Revenge Is a Dish

On the hit ABC show Revenge, Emily VanCamp smolders and schemes and brings back the high-stakes drama of prime-time ’80s soaps like Knots Landing and Dallas. In real life, she’s just a nice Canadian girl who doesn’t always know what to wear.

Pure fandom is perhaps the chief motivating factor behind my eagerness to interview 26-year-old former child ballerina Emily VanCamp. As one of the 7.9 million Americans addicted to the ABC soap opera/fashion show Revenge, I must know: How will her character, the wily Emily Thorne, bring ruination on the upper-crusty Hamptonites whose cold-blooded takedown of her hot dad resulted in his death and in Emily’s being forced to spend her childhood in an orphanage and her teen years in an equally un-groovy juvenile-detention facility? Whom will Emily Thorne choose as her suitor: square-jawed, clean-cut rich boy Daniel (Josh Bowman), son of her archenemy, Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe)? Or square-jawed, five-o’clock-shadowed saloon owner/townie Jack Porter (Nick Wechsler)?

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Of course, I am hungry as well for the inside scoop on real-life Emily. I want the details on how the daughter of a humble feed salesman found her way from the Canadian farming community of Port Perry to the Hollywood Hills, and, if you believe the rumors, into the arms of her co-star (Bowman, that is).

However. All this is secondary to my main mission: to extract a firm promise from Emily VanCamp that Emily Thorne will never again wear a one-shoulder dress. Why? Because I don’t like them. That’s why.

VanCamp greets me in the wardrobe department, a fluorescent-lit series of hallways and rooms crowded with racks and racks of clothing. “Are you Sarah?” she asks, coming toward me with a warm smile and an outstretched hand. She’s wearing black AG jeans, a brand-new soft, sexy black leather jacket and leftover eyeliner. The costumer, Jill Ohanneson, appears, and there’s some oohing and ahhing over VanCamp’s jacket and a round of rejoicing that we are all 5' 10" and there are no short women around to make us feel like Lady Bigfoot. “It’s so hard not to slouch when you’re tall,” VanCamp says. “I’m really glad I did all that ballet, because they’re pretty serious about making you stand up straight.”

We go through the racks, looking at some of the things that have worked particularly well on VanCamp on the show: a gold Michael Kors shift, a pink Tahari A-line suit. I sense an opportunity.

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“So these are the things you felt really worked on the show,” I say. “Can you tell me maybe about the stuff that … didn’t work?” My heart pounds as VanCamp and Ohanneson take turns. “Well, there was a Vera Wang … It was red—and I wore it in the pilot, and also in the engagement-party episode, and—” “We love Vera Wang,” they both say. “But this dress just wasn’t Emily’s—” “Right, it wasn’t my—” I can no longer ignore the Grecian elephant in the room. “I hated that dress. Look, can you guys please do me a favor? No more one-shoulder dresses. Emily, you have such amazing shoulders and a great clavicle, and I hate the way that thing bisects you in this bizarre way, and on Facebook I posted about how I don’t like one-shoulder dresses, and all these dudes were like, ‘Word,’ and—” Ohanneson cuts in. “We don’t feel like one-shoulder dresses really work.” “I’m not crazy about them either,” VanCamp says. “Meaning?” “We’re not going to have any more one-shoulder dresses on the show,” Ohanneson says, and VanCamp nods in agreement. And I have slain the dragon!

The petite and gorgeous Madeleine Stowe walks by, and we all start to slouch but then, recalling our collective Bigfoot Is Beautiful moment, stand up straight. VanCamp and I walk across the set. She waves and smiles, knows everyone’s name. At craft services, she takes a granola bar. “I really need to eat better,” she says. “But not today.” It is in fact a busy day. “I have to leave at some point to mail my sister this adult onesie,” VanCamp says, apparently overjoyed at the prospect of uniting her sibling with this victory over pesky multi-piece dressing. “It’s so cold in Canada right now. She is going to be so psyched when she gets it. Can you imagine how cozy it would be to sit around studying in a onesie?”

If this fleece-lined fantasy of sisterly happiness does not already make it clear, VanCamp’s upbringing was storybook perfect, like The Sound of Music but in rural Canada and minus the lederhosened brothers. VanCamp recalls life with three chummy sisters, beautiful home-cooked meals and happily married parents who wanted the best for their children. I wait to hear about some misery or heartache or disappointment but am merely presented with yet more good fortune wrapped in blue skies and topped with whipped cream. VanCamp’s first brush with imperfection occurred at age 11, when she went to Montreal to study ballet, wearing what she thought was a winning combination: Birkenstocks with socks. “I was clueless,” she says.

