Anthony D’Alessandro is managing editor/contributor to AwardsLine.
It takes a considerable amount of finesse for an actor to create sympathy for a sociopathic character, and one of Emily VanCamp’s strengths in playing Emily Thorne, the merciless Hamptons socialite in ABC’s Revenge, has been playing the girl next door in Everwood and Brothers & Sisters. Much like Rooney Mara’s challenge to shed her Katherine Ross-like image for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo auditions, VanCamp went the distance to prove to Revenge producers that she could play dark as a girl plotting revenge on her father’s upper-crust killers. And not just one shade of black: VanCamp’s forte lies in shifting gracefully between emotional poles — a mastery not always displayed by primetime broadcast tube thespians. VanCamp’s Thorne runs the gamut from eloquently subduing her wigged-out nemesis Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe) to burning down an opponent’s house. Lest we forget her most colorful trait: Thorne’s unabashed fetish for disguises. Whether she dresses as a hotel waiter or skanky barfly, she’ll do whatever it takes to collect intel or poison her enemies. An Emmy nod for VanCamp would be truly special for the actress this year as it’s the first time she’s becoming a TV Academy member.
AWARDSLINE: How did the role come your way?
EMILY VANCAMP: I finished Brothers & Sisters in September (2010) and made a pact with myself that I wasn’t going to work unless I read something and loved it. I had worked pretty steadily and hit a point where I wanted to feel challenged. I read Revenge and thought this was a huge gamble. It was the only pilot [role] I fought for. I met with Mike Kelley and [executive producer] Marty Bowen who filtered through everyone. They asked me to test, because they didn’t quite know if I could play the darkness the character required. … Longevity for me in my career has not only been about choosing the right material, but trying to reinvent myself as a young woman. People love to put you in a box. [At times in this industry], you have to force people to see you in a different light as you can burn out. There was a slight transition for me as an actress between Everwood and Brothers & Sisters going from being a girl to a woman — however, that’s a big jump to make in Hollywood. … People remember me from these roles and it’s one of the reasons why they root for Emily even though sometimes one shouldn’t.
Related: EMMYS: For Series Creator Mike Kelley ‘Revenge’ Is A Dish Served Enthusiastically
AWARDSLINE: In addition to suggesting that Emily should be a badass, what insight did Phillip Noyce provide?
VANCAMP: He encouraged me to be still. With the girl-next-door characters I have played, I wasn’t really conscious of their movements. They moved differently, and there’s something strange about Emily. Victoria picks up on it right away. Emily is almost robotic. She’s numb and doesn’t move a lot. For me that’s difficult because I was a ballet dancer.
AWARDSLINE: The audience easily sympathizes with your complex character thanks to the flashback sequences of Emily as a child. Certain shows such as HBO’s Boardwalk Empire rarely use flashbacks to create sympathy for their characters.
VANCAMP: All of these moments of vulnerability are keys to root for her. Mike [Kelley] and I talk about this all the time. Without those flashbacks, you don’t know who to root for. Even when you want to sympathize with what Victoria has done, you can’t really because you see Emily as a young girl. At the same time, what’s great about these characters is that you want to know more about Victoria and why she’s feeling pain. That’s a testament to what Madeline brings to the character.
AWARDSLINE: What surprised you the most this season?
VANCAMP: The discovery of Charlotte (Christa B. Allen as Victoria’s daughter) being my sister. It gave me so many awkward moments to play. Suddenly there’s this person that Emily is expected to care for and protect. Emily doesn’t know how to process such emotions. She’s analytical. The feelings aren’t there, but they are in an odd sense. It’s really a complex situation. Charlotte is going down this dark path and Emily is expected to keep an eye on her and there’s only so much my character can do. It’s too early to tell how much Emily is allowing herself to feel. I call Mike Kelley all the time, concerned that I messed up a scene because Emily is so complicated specifically in regards to how much I should hold back. Mike says that sometimes “feeling uncomfortable in a scene is going to feel great, so just let it be.”
AWARDSLINE: Do we learn who Emily’s mother is?
VANCAMP: I think that will be in Season 2.
AWARDSLINE: Unless, I’m overlooking something, I think it’s Victoria.
VANCAMP: Really?! Emily’s mother wasn’t part of the flashbacks because she wasn’t around during her childhood. I will say I don’t think it’s Victoria. I will tell you that.
AWARDSLINE: That would be amazing. “Darth Vader” (Victoria Grayson) is your mother.
VANCAMP: Can you imagine? That would be hilarious. What will be great to see if there’s the possibility that mom is still around. Mike has ideas all the time and that keeps us on our toes. We hear things then they can change at a moment’s notice. We don’t know things until we get the script and sit down at the read-through.