At 25, Emily VanCamp already felt typecast as The Girl Next Door. After working non-stop in television for nine years, the upbeat blond Canadian actress was having nightmares about playing the good girl forever.
“I was pretty worried,” says the native of Port Perry, Ont. “The bulk of scripts I was getting were about being this same kind of shiny gal-pal or protagonist.”
Then she got Revenge.
“It wasn’t easy for Emily,” says Mike Kelley, who created the series for ABC. “Her role is part villain and part hero, so the network was very concerned she wouldn’t be able to pull the first part of the equation off because she was so loveable on Brothers & Sisters and Everwood. But then she came in and killed it.”
It went beyond her ability to tap into her ruthless side. “The jackpot alarms went off when Emily started to ask all the right questions—including where her character’s rage was actually coming from.”
VanCamp credits her mother Cindy for sparking her interest in acting by introducing her to films like The Wizard of Oz and My Fair Lady.
“The world seemed so far out of reach in Port Perry,” she says. “I was living in the countryside. I was theatrical and dramatic as a kid and my parents let me explore that. My world really opened up in Montreal when I went to ballet school.”
VanCamp grew up in a family of independent women, which includes sisters Molly, Katie and Alison. When she was 11, the actress enrolled in the L’École supérieure de ballet du Quebec. Although she became an actor after getting a part in a Canadian children’s series called Are You Afraid of The Dark?, VanCamp does not regret the time spent agonizing over demi-pliés.
“It was the best thing that could have prepared me for this business,” she says. “Ballet is vigorous, cutthroat, intense work and it really teaches you to push yourself when you think you cannot push yourself anymore.”
When she was 13 she relocated to B.C. for a role in an ill-fated U.S. series called Glory Days. Then she got the call for Everwood and moved to Utah, where she played Amy Abbott, a loveable suburban teenager, in the hit ABC series. In 2006, she signed on to play a similar sweetheart type, Rebecca Harper, the nurturing, all-forgiving girlfriend on ABC’s Brothers & Sisters. It wrapped last year after its fifth season.
Revenge features a script loaded with heaps of scandal, double-crossing and enough backstabbing bitchery to make the writers of Dynasty jealous. VanCamp plays Emily Thorne, whose real name is Amanda Clarke, a vengeance-seeking socialite who becomes part of a wealthy family’s social circle. Thorne/Clarke aspires to destroy the clan’s spidery matriarch, Victoria Grayson (played by Madeleine Stowe), and ruin the family name.
Part of Revenge’s magnetic draw is VanCamp’s character. “Emily plays our toxic avenger even though she has to become one of [the Graysons],” says Kelly. To add to the drama, VanCamp’s real boyfriend Josh Bowman plays her love interest.
The actress is inspired by the Showtime series Dexter, where Michael C. Hall plays one of the most affable serial killers in television history. “In Revenge, it’s a similar line I’m walking,” VanCamp says. “My biggest challenge is to balance the likeability of my character. She’s doing some horrible things and my job is to get people to root for her.”
Revenge fans have speculated that new episodes (set to air April 18) will pit Emily Thorne against archenemy Victoria Grayson in a Dynasty-type Alexis Colby-Krystle Carrington match. VanCamp won’t confirm or deny, but she perks up when Stowe’s name is mentioned.
“It’s such a privilege to be able to work with someone like Madeleine, who’s been able to reinvent herself,” says VanCamp. “Especially since it is so hard to manage longevity in Hollywood. I’ve acted with women like her that have been able to do it so well—Sally Field, Patricia Wettig and Melissa Leo—who have re-established themselves over and over again, so I’m hoping that rubs off on me.”