On the Ropes: An Interview With Revenge’s Gabriel Mann
It’s 4 pm in LA. Gabriel Mann is fresh off the set of Revenge‘s twelfth episode and ready to talk motivations, secrets, lies and spoilers with Chevron One. Oh and rope too!
Revenge has proved quite the dish for ABC. In a loose retelling of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, the series sees Amanda Clarke (Emily Van Camp) assuming the identity of Emily Thorne in order to return, incognito, to her childhood home in the Hamptons and exact terrible revenge on the people who ruined her life. Only one man knows Amanda’s true identity – the bored billionaire Nolan Ross – who can’t seem to help being at the epicenter of her dangerous and often deadly game.
I’ll admit I’ve been worrying about this interview about as much as I’ve been looking forward to it. Gabriel Mann is the man behind Nolan, just about everyone’s favorite character on TV right now but also the show’s most mercurial and oblique individual. I have no idea what to expect. However my concerns are quickly washed away by a tidal wave of warmth and enthusiasm from the man who portrays him. We’re about eight minutes in and chatting about Twitter before I realize I haven’t asked him any formal questions yet.
Those who follow his Twitter stream (@Gabriel_Mann) will know how active he is in connecting to fans and re-tweeting news and opinions on the show, including some Chevron One articles. “I love reading your stuff as you can tell,” he tells me. “I think it’s brilliant.” (and yes, that comment totally made my day!)
“I’m always all over Twitter, especially on Wednesdays,” he says. “It’s like I’ve turned my Twitter account into a Revenge blog or something. As an actor, as much as I love the process of acting and putting a character together, if you do it within a bubble and no one ever gets to see it, it’s neither here nor there really. Just to get to be a part of something that is starting conversations and people are aware of and into, is amazing. It’s very funny because with this show, by and large, there’s not a whole lot of half way. People either haven’t seen it or the ones who have are like ‘Oh my God! More! More! More!‘ It becomes like televised crack.”
So how much fun is Revenge?
“It’s criminally fun.” he laughs. “I feel guilty about how much fun it is at times. Everybody is doing such down and dirty dastardly deeds I feel guilty about the fact I’m saying these things and doing these things. But hey, it saves me from doing these things in my own life so it’s great,” he jokes.
“It’s a great emotional outlet for those kinds of vengeful feelings that everybody has but which hopefully by and large they choose not to act on. I think that’s probably one of the main things that people have responded to. We’ve sort of tapped into something. Out in the world there’s this growing feeling of being disenfranchised and angry including the whole Occupy movement. People have reached a boiling point in our society where they’re saying ‘We’re mad and we don’t want to take it anymore.’
“I don’t know that it was the intention to necessarily coordinate that behind the scenes with the show, but I think it was more a bit of fortuitous timing that this came along at a moment when there was this kind of sentiment in the world and I think people have really clued into that, and get a lot of satisfaction out of watching that. And we get even more satisfaction shooting it so everyone walks away satisfied. Hopefully you don’t get any indigestion from over-eating all the wicked treats they serve up each week.”
“It’s my Wednesday treat,” I tell him.
“That’s right,” he laughs. “You need a treat on Wednesday! There were some nerves about Wednesday nights and the time slot and following comedy, but somehow it just organically came together, and so far we’ve been really lucky. People have showed up and they keep showing up. We’ll keep doing it as long as people want to keep seeing it. It’s been such an extraordinary experience so far on every level, from the people we get to work with to how close we’ve all become – including our crew and our writers and the network which has been so behind it. And hopefully that energy and that chemistry that we have is part of what translates into the show and on the screen and maybe makes it fun to watch. I hope.”
Revenge fans are by and large a fairly fanatical bunch, something which stems from the show’s many regular unpredictable twists and turns.
“Oh yeah. It’s shocking,” he says. “Not that people would be in to something, but to be fortunate enough to be part of something that they’re in to, you know? Usually, I watch from afar and I think how do you get involved in something like that? You can never plan to. It’s sort of fate and a wing and a prayer.
“Boy, it’s been such a momentously fun moment in my career up to this point. It’s so deliciously enjoyable to see too. Every time there’s a new script we’re all on the floor rolling around laughing and freaking out. We’re asking ‘Is this really going to happen? Are we really going to do this?‘ And they’re like ‘Yeah you are!’ It’s great!