Ballet looked like the thing until suddenly acting was. She got some little parts in indie movies, played a young Jackie Bouvier Kennedy in a TV movie, spent four seasons on Everwood and four on Brothers and Sisters. “I love Sally Field and Patricia Wettig,” she gushes. “They are so wise and so cool.” She waited—sometimes patiently, sometimes not—for a role like the one she has now. “I was willing to hold out for something I was really passionate about,” she says. “This is such a great, complex role.” More blue skies and whipped cream; again, fashion the only ant at the picnic. “I went to a premiere about six years ago. I didn’t wear any makeup. I had on boots with holes, and I was wearing a vest. I somehow ended up on the red carpet, and I honestly didn’t put together that some of the pictures being snapped were of me. I felt so silly afterward. I was like, Maybe next time I’ll put on some blush and some mascara and at least wear the boots without the holes.” 

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Now that VanCamp has retained the services of A-list stylist Petra Flannery, who has worked with Emma Stone, Zoe Saldana and Mila Kunis, chances of such a mishap recurring are slim. “Petra is so chill and open to anything,” VanCamp says. “And there’s no ego involved with her. She’s totally fine if I don’t like something.”

VanCamp’s needed to do some voice-overs and suggests that on our way to the recording studio, we swing by the set, where Stowe and her on-screen husband, Conrad (Henry Czerny), do battle in their seaside mansion. It’s set up for a party, and as the two hiss and strike at each other, waiters thread their way through a sea of tables dressed with white linen. Some sets are depressingly cheap, but this one has the air of magic, as if you’ve really stepped into the Hamptons—a place, ironically, neither VanCamp nor show creator Mike Kelley has ever been.

Between takes we whisper in the dark. VanCamp says she needs to get to Pilates. She says she likes my skirt, and when I tell her I got it at a raw-food restaurant, she very charitably says that sometimes the weirdest places have nice clothes. We talk about our futile search for summer dresses that aren’t too short for us and we both use her Stila Lip Glaze. “Wow,” I whisper, “Madeleine Stowe has an amazing ass.”

“I know,” she whispers. “I don’t have much of one. I have total ballet butt.” I tell her I do too, but without the ballet. We check each others’ out. “I think your ass is fine,” I tell her, and she says the same. “How do girls know each other for like five minutes and tell each other everything?” I ask. “It’s because they want to nurture,” she says. “We want people to feel good and safe.” She wants to have kids sooner rather than later. Maybe around 30. “I think women look for that quality in a man of being a good dad whether they’re immediately wanting to be a parent or not. It’s important to me that a man is good at taking care of people.” She seems to have the faraway look of someone who is possibly, if not in love, about to be, and I take advantage of our special moment to ask if she particularly has a thing for dating her co-stars. Not quite answering, she tells me she’s still really good friends with Joseph Morgan from Ben Hur and that she and Chris Pratt from Everwood are still friendly. She won’t confirm going out with Bowman, and she won’t deny it, but more than once she says what a great guy he is, and then, well, a couple of days later, my friend Michael sees them in Los Feliz together; a couple of days after that, the rest of the world does too, in print.

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“I’ll tell you one thing I don’t want,” she says. “A guy who sits around and plays video games and smokes pot.” She shakes her head. “Though I think every young woman needs to have one boyfriend who really disappoints her, who really breaks her heart. Have you ever gone out with anyone like that?” “I’d have to give that some thought,” I say (and, I think to myself, locate the world’s most enormous abacus), “but probably.”

In the editing room, VanCamp begins her voice-over in a normal tone, but as the content of her lines becomes more, well, revengeful, she bursts out laughing. “I think I’m going to have to start that over,” she says. “I had absolutely no idea it was going to get that heavy.” She lowers her pitch, speaks slowly, with a little more gravitas, and nails it in one take. On the way back to the set, she tells me that Revenge is about to get darker. “We’re going to go into the past and see all the crazy stuff that happened in Emily’s life that brought her to the point where she feels these people deserve to be punished.” As far as how this impacts VanCamp’s life on the set, she says, “I’m going to be spending a lot of time in a juvenile-detention center in a dark wig.”

VanCamp shrugs at this absurdity, but she is less blasé about the fact that less than a year ago she was just another hopeful, auditioning actress. “It’s so great to have all this stuff happen to you,” she says. “But you know, to all of a sudden have photographers snapping photos of you, it’s a big change. You know, I see pictures of myself I had no idea were being taken. I’m generally very aware of what’s going on around me, and I really don’t know where they hide.” Her brown eyes widen. “I really hope no one takes my picture when I go mail my sister her onesie."

Click through below for more from Emily's cover shoot and her essentials.

“I love a man’s shirt, and this whole look is so comfortable, so laid-back yet classy.”

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