Visiting a TV set is always surreal. “It’s... real,” you think. “And so small.” But if you stick around one long enough, you notice deflating details. A wall of candid Polaroids is actually a bunch of stock images printed out on paper. Doors are painted shut. Walls are stilted up by sand bags. Ceci n’est pas une place.
Not so with Revenge's Grayson Manor. While it doesn’t have a roof (the better to be lit by a series of barrel-sized paper lanterns, my dears) the set has, if anything, MORE detail than is fully shown onscreen. The stairs lead up to a second floor. The Graysons’ family portrait smiles down over a collection of Ming vases. Artwork—some obviously replicas, some actually originals—is lit and carefully curated throughout each room. Long before Victoria was thrown against a still-damp oil by her artist lover, set designers knew she had a passion for painting. You can go outside to a flowery garden (nevermind that the sky and horizon are the corrugated steel of a studio warehouse), where dark fake grass gives believably underfoot.
Turn into a glass-enclosed patio room, and you see a desk laid with Victoria’s stationary—thank you notes and a pad that’s emblazoned with “Do Not Forget” (as if she ever could!). A few steps away, hydrangeas have been delicately set on a sink with their fake stems trailing in water. A statue of Venus stares in from a bay window, flanked by wild grasses and vines. From the other side of the window, you see she’s perched on casters, so she can be whisked aside to allow a camera to peer through the window in her place.
The house, gorgeous as it is, is nothing without its inhabitants, and there they come. Yes, these gorgeous people look like exactly like our beloved characters but instantly their stances and expressions tell you these are strangers—utterly different people than the characters who share their bodies. Emily (VanCamp) is smiling radiantly and looking from face to face with unaffected warmth. Madeleine Stowe is conspicuously absent. While this is clearly to protect the cliffhanger of the Season 1 finale, the consensus amongst the bloggers pressing around the stars is that Victoria is most certainly still alive, by means of parachutes literal or figurative. Perhaps the actress is enjoying the last days of a summer break that has been extraordinarily busy for the cast, especially Gabriel Mann. Nolan is beloved internationally, as Mann found out during a recent trip to Mexico to film Chavez, in which he's playing the son of Jon Malkovich. At first, when Mexican bystanders would yell “Venganza! Venganza!” at him in the streets, he thought it was a greeting and would call it back with a tentative wave. When he started getting approached by fans who only said the English word “Nolan” he realized the reach of the show ("vengaza" is "revenge" in Spanish). Nolan’s popularity may have given him some leverage among the producers and writers, who he explains have generously granted him all his requests for his character in Season 2. Perhaps that explains the handsome new haircut? Instead of the jaw-length bowl-cut of Season 1, Gabriel’s blonde hair is tidily trimmed, with fashionably side-swept bangs the only evidence of his once-long locks. Mann presents both a contrast and echo of Nolan, having all the confidence and charm the lonely billionaire lacks, while injecting his remarks with Nolan’s trademark wry humor. Although he may not be so lonely this season: “Moving forward in the love interest department, present day, coming our way very very quickly,” Mann says. Is it outrageous to suggest a May-through-December seduction by Emily’s mom, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh? "If it were Jennifer Jason Leigh I wouldn’t say no... I think this character would be happy with anybody who wants to show him some love, and what form that may take— it may be a few forms.”
Margarita Levieva looks tiny around an eight-months-pregnant belly. Known alternately as Kara, “Amanda,” and Emily, she was six months pregnant when she returned to the Stowaway in the finale. They were like, ‘You get the eight-month belly’ and I was like ‘WHAAAT?’” As they’ve only shot one episode of Season 2 so far, clearly the action picks up two months from where we left off. Margarita jokes that putting on her belly is a mental game. “I really feel pregnant. The way I’m walking, the way I’m touching my belly, the way I was eating today! Definitely shoveling in my food.” In person, Margarita is incredibly stunning. She and her frequent scene partner Nick Wechsler spend time together off-screen as well. “He’s a great guy and such a talented actor and fun to work with. We do have time to hang out off-set. And he loves playing dodgeball.” Would Jack care THAT much if she wasn’t actually Amanda Clarke? Would it be so bad? That reveal is some time in coming, according to Connor Paolo (who plays Declan).