“There’s so much twisted goodness to come. It’s really exciting. We’ll get through one juicy episode and then the next one is even more so. How can you really top yourselves?”
Given that Nolan is no stranger to some unusual clothes combinations, I feel compelled to ask Gabriel if he has a hand in Nolan’s wardrobe.
“You better believe I do!” he laughs. “I totally do! It all started when we shot the very first episode and they hung a bunch of stuff in my trailer, mostly for sizes to see if they fit. I saw it all hanging there and I didn’t even ask anybody. I just put all of it on. At the same time. And when I came out, they said ‘Oh, that’s a cool idea!” and I said ‘Yeah, I think it’s kinda perfect, right?’ And so we went from there.
“So now to a certain degree that’s become part of our routine.They lay out all kinds of options in my trailer and I say to them ‘You know if you leave all of this stuff out, I’m wearing ALL of it. I’m not picking. It’s all going on.’
“So I would say yes. The choices are their initial concept but at the end of the day they let me throw my own custom flavor onto it. And it’s been great.
“I really didn’t know at first how people would react to this character. It could have gone both ways. People really could have ended up hating him and feeling like he’s the Jar Jar Binks of Revenge – in that if you just cut him away the rest of the thing would be better.
“Miraculously, it just came together better. There’s comic relief. There’s a bit of an element of him being a Greek Chorus to the events that are transpiring, and on top of all that, he’s just a very eccentric guy and hopefully interesting to watch because there are always a couple of angles that he could be going in at the same time.
“So however a viewer chooses to watch and interpret that is probably as legitimate as anything I’ve got planned in my head for how I want it to transpire.
“It really is a bit of everything with him, and with ultimately what his character’s journey is going to be. So yes, I definitely one hundred percent have input in what you see on screen that I’m wearing.” He laughs. “I take partial responsibility for it. I own it and I appreciate it and it’s great.”
The topic of Nolan’s many layers segues into a discussion about Nolan himself being quite a layered character, and that the audience is never one hundred percent sure where his loyalties lie. Gabriel responds to this line of questioning with a thoroughly evil laugh.
“That’s quite an evil laugh,” I comment.
“Right!” he says playfully.
“So how do you see him?”
“Building this character on the show over time has been so interesting. My choice is generally always to go toward ambiguity. I think he truly is a bit of everything. I don’t feel like it’s a put on. He’s a complex guy with a complex series of emotional reactions to his life and the things that are happening around him but at the same time he’s got too much money, he’s bored and he wants to have a good time. And sometimes that’s at the expense of others. But he doesn’t like it when it’s flipped back around towards him.
“If there’s ever one way to play it I’m going to try to find two ways to play it. I will play a scene and then cap it with something that could potentially take it in another direction. And that’s just my own personal choice as an actor. Nobody necessarily came and told me to do that or not to do that.
“They gave me a lot of leeway to create this character – with some signposts along the way – but initially they made have been a bit …” he pauses, laughing, “quizzical about what my interpretation of this character was and where I was going with it. And I’d say “No, no, just wait guys. Trust me. I think this is going to come together in a way that’s effective.’
“That could have bombed horribly,” he reflects. “I could have fallen straight on my face. But they gave me the leeway to explore and do what I was doing and ultimately it’s created a character that I haven’t seen too much of on prime-time television. And that’s exciting. It’s exciting as an actor and as an artist to know that. I’m dancing to my own beat. I’m not following anybody else. I’m not trying to emulate anybody else. This guy [Nolan] is unto himself. And in this world that he inhabits, and amongst these other characters, it has the potential to create something really satisfying.”
“Emily seems to take Nolan’s help for granted,” I observe.
“Yes she does! Shame on her!” he says.
I have observed that in recent episodes Nolan is becoming more uncomfortable, reluctant and wary. I ask Gabriel if Nolan is going to come to the conclusion he is in too deep with all this revenge stuff?
“I think he is going to come to a lot of conclusions and that probably being one of them,” he answers.
“The thing is, he gets a lot of personal pleasure and satisfaction out of playing. Yet at the same time, if it’s flipped back around at him he goes nuts!
