Here’s a brief list of things that happened to Josh Bowman’s character, Daniel Grayson, by the end of the first season of ABC’s hit nighttime soap Revenge. After starting as an irresistible rich party boy, Daniel had fallen in love, only to break off his engagement with Emily Thorne. He was shot by his best friend, then tried for said friend’s murder, spending time in jail until the charges were dropped. His model socialite parents weren’t so model after all, filing for divorce. His sister tried to commit suicide. His mother may or may not have been killed in a plane crash in the season finale. Finally, he began turning into the man he’d tried so hard to stay away from, his father, by stepping up to head the family company (which also played a hand in financing 9/11, but Daniel doesn’t know this. Yet.)
To hear the 24-year-old British actor tell it, these are just a string of normal occurrences on Revenge, which also stars lead vixens Emily VanCamp (as Emily Thorne, née Amanda Clarke) and Madeline Stowe (as Victoria Grayson) and is loosely based on The Count of Monte Cristo. The show’s unflinching commitment to being a sudsy guilty pleasure earned it top ratings in its Wednesday night 10 p.m. time slot. Starting this weekend, it’ll join Once Upon a Time and 666 Park Avenue on ABC’s newly reprogrammed Sunday night. Bowman recently stopped by Rolling Stone‘s offices (sporting a pair of Nike kicks he designed with his personal motto) to chat about the show’s success so far, what’s ahead for season two and what life was like pre-Revenge.
For all of the things that happened to Daniel last season, which had the biggest impact?
Probably Emily. For Daniel, he’s very much still thinking about Emily when the season starts.
We start the season with Daniel recovering. My sister survived but my mother is dead, and I’m going through that, and I’m also in somewhat of a relationship with Ashley Davenport, who is working at Grayson Global with me. The summer’s just starting, and Conrad is running Grayson Manor, so he’s like – it’s kind of like Scar’s lair in The Lion King. You know, when it’s all burning and it’s kind of dark and the ashes are there. It’s kind of [got a] very Hitchcock-y feel to it all.
We’re all in mourning for my mother, and Emily and I are separated. There’s a new guy, Aiden [Barry Sloane], coming in from her past, and there’s also her mother [Jennifer Jason Leigh] who comes in from her past, so there’s a couple of new obstacles that are coming into play. And I’m definitely becoming more a part of Grayson Global – I’ve got a spring in my step for that. I want to right a few of the wrongs that my dad’s been doing. He just causes absolute drama and catastrophe, and he works with the Initiative, which is the terrorist organization. I don’t know that, but Daniel, I hope, has grown up. He’s taking a little bit more control, and he needs to – it’s a multi-multi-multi billion dollar company, and he’s learning the ropes. He’s keen about it.
You’ve talked about how you wanted Mike Kelley to expand Daniel’s role and give him some more depth.
We all, as actors, have to fight these battles, where it’s like, “OK, that’s a little far-fetched.” Granted, this show is a little kind of ficticious, right?
To say the least.
I think we’re just all encouraged to be like, “No, this would be wrong – this is more truthful.” I think they were developing the character quite a lot, so with a lot of my storylines it was like, “Where are we going to take him?” Mike was on that wavelength before I brought it up, so it was great to go through that and have a dialogue with the showrunner. I think it’s important to be a part of that process, because we’re living these characters for 22 episodes and we want to make it believable. If he’s going to run the company, he’s got to have a fucking idea what’s going on.
What else is changing when we come back to the Hamptons?
I’m primarily with Ashley and Conrad, and now I’ve just been introduced to Aiden, so it’ll be interesting to see where that goes. Aiden is Takeda’s proxy – he works for Takeda. He obviously doesn’t, but in our world we’re made to think that. I know Takeda, but I don’t know Aiden is Takeda’s pawn, that he’s there for a different reason and he’s helping Emily out. And Emily will come between us. I’ll tell him how I feel about her and obviously have no idea that he knows Emily, so it’s going to be interesting to play that dynamic – another triangle. Now it’s a love square. Jack, Aiden, Daniel and Emily. She’s a slut, isn’t she? [Laughs] There’s three guys now.
There’s the real love, or the childhood love, the newer love –
What is the previous love? Aiden’s a previous true love, too. What’s going on?
Did you realize what you were getting into with this show when you filmed the pilot?
Fuck no. No. Way. [Laughs]
When did you realize?
I guess after the second episode. It took a while, though. Great learning, but we don’t want it to be too off the charts. I know people love that, but it’s nice to keep that believability in there. As actors, you don’t want it to be a puppet show.