Seated in Victoria’s own Constitution chair and throwing teasing faces at Margarita, Connor does not have any trace of the mysterious Brooklyn accent he uses as Declan. Clearly, Declan and Jack are both making room for one more Porter and sharing space with the expecting mom up in the crawlspace over the Stowaway, a tight space made tighter still by all the baggage Declan will be carrying around. “As far as he knows, his ex-girlfriend’s mother has died, and she took a bunch of pills and he didn’t pick up the phone for her... He was in a dark place when you left him, and I don’t think that’s lightened up very much.”
Don’t feel too guilty, Declan, Charlotte’s sitting right there, a few steps over, perched in a director’s chair in a dress printed with roses. It's fitted at the waist and blooms out over a fluffy crinoline like a starlet from the '50s, making actress Christa B. Allen look like a very young, very innocent doll. With a worried laugh, she confirms what her presence suggests—that Charlotte has survived the pills, but insists this was a spoiler leaked on Twitter. “Someone already spilled the beans! Some of the Revenge team was posting pictures, and I was like ‘Guys!’ So it wasn’t me. But here I am!” She also gushes about London, where she was recently a guest at fellow cast member Ashley Madekwe’s wedding.
Wearing her hair in a fall of waves, Ashley positively glows. She was married less than two months ago to her longtime beau Iddo Goldberg and that could in part explain the radiance. It could also be her character’s ascension in the Season 1 finale, which seems to hint at better times ahead for the character of Ashley in Season 2—and perhaps much sexier times. Ashley’s drink with Daniel at one point had a much more suggestive ending. “We shot a continuation of that scene where you see some clothes on the floor... We shot that, but we didn’t air it, so I think it’s open to development, Ashley and Daniel’s story.” Interestingly, the matching names of character and actress are no coincidence; series creator Mike Kelley wrote the character with her in mind. Though she had to audition for the part, the character’s accent, Croyden upbringing, and name were all tributes to the actress long before she was officially hired. Ashley describes school in Croyden as being rowdier than most parts of London, but vividly recalls the one day in class when every kid was struck silent in their seats by a performance from her Revenge co-star, Madeleine Stowe. “I remember watching Last of the Mohicans, in school as a class movie day, and I went to quite a rough school in South London. And this film SILENCED the room, silenced the room in a way none of the other films ever had. And I remember thinking, ‘Wow... It made them shut up!’ She’s awesome. Working with her is a master class in acting.”
The crush of the reporting crowd is staggering. Even for a network set visit, the numbers of bloggers and journalists is unprecedented. (Note: Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take any pictures of the cast.) Josh Bowman is surrounded by a throng eight people deep, pressed against the façade of the guesthouse were Tyler used to live. Emily VanCamp, by the window of the peeping-tom Venus, cannot even be glimpsed. Digital recorders rise out of the horde around her, creating a sort of halo. Revenge is ABC’s highest-rated series in its hour since cultural behemoth Lost. What does that kind of fame mean to the young cast—some who were just unknowns this time last year?
“I just got lucky,” Nick Wechsler shrugs.
“When Stephen King said he liked the show and he thought Tyler was one of the best villains on television I thought, 'Okay, we’re good,'” says Gabriel Mann.
As the herd is ushered out of the set, Emily and Josh also head outside. They can be seen standing in the sunlight, talking next to the line of trailers which the cast gather in to run lines or relax between scenes. They glow in the Marina del Rey sun, literally and figuratively out of the shadows and pressures (press pressures, in this case) of Grayson Manor.
Revenge kicks off its second season on Sunday, September 30 at 10pm on ABC.
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