“He can’t take it. He does not like being hurt. He does not like pain. He does not like being attacked, and unfortunately he’s getting in to more and more precarious situations that are going to make him increasingly more uncomfortable. And that’s an understatement really, considering some of the episodes we’ve just shot.”
“There may be rope involved at some point,” he teases.
“Yeah. I wish I could say it was some kind of kinky thing but unfortunately it’s not. What’s interesting about him is his reaction to being backed into a corner. He’s always going to be just as compelling as what backed him into the corner in the first place. So it’s what happens when you think too much and you’ve got too much time and you’ve got too much money. He probably should head into the office a few more days in the week. He’s got much too much time to sit around his Hamptons mini mansion and plot and plan and scheme.
“But I think at the core of it really with this character there is an immense need to be liked and loved and wanted so there’s always something real at the end of the day for me to connect to that hopefully takes it from going into caricature. I try and ground it in an emotional reality. He wants people to like him. If they like him he’s great. And if they don’t he hates them.”
With all the twists and turns and direction changes the show has taken since episode one, I ask Gabriel if there is any particular direction he would like to see his character move in and what surprises audiences can expect in future episodes.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to see where the writers may go with Nolan and the Graysons because that’s one thing we haven’t explored a whole lot,” he answers. “What is really the nature of his relationship with the Graysons? On top of which, just from a selfish perspective, I’m chomping at the bit to do scenes with Madeline and Henry and Josh and Christa, but I do know that is something we will start to see as the series continues to unfold.
“What’s great about the show is that the writers have done such an amazing job. They cover so much ground in each episode. But at the same time you have to pace yourself because if you always turn the volume up to eleven on every episode it doesn’t give it the same impact as an episode that’s maybe more quiet, maybe more about character development. And then all of a sudden in the next episode we’re going to drop someone off of a building! So it’s like they’re sort of picking those moments, taking their time, and hopefully servicing the larger story in the most entertaining way possible.
“So there will occasionally be episodes that are quieter and really just focus on the relationships and then other episodes that will be like gangbusters. We’ll be moving along and then all of a sudden things just shift into high gear. They’ve found a nice way of pacing that.
“And of course, you have your classic Revenge episodes where the red sharpie comes out and she’s got the target and she takes him down.
“So we jump around with a lot of those formats [producer] Mike Kelly and the writers have created and it’s great. We get really excited about having a few episodes of really figuring out who our characters are and where they are going and then all of a sudden there will be something insane that will happen in the following episode, so it always keeps us on our feet and hopefully the audience as well.”
I tell Gabriel that I remember being two episodes in and thinking it wasn’t possible for the writers to keep up such a pace – just before the show became even more intense.
“I know! They went even further!” he exclaims. “You’re certainly not watching paint dry. Very occasionally though someone will make a comment on Twitter or whatever saying [putting on a bored teenage girl voice] ‘Yeah I like the show, but it’s getting boring.’
He laughs again. “What else could happen? Do we need to start blowing up sections of the Hamptons? Have aliens invaded? I mean, where else could you go with it honestly? It’s really funny. But look, I get it. We’re in age of short attention span theater. At any moment somebody could push a button and change whatever they’re up to, whether it’s music or a film or a television show, or whatever. There are so many options now. You really have to work hard to grab people’s attention and hold it and keep it. I’ve got so much respect for our creative team that they have managed to keep up this pace. There’s no slowing down. It’s just going to go and go and ramp up and ramp up. I think everyone will be genuinely thrilled and shocked to see how this starts to come together for the first season. Because I know we were, and we live with this every day. So if we’re surprised, I know an audience is going to be as well. So that’s my big tease. Without teasing anything, that’s my big tease.”
“Hmm. Ok,” I say, reflecting on what’s been said and perhaps coming off a little less enthusiastic than I should.
“I know,” teases Gabriel. “Great! Thanks Gabe, that’s wonderful. Very compelling!”
“I just heard one word,” I admit. “Rope!”
He laughs. “Right. There you go. That’s the most compelling thing. There may be some rope involved. In a non fun way.”
Distracting thoughts of rope aside, I have to ask the one question on everyone’s mind. What would Emily do if she were to discover the Nolan/Tyler secret video recording?
