Leslie Hope

Leslie Hope had visited the Amazon River basin long before her character in "The River" did. (ABC)

Check out the travels of Leslie Hope of ABC’s paranormal hit, “The River,” and you get the impression that very little scares the Canadian actress.

Long before “The River” came along, when she was playing Teri Bauer on “24,” Hope trekked deep into the Amazon River basin to live for a week with the Huaorani Indians. She’s traveled to Iceland, Peru, the Faroe Islands, Turkey, China and Laos. A 2003 trip took her to Cambodia, which inspired her to make the award-winning documentary short about street kids called “What I See When I Close My Eyes.”

Apparently, she’s not easily spooked. At least not until “The River,” which airs at 8 p.m. Tuesdays on ABC.

The Halifax, Nova Scotia-born actress plays Tess Cole, the wife and on-camera partner of famous TV adventurer Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood), who has gone missing along the Amazon River. Tess, her son Lincoln (Joe Anderson) and others are searching for Emmet while a documentary crew films the expedition, which so far has unleashed a blood-thirsty spirit, disturbed the ghost of a dead child and incurred the wrath of Los Ciegos, the guardians of the forest.

The story is fictional (for the most part), but that didn’t make the experience of filming it in Hawaii any less freaky, said Hope.

“The truth is some situations we were in on the show were scary,” she told me during a phone interview from Calgary, where she was prepping to direct a TV movie. “It’s not my natural inclination to think that things are haunted. But some of the places we were at, you just would feel that active kind of spirit life. ... With the combination of material we were doing and the places we were, I would say half the time we really were terrified.”

Hope expects that fans, too, will feel more terror as the season progresses because a lot of what we learn happened to Emmet—and “a whole lot is revealed”—is based on real legends in the Amazon.

“There’s a core of truth to these things that are happening, and particularly when you put Bruce’s character with other characters,” she said. “That stuff gets really freaky.”

The supernatural legends, and the possibly haunted locations, weren’t the only challenges Hope faced while filming the series. But her biggest fears were grounded more in reality.

“I’m actually terrified of the water,” she said, laughing, no doubt because most of the series is filmed on a boat or in a jungle near the water. “I realized I have a real phobia about the water, and about bugs. So that was a challenge.”

Hope talked about other challenges, and joys, of filming “The River, as well as projects she has directed. Plus, find out why she says, “I’m a good time once you get to know me.”

Click here to watch several sneak peeks of "A Better Man" episode, airing at 8 p.m. Feb. 21 and guest-starring Scott Michael Foster of "Greek" fame.

'THE RIVER' AND HER TRAVELS
One thing I learned in researching was you have been to the Amazon before.
That is correct; it’s not a lie, that’s very true. I was in the Amazon—the reason I remember it so vividly was because I literally flew out of the jungle and the next day I was at the TCAs for “24” I think. So I was literally squatting in the dirt to have a pee 24 hours before I was eating chocolate chip cookies off of silver plates at Pasadena restaurants with, no offense, a bunch of critics, you know what I mean? It was a completely different experience.

But yes, I was there. I had traveled pretty extensively and that was a place I was really interested in seeing for myself because of what I’d read about the oil companies and what they were doing to the land down there, and I just wanted to see. I tend to be lefty liberal anyway and I jump on those bandwagons pretty quickly. But I always like to see for myself first what’s really going on and guess what, it’s true. The land is being completely devastated by oil companies and the people there are being devastated.

I flew into a small town and then took basically a truck ride for about six or seven hours to the edge of the river, and then nine hours by motorized canoe, and then an additional canoe ride in even deeper. We were pretty deep. We were in places where the people that we were meeting, some of them—they were my age—remember the first time they’d seen anybody from the outside come in.

So it’s a pretty new idea that people like me were tromping around in there. And I lived there with the Huaorani Tribe for about a week. I can’t say I’m an expert on the Amazon, but I did have a little experience of living with those people in that area. I went on a monkey hunt and thank God had to leave the next day, so I didn’t have to, as a guest of honor, eat boiled monkey. But I did help carry it back and I helped make the—it’s sort of like a cheap chow—fermented yucca root for this party they were having the next day. I pounded all the yucca root and just basically lived with them as they would for the week.

That’s fascinating.