Soap opera off the scale

17:00, May 20 2012
TV show Revenge
Watch your back: Emily Thorne, front, played by Emily VanCamp, in Revenge.

Emily Thorne's pretend beach house on Revenge is no humble Kiwi bach.

Her million dollar ocean views from New York's wealthy seaside playground, the Hamptons, may in reality be a giant blue screen inside a Los Angeles sound stage (with sand trucked in), but the set itself is huge.

You can walk the long veranda and sit on the porch swing Emily's (then Amanda Clarke) father built and Jack lovingly fixed. You'll find the infinity symbol carved into one of the railings just like on the show and inside the combined lounge and dining room - which would swallow most Wellington apartments - the secret spot where Emily hides her dangerous box of evidence is right there underneath the rug.

The old adage that everything you see on television is smaller in real life does not apply here.

The Grayson mansion set, in a nearby sound stage, is just as palatial.

You can't help but pull your shoulders back as you step through the front door; this is society queen Victoria Grayson's domain, after all, and everything is perfection.


There's a chandelier overhead and a portrait of the troubled Grayson family on the second floor landing. To the left of the foyer is the sitting room with Victoria's throne, the high- backed chair she likes to intimidate people from while serving cups of tea. Beyond that is the kitchen, which could be the feature spread in a home and lifestyle magazine.

The houses in Revenge are, in some cases, replicas of real abodes.

The attention to detail certainly helps bring to life the decadent fantasy world that has become the backdrop to one of the juiciest dramas on television.

Emily's mission to destroy the Grayson family and the rich, back- stabbing consortium who framed her father has taken many twists and turns - murder, blackmail, shock paternity revelations and the potentially fatal complication of falling for Daniel Grayson, the son of her enemies.

Next week marks the biggest episode of the series so far: the Fire and Ice Ball, which was shown teasingly in the pilot episode and suggested Daniel had been murdered during his and Emily's lavish engagement party.

The Dominion Post was on set during the filming of the episode, which will screen here on Monday night with the follow-up episode as a two-hour special.

Extras dressed in white tuxedos and glamorous red ball gowns wait patiently to be called into shot.

But they're unlikely to know any more details about this carefully guarded storyline than the stars.

"People have definitely tried to trick me," says Christa B Allen, who plays Charlotte Grayson, relaxing between scenes in a $US2,500 Dior dress and ugg boots, on the pressure to reveal plot details.

"It's almost best to play ignorant and say you don't know. And often times we don't. [Show creator] Mike Kelley often won't tell us anything."

Emily VanCamp, who plays Emily/ Amanda, is shooting a scene at the Grayson mansion with party planner friend Ashley (Ashley Madekwe) and nemesis Victoria (Madeleine Stowe).

A pedestal fan blows to create the illusion of an ocean breeze as Emily steps outside to answer a disturbing phone call.

At least, it will sound disturbing on screen later - at the moment it's just a member of the crew reading the phone dialogue to VanCamp in a less than menacing voice.

"It's got to be one of the most fun characters to play on television," says VanCamp, whose character burned down the house of an unsuspecting foe in a recent episode.

"It has been a balancing act to be doing these things and yet remain likeable.

"But I think people like revenge more than they let on because they never say 'We don't like this character' or 'She does horrible things' - they want to see more of that."

VanCamp believes viewers connect best with flawed villains and heroes.

"As much as you want to despise Victoria you kind of feel for her in many moments. As much as you want to root for Emily you're not always going to feel what she's doing is right. That's what makes this show interesting."

Henry Czerny, who plays Conrad Grayson, says the show is underpinned by the Confucius tagline from the first episode: "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves".

"I thought that was very telling," he says.

"For me it's more like a psychological drama. You have these stock characters because of the genre, then slowly, but surely and more complexly you get to see the layers on these archetypes peeled away."

While Conrad has both Emily and his estranged spouse, Victoria, to fear, he says pride is his greatest enemy.

"Until he's knocked off his perch, or throne, he will stay there."

British actress Madekwe, in towering Fendi heels, says she wants her character to get her claws out too.

"I want her to be more bitchy. We kind of hint it and then we take it away."

If her character had to choose teams, however, "I wouldn't put anything past Victoria".

"I think as the show goes on, as push comes to shove, it doesn't matter how good friends she is with Emily, she's never going to want to piss Victoria off."

In another scene, Charlotte has a tense exchange with her grandfather, Edward Grayson (new guest star William Devane).

"I'm definitely here to be an antagonist," says Devane, who starred in 80s soap Knots Landing.

"He's basically a guy with no education. He started [the Grayson financial empire] when he was a kid and has been incredibly successful, so I like the baggage of that kind of past."

He says Revenge has an extra camera and more shooting days per episode (eight or nine days versus six-and-a-half days) than Knots Landing did, but the television business is the same.

"They avoided shows like this [soap operas] for the last 10 years and now all of a sudden they're going to become popular again, so it's cyclical. People are tired of the CSIs, the bodies, the corpses and all that stuff and now they want to get back into gossip. This is basically dramatised gossip, which I think is really great."

- Revenge, 2 hour special, Monday, 8.30pm, TV2

The Dominion Post