“Oh she’s definitely going to have some reaction to that,” he assures me. “At the end of the day, I think people, as you mentioned earlier, are wondering why isn’t she being nicer to this guy? All he does is help her. But I think initially when her character arrived in the Hamptons she had no plans to have anybody else involved in this and all of a sudden she’s got a guy that wants to be involved in everything and who is ultimately very cagey. She would be untrue to her character and her character’s history if she were just to embrace me with open arms.
“She’s been through physical and emotional abuse growing up so it’s not in her nature to trust people. And I certainly don’t always give her a lot of reasons to trust me. So I get that apprehensiveness but we have so much fun exploring that and playing that seeing how that transitions as time goes by and we become more comfortable with each other but also are increasingly becoming deeper and deeper involved in this whole story to the point where it may be unclear where anybody’s loyalties lie.
“But we’ve been really fortunate in that Emily Van Camp and myself have had an amazing working relationship – and she’s a very good friend of mine now as well – and so we just trust each other as actors implicitly and give each other a very wide berth to do whatever we do, and just take so much enjoyment out of what each of us is bringing to the table. There are so many facets and colors – some subtle and some more broad – that have and will continue to be revealed about these two. Ooh I think there may be something coming that she might get very angry about. Maybe I’ll spoil you with that!
“There a couple of major shockers coming up. Well more than a couple actually. I mean the writers told me this one particular thing that they were potentially planning for down the road and I just couldn’t go to sleep that night. You become so invested in these characters and their journeys that their journey really starts to feel like your journey in life. Because your day in day out, living, breathing, working Revenge so the things that happen to your character you start to take very personally. So when either dark or upsetting or twisted things happen I can’t shake it. It gets stuck in my head. ‘Did she really do that?‘ ‘Am I really going to do that to her?‘ ‘She’s going to KILL me!‘ I’m like ‘How could you do this to me, writers?‘
But ultimately their plan is so much further reaching. We get very limited amounts of information ourselves until we actually have the scripts in our hands. But that’s part of the fun. Every time it’s a new script it’s like opening a gift on your birthday. It’s a surprise. It really has kept all of us very invested and compelled in continuing to tell this story.”
So what is Gabriel’s take on the nature of Nolan and Emily’s special relationship?
“There is clearly a lot of chemistry between these two characters,” he says. “As to how a viewer wants to interpret that? I think all interpretations are legitimate. I mean, I feel like from Nolan’s perspective she is utterly fascinating. And he just cannot get enough of her. Their minds in some ways come from different angles but they work similarly. And so, he feels like he’s found a kindred soul. Whether that’s in a familial kind of way – like a sort of a sister figure – or a more romantic figure – I think there’s a bit of all of it in there.
“I know how certain portions of the audience would love it if our characters started to go in that direction somehow, but knowing Revenge, it will never be that cut and dry. Look, at the end of the day, it’s always about servicing the story and making it as entertaining as possible. If that’s part of the plan, then they will go there.
“They have a lot of dots to connect. In the writers room they were saying they have a huge map drawn out that connects all the events and characters through everything that’s happened and where they’re going and sort of connecting those dots as they go along. So, it’s impossible for me to say. I could easily tell you no, that will never happen. They will never find love with each other but that could change with the next script that I get,” he laughs.
“So I really have no idea. I think they’re open to anything that is complex and interesting. I have utter faith in these people. I am happy to go and do whatever they come up with next, and I said that to Mike Kelly our creator very early in the show. I said I have the utmost respect for you guys and I love what you’ve done with this. So as far as you want to take it is as far as I’m willing to go.
“And I think you’ve seen a little bit of that so far. I don’t think Ashton Holmes or I had any idea coming in that our characters would find themselves in the situation that they did, but what a great twist! How could you not do that? You must do it!” He chuckles. “It’s too good. So that’s my take on Emily and Nolan and what might be coming up for him – which is basically just about anything and everything.”
Is there anything Nolan won’t secretly film?
“No,” he answers. “Because if he didn’t film it, it didn’t happen! So no, Nolan will always continue to film everything. Always.”
You can catch Gabriel Mann as the deliciously mercurial Nolan on Revenge Wednesdays on ABC at 10/9c.