There are shows like Gossip Girl and Grey’s Anatomy that start off really strong and then they –
Yeah. The characters lose their focus.
That’s why I think it’s important for the writers to be consistent. It’s a big job for all of them, all of us.
It seems like you’re using all of this as a learning platform.
Massively. I don’t care if I fail. I’ll just keep on trying to be better and get better at my craft, and I think it would be good to get out and have people see me in a different light. Maybe something back at home in England, or something where I’m embodying a different character completely. I don’t think I’d want to play the same character ever again.
What was the first thing that made you decide to get into acting? You didn’t start off on that path right away.
No, I didn’t. I don’t know what made me decide. I love films, I love the way they make me feel. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Midnight Cowboy, Thin Red Line. I’m trying to work more on studying different directors – I love Stanley Kubrick, Terrence Malick, Scorsese, Brian De Palma. The Untouchables is a great film. Spielberg. I love Danny Boyle, I love Woody Allen. I’m reasearching Billy Wilder. Ingmar Bergman. Christopher Nolan. I want to work with those guys, 100 percent I’m going to do my best to be in the same room as them and work hard to earn the right to work with them.
I was playing rugby, and I wanted to just get out there and leave town and start a new life. It wasn’t right for me. I’ve always been into acting. I was modeling since I was a little kid, like three years old. I did a little Versace campaign that was shot by Bruce Webber, and I actually shot with him recently again. He’s fucking hilarious. That guy remembers everything. He watched Revenge and he realized it was me, and we were put in touch.
So I was in that world a little bit, and I grew up in school, acting in acting class. And my Grandma’s a big drama queen, my mother’s side, my Irish gran, she’s probably where I get the acting bug from. She’s an Irish storyteller. She used to tell me stories when I was a kid. So maybe she implied that storytelling in me.
I got injured [playing rugby] – I dislocated my shoulder twice, three times, and had two operations. I’m like Robocop. It went off like a switch in my head – “I can’t do this.” And as soon as I quit, I felt free. And that’s what I get with this job. I like studying people – that’s what I’m a fan of, really. It’s not even just the acting. I like photography, I like stories, I like writing. Everyone wants to escape, everyone’s drawn to escapism to leave their lives for an hour or two, and we’re all so curious as human beings. All those reasons are why I love this job. Whether it’s theater or film, or network – ABC’s a great network for me to be learning my stuff on.
Well, for starters, I’m doing 22 eps. I feel like I’m on a crash course of learning. I’m getting my degree now, then I’ll go on and get my bachelor’s somewhere else. Then I’ll do my Ph.D. and my doctorate, eventually [laughs]. It’s great to be part of something that people have taken a liking to, but it’s also terrifying. I kind of don’t like it because my work is out there for people to scrutinize, and it’s easy to critique. But I’m just always wanting to improve and take advice.
So what’s the best advice you’ve gotten thus far?
From the executive producer of our show, Marty Bowen: “Don’t be afraid to be great.” And don’t be afraid to fail, that’s really what it’s about. I learned that in drama school. I’ve got a tattoo [on my side] that says “Don’t let the bastards get you down,” and I live by that.
When did you get it?
In New York, five years ago. I was here when I was 20, here for a year in school, then back home for a year, then two years in L.A. before I got Revenge. I got a pilot the first year, but the pilot [didn’t get picked up], got a visa, stayed in L.A. Some people go back, but I was like, “Fuck no, I want more jobs.” I was about to get a bar job. I was living month-to-month. Then I got Make It or Break It, then I got the Miley Cyrus movie, and that led on to Revenge. But we don’t have to talk about that.
So you don’t want to talk about anything before Revenge.
Not really . . .
But you seem apprehensive.
I shouldn’t be.
So the movie is called So Undercover.
Coming maybe soon to a theater near you.
I don’t know when. I’m not dissing anything, but you get the sense that some things may have not gone the way you wanted them to go. You might not have done the performance [laughs] you wanted to give. Because people have to see it, and then they’ll think you suck. But that’s when this comes into play [gestures towards shoes, which have “March Forth” written on them].
Talk to me about March Forth.
I’m born March 4th, but a great friend of mine, her father was a lawyer. He was born on my birthday and he came up with “March Forth.” And I said, “I’ve got to take that, and I’m going to live it on for your father.” He’s unfortunately not alive anymore. So I’m kind of repping him. March on. Don’t look in the rearview, just the windshield.