparently struggled a little in playing a character only seen by him. 

“I played it as if she was there, of course,” the Nymphomania star said.

“I think she had problems with it, because she knew that everything she did was just coming out of my head. She didn’t have to be real in any sense.”

He concluded: “It was probably more interesting for her. But for me, it’s such a love story. And Nicola’s really easy to love.”

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River airs on Friday nights on ABC in Australia