Taking revenge on the rich

We talk to the star and producer of the latest high-gloss drama to come out of the US.

Emily VanCamp, centre, plays Emily Thorne in the ABC drama series Revenge. Courtesy ABC
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Greg Kennedy talks to the star and producer of the latest high-gloss drama to come out of the US

Revenge is a dish best served ice-cold — but it's all the more delicious when it's whipped up by Emily VanCamp, who stars in Revenge as a calculating femme fatale out to destroy the billionaires who shattered her family years before.

Her unladylike revenge is sweeter than summer ice cream, as she deftly scoops deeper into the lives of the greedy in an American playground for the super-rich, the Hamptons, where secrets hide beyond emerald, diamond-cut lawns and fester behind the massive doors of sprawling oceanfront mansions.

The 25-year-old Canadian actress's star first twinkled in Everwood (as Amy Abbott, from 2002 to 2006) and grew brighter in Brothers & Sisters (as Rebecca Harper from 2007 to 2010). She also starred in the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie Beyond the Blackboard earlier this year.

If you're just joining the series, here's a little back-story: first of all, her real name is Amanda Clarke. Her father David Clarke, framed for terrorism charges when she was a little girl, died in prison. Her life destroyed, she ended up in a juvenile detention centre, believing the lies that her dad was a murderer who blew up an airliner. At 18, she inherited her father's millions, learnt the truth and changed her name to Emily Thorne. Now, she returns to infiltrate Hamptons' high society, hellbent on revenge on those she blames for her family's downfall.

It's no easy thespian trick to fashion a sympathetic character who's rich, coolly detached and ruthless, as the cherubic VanCamp does with her Emily Thorne, yet also infuse her with emotional warmth and vulnerability. It's a tall order to tweak a moral compass with such exactitude, so viewers fully engage and root for her. In the hands of lesser talent, a sociopath would result — yet with VanCamp, Emily's almost demure.

Of her character, VanCamp says: "I think what happened was so incredibly traumatic, you know, having had such a happy childhood and then being torn away from her father, growing up in the foster care system with a really rough teenage hood. She didn't really ever have, beyond her father, anybody who truly cared about her, who loved her. It was all taken away from her."

The executive producer Mike Kelley adds: "She also believed that her father was a murderer, believed what people were telling her. This left Emily wracked with guilt when she discovered the truth.

"She lived with that kind of guilt and that kind of pain," says VanCamp. "This is not somebody who has family or friends. She's protected herself and deliberately chosen, I think, not to make any kind of real human connections with people. Her only true connection to love is this relationship with revenge and her father. That's what keeps her on track."

On Revenge, VanCamp strikes dramatic sparks off the top-drawer talent: a steely Madeleine Stowe (as the glamorous Victoria Grayson, the "Queen Bee" of the Hamptons, and the matriarch of the Graysons), she is the wife of the two-timer Conrad (Henry Czerny) and the mother of the heartthrob Daniel (Joshua Bowman) and the bratty Charlotte (Christa B Allen). Emily's ally is Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann), a genius computer hacker loyal to her late father's memory.

In the US, Revenge regularly wins its time slot in the 18-34 age category against two venerable TV institutions — CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit; its premiere alone drew more than 10 million viewers for ABC.

The concept of revenge against the rich resonates with many Americans. Just look at the Occupy Wall Street movement.

"The president hasn't punished the rich, and neither has congress," the arts writer Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times wrote in September. "There is plenty of resentment for the wealthiest Americans, who have coasted through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression without a tax increase or a dip in lifestyle. [Revenge] is Gossip Girl tailored to this economy, with just enough campy suspense to be enjoyable."

Haunting voice-overs give insight into Emily's plotting mind: "In revenge, as in life, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In the end, the guilty always fall."

In one scene, as the danger she embraces threatens to ensnare her, a beefy security guard urges her to install a panic room in her beachfront home. Emily, with a terse reply that defines her, coolly dismisses the very notion: "I don't panic."

Ÿ Revenge is broadcast on Mondays and Tuesdays on OSN First HD, OSN First and OSN First +2