Trying to choose a breakout star from ABC's hit new drama Revenge is like trying to choose between living in a chocolate castle or having Christmas once a month. It's freaking hard, y'all!
OK, it's not that hard because we made a choice, obviously, and it wasn't all that difficult to single out Gabriel Mann for his ridonkously awesome performance as Nolan Ross, a cross between Mark Zuckerberg and Peter Pan who treats the Hamptons like his playground. Equal parts vulnerable and malicious, you're sorry for Nolan and scared of him all at once. Yeah, Mann's that good.
We chatted with Mann about his portrayal of the internet billionaire with TV's wackiest wardrobe, getting Emily VanCamp to crack during scenes, posting "shipper" videos on his co-star's Facebook page and why he's loving American Horror Story...
Why do you think fans of the show have become so attached to Nolan?
Gabriel Mann: I still scratch my head about that in some ways because I really did go through such a strange period before the show aired, really wondering if this character was going to connect with anybody. I just thought there's a part of him that other people really don't respond to and don't really like, so is an audience going to feel the same way about him? To me, it was important to try and give him as many human moments as I could because it just makes him feel like a real person. It's this duality between his sensitivity and his vulnerability and at the same time he can turn on a dime and say the snarkiest things and do his best to verbally decimate somebody. A lot of it is due to [creator] Mike Kelley, [director] Phillip Noyce and our producers for backing me up and going with it because it was an odd characterization. The network was kind of like, 'What is this guy doing?' [Laughs.] Everybody said, 'No, no, just wait. There's a master plan here.'
A lot of the actors we've spoken to for our Breakout Star interviews have said that the writers have starting incorporating some of their strengths or quirks into their characters. Do you feel like the Revenge writers have done that with you after seeing your take on Nolan?
Yeah, it's really interesting because I think the things that I had added to my portrayal that they end up liking, the writers will then tend to write for those qualities. I think in the way that Nolan speaks and the way that he'll turn a phrase, they've definitely pumped that up as we've gone along. Sometimes we're in the table read for a new episode and the first time you're getting to see the lines is in a room with all the other actors and producers. I try to keep a straight face, but sometimes when I see some of the things they've written that I get to say I can't help but crack up. When I laugh, I know it's really good. I'm like, 'This is classic Nolan.' His voice and the way he speaks has definitely developed and the more fun I have with it and trying to keep it grounded in some reality at the same time is when it's really effective. I'm so grateful to the writers that I've gotten to say some of these insane things. I wish I could think like Nolan.
So in the script, after Nolan says something really harsh to someone, does it say for you smirk? Fans really love Nolan's smirk after he verbally destroys someone.
[Laughs.] The beauty of this character is that there are 150 different ways you can choose to do these scenes and play some of these lines. Generally when we shoot I'll give them a little bit of a different take and read on the line as we're going through it. It's always very interesting to me to see which one they pick. I've been so pleased with some of the choices they've made. I think one of my favorite moments was with Tyler where he's with Ashley on the street and I come up to him and give him the scary Nolan voice and then give him the sociopathic smile at the end. As much fun as people may have watching it is as much fun as I'm having doing it.
It seems like whenever Nolan shares a scene with someone, fans want him to be with that person. Do you get a kick out of that?
It's really funny because people send me links to Youtube videos on Twitter. It runs the gamut. I think the only one I haven't seen yet is Nolan and Conrad (Henry Czerny). It's hilarious. I don't think there's been a Declan (Connor Paolo) one yet. It's me and Jack (Nick Wechsler), it's me and Tyler (Ashton Holmes) and it's me and Emily (VanCamp). I'm waiting for the Nolan and Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) one! We don't have enough stuff yet, but there's some really cool potential things that may be coming up. Maybe they'll be some Youtube videos of that. I'm flattered by it. I took a couple of Youtube videos and posted them on Nick Wechsler's Facebook wall with a quote saying, 'Nick, you have to stop posting these on Youtube.'
Do you have a favorite Nolan moment or one-liner so far?
There's so many. There was a speech I gave to Emily in the Stowaway. I think I'm on the cellphone. I think it was the Faux-manda speech. I think one of my favorite moments also was with Tyler after he stole my credit card. What does Nolan say? He's like...this is terrible because I should remember all these lines! It was, like, 'Transaction denied, cash only.' I like that. Individually, each one of them has been so much fun it would be hard for me to single them out. The thing that I try to do, because Emily is so great in these scenes and she's so deep in her character when she's shooting, I always try and make her laugh when I do the Nolan thing and I can literally never get her to crack a smile. This is how good she is. I give her the craziest line readings. All I'm saying is in an upcoming episode I finally got her to crack. She could not stop laughing.
We have to ask: favorite Nolan outfit?
Hands down, it was the Grayson investor party where I wear the suit with the bowtie and the striped shirt. I think that was one of my all-time favorites. Although, going all the way back to episode one, that first thing on the dock: whale pants, double popped collar and the sailor hat. That was pretty classic. When we started there I was like we are going to have a good time with this character!
Are there any shows you're currently obsessed with?
I cannot turn off an episode of Chopped. It's only because I don't cook, so I'm obsessed. I am one of those people who would have a can of sardines, a few plums, maybe a slice of two or lettuce and some jell-o mix, so the idea that if I had to in survival-mode, what could I make out of all these things? In terms of scripted television, I've been amazed by all the work everyone's been doing on Homeland. It's so good to get to see Claire Danes every week because she's an actress I've always had a lot of admiration more. Having had an opportunity to work with Jessica Lange on a film a few years ago, I have loved watching her work on American Horror Story. It's so much fun to watch Ryan Murphy do such a departure from Glee. I love the risks that they're taking. They've done a really impressive job of launching a risky new show and succeeding.
Finally, how different is your life now compared to last year, before the show premiered?
What an amazing 2011, I must say. One for the books, certainly for me. Within the space of three to four months that the show has been on the air, it's been the equivalent of the whole prior past ten years that I'd been in the business, having worked in any number of movies. All of a sudden, with this one show, I'm walking in all the same places that I've always gone before and people start screaming 'Nolan!' out of the car window. It's really different. I've seen it happen to a lot of friends and actors over the years, but it takes some getting used to. It catches you off guard. I'm used to doing what I do in relative privacy, but what's so exciting and what's so great about it is that it's come from something that I've enjoyed doing so much. There's something really satisfying to just know that people are responding to it, that people are watching it and that's really exciting for an actor. As much fun as it is to do indie films, it's more fun when people actually get to see what you're working on. [Laughs.] Nolan is a character that has been so fun to play that I'm really proud of and so different from me and anything I had really done before, it makes it really special.
What did you think of our picks for the Breakout TV Stars of 2011? Are you excited for Revenge to return tomorrow? Are you loving Nolan as much as we are? Don't forget to check back with us tomorrow for more from out chat with Mann, including what's in store for Nolan and Emily!