Madeleine Stowe made her film debut in Stakeout with Richard Dreyfuss, and went on to work with Jack Nicholson in The Two Jakes, Daniel Day Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans, Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys and Kevin Costner in Revenge.
Not to be confused with her movie of the same name, Stowe now stars in the ABC series Revenge. In it she plays Victoria Grayson, a glamorous, powerful matriarch of the Grayson family and the reigning queen of the Hamptons social scene. But her past holds dark secrets.
Seventeen years before, she had an affair with Steve Clarke, and assisted in framing him for a crime he didn’t commit. Seventeen years later Steve dies in prison, and his daughter Amanda, who was only nine-years-old when he was convicted, changes her name to Emily Thorne and moves next door to Victoria in the Hamptons, planning revenge on her and everyone else connect with her father’s misfortune.
Did you think Victoria was heinous when you first read the script?
Not at all. I think that she’s hiding something that goes way past the terrible sin that she committed. And I think we all hide in different ways. In her mind, she feels that she has risen to being a good human being, but she’s very much in love with Emily’s father still to this very day, and I think it haunts her.
Mike (Kelley, the series writer and executive producer) has a whole slew of storylines. They are kind of astonishing. I just heard about something really heinous my character is about to do. I said, ‘She does what?’ It was so shocking.
I think the idea that you are in a place that is sunny and bright [like the Hamptons], and all of these dark undercurrents are going on, kind of makes a really interesting story.
I think that all villains have light and shadow and weird things about them, and they are conflicted. I know so many people in my day today who will blow you away with how they’ll pivot and do a 180 and do something that you would never imagine them capable of doing. So I think she’s one of those people.
Was it hard to find the right tone for Victoria?
Initially it was tricky finding the right balance because there were some people who felt that she should be a moustache twirling heavy, and I never felt that. I felt that she had a certain kind of vulnerability about her, but if the hammer had to come down, it was going to come down.
When they were testing it, I think what they found is that the audiences unexpectedly had a lot of sympathy for her, because she’s trapped.
How long can Emily go before people start to get suspicious of what’s going on?
I’m on to Emily. I am on to her by the first episode. A young woman comes onto my yacht and says to my best friend, ‘Is your husband all right?’ And she happens to have moved next door. In this day of the Internet, who would not have Googled and seen who lives next door? It’s complete hokum to me. I’m on to her. Victoria knows no boundaries.
And there’s a power struggle over Victoria’s son Daniel, who Josh Bowman plays. I think that then becomes a very cunning game about how much do you let your son go with this woman who you know is trouble, but he’s happy. And that’s where so much of her character lords power over mine.
When you’re on the set, do you go in and out of character?
It’s interesting, I actually like to stand in for my character [when they are lighting the set] and be there every second so I can really go in.
That’s not how people typically work, but with [Victoria] it’s essential that I do that because I find that my own mind is rising to a level of paranoia in certain areas, I’m having a conversation with somebody and I start to think of people’s motives behind what they’re doing more than I typically would.
I’m surprisingly loving this character. The potential for this show is to go really deep and psychological in a Hitchcockian way if they choose to do that.
You were so cool and regal in this series, and yet you have a whole different side of you as a rancher in Texas. Could you talk a little bit about that?
I actually don’t have the ranch in Texas anymore because my daughter’s being educated here in LA A Texas education would have been fine, but it was a little tricky where we were. But I miss it terribly and our deep connections are there.
But during that particular period of time, I came up with this idea of writing a large romantic western, [The Unbound Captives], which is a genre that has never really been done before, and to transcend what we’ve typically been seeing in the genre. So it’s a film that I’m directing with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz.
Can you speak to the idea of the average American audience wanting to see the take down of the rich?
We are in a particular time right now in American history where I think that the average American is going to want to see the takedown of the rich. I think to observe these over-privileged people who have everything at their fingertips pulled down and given a comeuppance might be some sort of vicarious thrill for people.
The disparity is so huge right now in terms of who’s making the money, so to be able to turn on the tube for one hour and see this escapist fantasy which has a really dark heart I think could be satisfying.