Behind the scenes with Revenge

00:50, Jun 07 2012
TV show Revenge
WATCH YOUR BACK: Emily Thorne, front, played by Emily VanCamp, in Revenge.

A pop song you deem too embarrassing to enjoy outside the privacy of your own earphones, a sentimental rom-com you're ashamed to admit you watch consistently on DVD, or a piece of trash television you sense is having a detrimental effect on your IQ.

The guilty pleasure permeates every pop-culture sphere.

And in its first season, Revenge - a night-time soap opera boasting preposterous plot lines, shoddy special effects and high-camp performances - has swiftly become the TV snob's guilty pleasure.

The show focuses on the travails of Amanda Clarke, who has rebranded herself Emily Thorne for the purposes of enacting vengeance on the Graysons, the family that framed her father for a crime he didn't commit before having him murdered in prison.

Canadian actor Emily VanCamp plays the Emily/Amanda role with a knowing sense of determination. The mostly measured on-screen hostility with her arch-rival, played by veteran Madeleine Stowe, is something to behold.

For Revenge's convoluted storyline, the above plot barely begins to describe the minutiae of this Hamptons-set series.

The writers revel in dealing with the ultra-rich and their predilection for drugs, conspiracy theories, corruption, murder, arson, marital affairs, phone and computer hacking, theft and power struggles.

VanCamp, 26, signed to Revenge following a run on another soapy drama, Brothers & Sisters.

''I'd promised myself I wouldn't work again until I found something that excited me,'' she says. ''I wanted to play this amazing young woman. There was a lot I could do with it.''

She met with producers at the beginning of last year but the American network decided to enter a protracted audition process. ''They said they were concerned with the darkness of the role,'' she says. ''They had never seen me play such a dark role. So I guess I showed them the darkness.''

VanCamp has since proved a revelation. Along with director Phillip Noyce, who helmed the elaborate pilot, and series creator Mike Kelley, she built Emily/Amanda from the ground up.

One of her defining characteristics, and that of any great soap actor, is the ''look'' - often scathing, sometimes merely shocked - she delivers through each episode.

''I don't know where they came from,'' she says. ''I've tried to find moments where the audience can connect with her and know what she's up to. I can't say it to the camera [with words], so it works in that way. Also, it reminds you of the pain and anger she has.''

When Revenge was launched in September in the US, hopes were not high. Retro-leaning series such as The Playboy Club and Pan Am were garnering most of the new-season buzz.

However, after about four episodes, confidence about the show began to build.

VanCamp admits she initially doubted the series could maintain momentum through a 22-episode season. She also concedes to feeling pressure in shouldering the lead role.

''Inevitably you do,'' she says. ''But I tried to repress those feelings. Early on, I had a little panic of, 'If this fails, it's on me.' If it got cancelled after one episode, it would be horrendous for me.''

Of less concern is the show's outrageous story arcs; VanCamp acknowledges the cast laugh frequently when they receive scripts.

''All the time,'' she says. ''But my job is to route some of the absurdities to make everything seem natural as possible. Sometimes it's comical, which is the soapy part of it, but sometimes it's quite moving. That's what makes our show work.

''We take some creative licence and go over the top but I think that's what people like. We're trying to entertain and make it as glamorous, crazy and silly as possible. But there [are] also complex characters who balance the silliness too.''

One such individual is Gabriel Mann's eccentric bisexual billionaire, Nolan Ross.

''Gabriel took that character and made it his own,'' she says. ''He took a risk, really. He's very funny but unbelievably professional. He brings comic relief to the show, and god knows we need that.''

Less conspicuous was 24-year-old novice British actor Josh Bowman, who plays Emily's fiance Daniel Grayson. Bowman and VanCamp travelled together as a couple while recently in Australia, although they refuse to confirm their relationship status in separate interviews.

''Emily has been doing this since she was 15,'' says Bowman, who modelled his character both on British (Prince Harry) and American (John F Kennedy jnr) royalty. ''She taught me a lot about being on a TV show. She's been doing this since [she was young].''

The inexperienced Bowman is candid about his own performance.

''To do the accent and embody the character was tough,'' he says. ''Looking back, critiquing myself, I wasn't so natural in the first half of the season. I picked it up more but I'm learning as I'm going.''

Does real-life Emily differ much from Emily Thorne?

''She's definitely got an element of ice queen,'' he says. ''You can't play that too much, it has to come from somewhere. But we laugh a lot. You have to. We're not saving lives. But I think that's also why people enjoy it so much.''

The tabloid attention the couple has received has required a stern adjustment for VanCamp. Bowman is on more familiar ground as a professional British rugby player turned model who also dated Amy Winehouse.

''It's something I'll never get used to,'' VanCamp says. ''I've been doing this a long time and I've managed to maintain a sense of privacy. Now there are moments where it's overwhelming. I don't like being followed. It really makes me uneasy, but I know it comes with the territory.''

With filming of season two starting next month, VanCamp is clearly enthused by the potential plotlines. Undoubtedly, the season one finale brims with unanswered plot threads.

''We'll deal with those and the repercussions,'' she says. ''There is a new villain who broadens the definition of revenge in that he takes it beyond the family and moves it into a whole other realm for Emily.''

For VanCamp, it's swiftly becoming a once-in-a-career role.

''I've had a couple of pinch-me moments,'' she says. ''Things have changed a little and moved to a different realm for me. It's been a whirlwind.''

How long can it last, though? Desperate Housewives, for instance, stretched to eight seasons. ''I think Revenge is shorter than that,'' VanCamp says. ''It's a difficult story to carry that long. But another few years would be amazing.''

- Sydney Morning Herald