ABC’s popular thriller Revenge follows the story of Emily Thorne [played by Emily VanCamp], a new arrival in the Hamptons. By all appearances, Emily is a friendly and sophisticated ‘girl next door’, whose disarming charm and generosity allow her seamless access to the restricted circles of Hamptons’ high society. But the affluent, exclusive world she’s immersed herself in is tied to a dark family history, and Emily Thorne is anything but what she seems. When Emily was just nine years old, her father was framed for a horrific crime by neighbors he trusted, and was sentenced to life in prison. Emily never saw her father again and spent her childhood consumed by rage, loss and betrayal.
Now, 17 years later, she has returned under an assumed identity with one endgame: REVENGE. Emily’s goal is unwavering, and her sharp mind is always five steps ahead. However, when her past begins to catch up, her true heart may get caught in the crossfire as she prepares to battle with Victoria and Conrad Grayson [played by Madeleine Stowe and Henry Czerny]; the high-brow Hamptons couple that hide many of the secrets about the events that destroyed Emily’s life.
With Revenge: The Complete First Season about to be released on DVD, we catch up with actress Emily VanCamp – who plays Emily Thorne and Amanda Clarke in the show – to find out more…
What attracted you to Revenge?
As soon as I read the script for Revenge, I fell in love with the project. I wanted to do something different from Brothers & Sisters, so I waited for the right show to come along – and Revenge was exactly that. I didn’t want to jump into the next project unless I really felt excited about it, but I was enthralled with Revenge. We had no idea if the audience would respond to the show and we didn’t know if it would do well, but I really wanted to do the pilot and see where it went from there because the script really spoke to me. It was certainly the most challenging role I read that pilot season, and it was the most juicy and exciting part. From the beginning, I could see myself enjoying the show for a very long time.
Is it easy to play a character like this?
A lot of research goes into a role like Emily. It’s a lot less about drawing on my own personal experiences, but drawing on more of the pool of research that I had to do. There was a lot of thinking and a lot of developing the character, which was so much fun for me. I was ready to do that. I really wanted to tackle something different and I really wanted to be challenged. I was really excited.
Have you felt any pressure in being the star of the show?
Absolutely! There’s an immense amount of pressure that came with this role. I never really experienced anything like this before, but I just had to take it day by day. It’s so much about remembering that it’s about the process and just enjoying every moment of being on set and getting to play this great character.
Is it easy to deal with the pressure?
People are either going to like the show or not. You can’t obsess about it too much or you’ll drive yourself crazy. Now that the show has become popular, we can breathe a little bit and I feel like the weight has lifted. That makes it much more fun to work on. I can relax a little, at least for a little while.
How much do you rely on your cast mates for support?
To be honest, this really is an ensemble cast. We all like being around each other and we all want to make the best show possible. We’re also really appreciative and glad to be here. For me, there are a lot of long hours involved in creating Revenge – but it certainly doesn’t feel like that because I’m incredibly happy. The show focuses on this one girl’s journey of revenge, but we’re all doing this together. We’re all in the grind together. Plus, there are so many other storylines explored as well, which makes it that much more interesting for everyone involved. They’ve all been wonderful.
What can you tell us about Emily’s feelings for Daniel Grayson at the start of Season One?
I think Emily struggles with this person that she’s become and, ultimately, that little girl that she longs to feel like again. It’s a major struggle, and at the end of the day she’s still a young woman who does have the potential to feel love. At the start of the season, she’s really shutting that part of herself off – but Daniel is not who she thought he was and she is torn.
In what way is Daniel different?
Emily imagined it would be much easier to infiltrate the family through this guy because she thought he was just another high-society boy. In fact, he turns out to be the opposite and he’s actually really good. That’s why she struggles with whether or not she has feelings for him, and whether she’s taking this too far with him. The lines are really going to blur between what she truly feels for him and how much she’s using him. She struggles with that, and also with her relationship with Jack. It’s a constant struggle for Emily.
Do you feel there are more questions to be answered about Emily?
Definitely. How many people were involved in the framing of her father and what else has she done? Where did she go for those eight years where she learned the art of revenge? What did she do? Was she in the military? Those are fun questions to answer – and I hope they get answered soon.
Do you believe in revenge?
If it’s justified, I suppose I believe in revenge – but I’m more into the idea of positivity and forgiveness. I’m not going to lie, it’s a lot of fun to play and to live all these feelings through the character, but she’s definitely not like me.
Why did you decide to sign up for another television show?
Every time I finish a show, I always say that I’m going to leave that part of the business alone for a while and tackle other things – but I’m always drawn to it. To be honest, I absolutely love doing television. It’s a huge attraction for me.
What is the attraction of TV?
I love building a character that hopefully has longevity; that I can take through a long journey. I love feeling connected to my characters in that way and TV really allows that. I feel like I’m constantly practicing my craft, but I also love the stability of it. I love this character. It was really important for me to choose something wisely because I know how long you can be connected to a show. This is the character that I know I will have so much fun with for a very long time.
Is there a specific genre of television show that you’d like to try next?
I’d love to try everything. I’m open to it all. I haven’t done comedy yet. Well, not much of it – but I think that would be fun to tackle. I’d also love to do a zombie movie. I’m obsessed with the zombie genre, so that’s definitely on the list.
You started your career as a ballet dancer. Why did you move to acting?
I always knew in my heart that I wasn’t going to pursue ballet as my career. I thought about it, but in order to be a ballerina, you have to love it so much because it becomes your life. When I started taking acting classes, it gave me a different sense of excitement and freedom and joy that I wasn’t getting from ballet, so it was an easy transition. Once I started working more steadily as an actress, I knew that part of my life was over. I was fine with it.
