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'Revenge' Reset: New Showrunner on Going Back to Basics With Season 3 Premiere

Sunil Nayar tells THR about cutting back on last year's storylines, staying the course with the flash-forward formula and writing out Ashley Madekwe.

Revenge Season 3 Premiere Episodic - H 2013
ABC/ Carin Baer
"Revenge"

By many accounts, Revenge took a few questionable turns during its sophomore season. And while the finale seemed to tee up several more complicated storylines, Sunday’s premiere found new showrunner Sunil Nayar streamlining much of the plot and moving the narrative back to the show’s first season.

“There were certain plot points that maybe could have given us great story, but they would have taken us away from the luxury, romance, fun, seduction and deviousness of what the show is and what the Hamptons are in the summer,” Nayar tells The Hollywood Reporter.

PHOTOS: Behind the Scenes of 'Revenge'

Taking over from creator and exiting showrunner Mike Kelley, Nayar also used the opportunity of the third season’s kickoff to dispense with an original cast member (Ashley Madekwe), reunite sparring leads Emily (Emily VanCamp) and Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) and bring back the flash-forward vehicle with a very decisive shot of Emily, dressed in a wedding grown and getting shot in the stomach – something Nayar says the series will catch back up to by the winter.

Nayar spoke with THR about the minor reboot, what characters he expects fans to be sympathizing with this season and how the writers plan to use new castmember Justin Hartley.

What made you decide to keep the flash forwards as a storytelling vehicle?

I know it’s become a device that many shows use, and I think that it pays homage to how well this show did it the first couple of seasons. This show lives in a place where you have a percussive engine that takes you to something that you are stunned by in the first minute or two in the show, and one of the things I wanted to do is to really make sure to honor this magnificent show that Mike created. And when we came up with what the flash forward was, we thought it was too good not to do. What could possibly be better than Emily Thorne in that wedding dress, getting shot? It was a no-brainer.

It’s a lot less vague than the openers in the first two seasons.

That was one of the main things we wanted to do. Last season’s was so moody and almost ethereal. The audience knew something was going to happen, but they weren’t sure what. We wanted to show them exactly what happens to Emily Thorne and for it to be something that feels very definitive. You still don't know who it is that pulled the trigger and why it happens – so those are the more fun questions to answer.

Writing out Ashley Madekwe was one of the first big events under your tenure.  Why was it time to write her out?

She’s such a wonderful actress, and we kept trying to find the place for her in the show. She become integral to so many storylines, but we never really found a way to make one of her own. For us to kind of try to find other iterations to what Ashley Davenport can do in this world just seemed a little bit selfish. It was too late, two seasons in, to re-create her completely. People knew who she was. Ashley was beyond gracious about it and I think understood there were better opportunities for her to be a lead actress somewhere as opposed to being kind of on the fringe and finding her way in.

She gets a pretty great send-off.

I love the way it was shot. I thought it came out perfectly. We wanted to give Ashley a really legitimate send-off. The way we thought would be the most fun is to make her worthy enough of these two women who can’t stand each other joining forces to do it -- and to see how wonderful Emily is at what she does because she essentially manipulates Victoria into joining her takedown. We loved the idea of the two of them standing there, watching Ashley walk off.

There were a lot of storylines in the air at the end of last season. How did you decide which to tie up and move on?

What we wanted to do was make sure the ones we really gave story engines to were the ones that brought us back to the world of the Hamptons. There were certain plot points that maybe could have given us great story, but they would have taken us away from the luxury, romance, fun, seduction and deviousness of what the show is -- and what the Hamptons are in the summer. We decided to embrace the ones that allowed us to get back to that version of the show. 

How much of an obstacle is keeping your narrative in that three-month span when everyone is in the Hamptons?

It’s a tricky thing. It’s one of the reasons that the flash forward you see in the season premiere doesn’t happen on Labor Day. We made it a little bit early, which gives us a little bit of runoff into the second half of the season for the rest of the summer.

What did you learn most from working on the show last season?

[Mike] was a wonderful person to take a risk on me. I’d been in procedurals for eight years. When he and I met, I said, “You run a French restaurant, and I’m like a sushi chef.” I think he just realized I had skills with food. I feel very bittersweet and fortunate to be able to take over the reins of the show he created.

What character or dynamic were you most excited to explore this season?

One of the people that we’re really looking to explore is Aiden Mathis [Barry Sloane] and to start grounding him more in the world of the Hamptons. There are scenes in the preview that he’s had with Madeleine coming up that are so wonderful, and it’s such a different energy to see on him. It’s been exciting for me and the whole writing staff to now slow it down and really investigate where our characters are now that the action isn’t so propulsive.

The premiere does seem to tee up Aiden as a big player this season. How big of an obstacle is he to Emily?

It’s a big role. He’s a major character and the kind of moves he’s making are really surprising. Barry’s such a wonderful actor, and we’re just really blessed to have him and be able to put him more into the world of the show now.

Do you want to steer the characters into a more morally ambiguous territory after so many of them went so far in one direction last season?

With Emily revealing herself to Jack [Nick Wechsler] at the end of last season, and Jack being such a moral center of this show, his reaction is a wake-up call for Emily. And at the end of the day, we are still rooting for Emily. We are still rooting for the little girl who was wronged. What’s great is even though we’re rooting for our heroine, we’re rooting for her in a way we haven’t before because she is being asked to examine the repercussions of her mission. The thing is to try and find a softness in all the characters. In a couple episodes, you’ll find yourself rooting for Conrad and feeling a sympathy for him that you thought would be impossible. If anybody becomes so bad that you can’t root for them at all, then we kind of let that character get away from us.

Patrick Hartley is a pretty clean slate for the writers to work with. How do you want him to function in the show?

He functions as a confident newbie in this world. He’s not a shrinking violet by any mean – but, by the same token, what fuels the people in the Hamptons doesn’t make any sense to him whatsoever. The Victoria he’s gotten to know is not the Victoria who is at their mercy. Through Patrick, I think we’re going to see what happens to an innocent when they get involved in the world of the Hamptons. He’s a very matter-of-fact guy, and he doesn’t really care about the trappings of the world at all -- but he cares very much about Victoria. In some ways, he’s like Jack knowing Emily’s secret. They are kind of the eyes of the audience in some ways.

E-mail: Michael.OConnell@THR.com
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