How do you stay fit and trim?
Pilates has been one of my favorite activities. I’m also outside all the time, so I love hiking and I love to do just about anything outside. The other day, someone told me about a big camping trip around New Zealand, which is supposed to be a really lovely journey. At some point, I’ll definitely make that happen, too. I just need to finish the next season of Revenge first. I can’t wait.
How did you get involved with Revenge?
I read the script for Revenge and I loved it, so I went and met with [Revenge executive producers] Marty Bowen and Mike Kelley to hear their thoughts on the project. We talked and talked about it, and then I went through a whole audition process to win the role. When I tested for the part, Marty called my agent and said, “I just don’t know if she can go dark. I didn’t see that in our meeting. She really doesn’t give that off.” When I heard that, I thought to myself, ‘OK, great. Let’s go in and I’ll try to prove it to them.’
How did your audition go?
[The director of the pilot episode] Phillip Noyce was there for that session and I was incredibly nervous. The whole situation was terrifying, but I just went in and I worked hard at showing off the darkness of the role. It was great. A couple of weeks later, I had signed up and was getting ready to film the pilot. It’s been amazing ever since.
Did you get to take anything from your Brothers & Sisters experience to Revenge?
I let Brothers & Sisters go completely from my head and I moved on to the next chapter. What I really wanted was to feel creatively fulfilled and excited about something again, and this really brought that to my life. Mostly, I just wanted to stop pulling from personal experience in my acting and create a character from scratch. I was really intrigued about creating a new character, a new being, and that’s what I was able to do with Emily.
Has it been an enjoyable experience working on Revenge?
I’m very lucky. I’m working with an incredibly supportive, amazing cast, as well as producers and brilliant creators who are writing great scripts. I have been doing this for a very long time, even though I’m still quite young – but it’s been an incredible experience and I’m enjoying every moment. In fact, I have a lot of ‘pinch me’ moments on the set, which is great.
Can you describe any of your ‘pinch me’ moments?
I’ll have ‘pinch me’ moments in my trailer when I get really excited about the new scripts. Ashley Madekwe [who plays Ashley Davenport in the show] thinks I’m the biggest dork in the world! She’s seen most of these moments, but I can’t help getting excited about the storylines and the plot. I feel like Mike Kelley has put together this group of really great people, and I love that I get to go to work and have so much fun with them. It’s an amazing feeling. At the beginning, it felt explosive because we all wanted to make a great project and make the audience happy, but also have fun while we were doing it. I have an incredible sense of gratitude all the time.
Will Emily feel any guilt as she exacts her revenge in the show?
Emily has spent eight years building up a wall so that she can do this and she has nothing to lose. I feel like this revenge is a way for her to stay connected to her father, and the moment that she forgives is the moment that she has to let him go. If you look at it that way, that’s a massive motivation for her.
Will anything stop Emily?
She’s constantly being challenged. This is a moment in her life that she thought was going to be quite easy and fulfilling; that’s where it’s going to get interesting. Feelings are going to arise and she’s going to be challenged in that way. This is also the first time that she’s ever been around a group of people for that amount of time. I think she’s always been traveling and avoiding human interaction.
How long can she continue before people start to get suspicious?
She’s had eight years to really, really plan this out. Even though it’s suspicious, she’s really covered her bases in terms of being able to know anything on paper.
How difficult was it to get the audience on Emily’s side, especially considering she’s so full of vengeance?
I’ve talked a lot about finding the balance for this and, at the end of the day; it’s a moral discussion in terms of how people feel about revenge. Emily is quite justified in what she’s doing. These people stole everything from her. They are horrible people. They do really bad things. I think, on some level, everybody can connect with that theme of revenge, whether they act on it or not. That’s where the balance with the audience comes in.
Do you see Emily as a sociopath?
Well, what happened to Emily was so incredibly traumatic. She had such a happy childhood, but then she was torn away from her father and she had to grow up in the foster care system. Her teenage years were really rough. She didn’t really have, beyond her father, anybody who truly cared about her. It was all taken away from her and so she’s lived with that guilt and pain for years.
Does she care for anyone apart from her father?
This is not somebody who has family or friends. She’s protected herself and she’s deliberately chosen not to make any kind of real human connections with people because, like I said before, her only true connection to love is this relationship with revenge and her father. I think that’s what keeps her on track.
What stunts do you have to do for the show?
They’ve let me do some of the fightscenes, which was really fun. I hope they allow her to dabble a little more with that dark aspect of herself because that is so much fun for me to play. It’s something I haven’t done very much of and that’s what drew me to the character in the first place.
Why do you think Revenge has proved so popular?
I think revenge is a universal theme. It’s fun to delve into the lives of the rich and beautiful people of the Hamptons. The economy is in such a bad shape that people are looking for an escape – and Revenge can provide that escape. It all came together with perfect timing for us. The show has really caught on.
Can you give us any clues about Season Two?
The Season One finale is filled with about five cliffhangers, so we deal with those and the repercussions in Season Two. There is also a new villain who is amazing; he gives the show new life and broadens the definition of revenge in that he takes it beyond the Graysons and moves it into a whole other realm for Emily.
Who would be your dream guest star on Revenge?
Michael C. Hall should come on to the show as Dexter and help Emily out a little bit. Come on, what a crossover! Maybe he should be one of her revenge gurus? That would be awesome.