Best of 2012 (Behind the Scenes): 'Revenge' writer on the creation of the White Haired Man

white-haired-man

Image Credit: Vivian Zink

Nothing kept us on the edge of our seats this year quite like the soapy, campy Revenge. While many revelations — the mysterious body identity, Victoria boarding a doomed plane — had us freaking out to our friends and hitting Twitter to float theories, one of the most buzzy and exciting twists was the introduction of the mysterious White Haired Man. We knew very little about him, and every morsel of intel we got just raised more questions. The pacing and set up were extraordinary, particularly in the penultimate episode of last season, “Grief.” Joe Fazzio co-wrote the episode, and below, he takes us inside the intrigue of creating the character — and tells us how one of the most famous lines of the season came to pass. For more stories behind this year’s top TV and movie moments, click here for EW.com’s Best of 2012 (Behind the Scenes) coverage.

By: Joe Fazzio

Initially, the White Haired Man appeared on the dry-erase-paint-covered walls of the Revenge writers’ room as “the Bearded Man” as sort of an homage to such nameless TV character greats as The X-Files’ “The Cigarette Smoking Man” or Twin Peaks’ “The Log Lady,” who were so mysteriously connected that they couldn’t be bothered with something as frivolous as a name. And once James Morrison was expertly cast in the role, we shifted focus from the facial to the faded follicle, and the White Haired Man was born. 

He would be our entrée into Americon Initiative, the omnipresent dark force that had been alluded to ever since the series’ pilot episode when we first met Emily Thorne (Emily Van Camp) — hair in a loose pony as she set up camp in her humble beach cottage, innocently unpacking seashell knickknacks (which, at that point in our story, were all NolCam-free). The Initiative claimed responsibility for downing Flight 197, the aftershock of which tipped the first domino in Emily’s elaborately formed and seemingly endless (‘infinity times infinity’ to be exact) web of Revenge. If that wasn’t enough, mere mention of the Initiative sent shivers down the spine of the Ice Queen of the Hamptons, Victoria Grayson (the unmatched Madeleine Stowe), so you knew they were bad news.

The writers always knew that as Emily revenged her way through her “To Destroy” list, she’d inevitably have to face the domestic terrorist group whose actions sent her innocent father to his doom, but to give that abstract evil a physical presence would prove no easy feat. How could we make the audience believe that the White Haired Man was so dangerous that he was worthy of Victoria’s fear-induced (but flawless) goosebumps? Sure, he murdered David Clarke in prison, but that was years ago. Perhaps decades of being on Americon Initiative’s payroll as their mercenary had caused killing to lose its luster and he’d gone soft? The only solution was something none of us wanted: put everyone’s favorite character in mortal danger.

In season one’s penultimate episode, “Grief,” the loveable Nolan Ross (portrayed pitch-perfectly by Gabriel Mann), in a heroic move, donned a sticky-stache, braved the White Haired Man’s house as the cable guy, and discretely installed a NolCam in his cable box (which, I can only assume, was overflowing with Homeland episodes that had piled up while off hitmanning it up for the Initiative). In the final moments of the episode, Nolan hops on his computer to check the video feed of the “crazy albino,” when suddenly the White Haired Man appears from behind and puts Nolan in a sleeper hold, rendering him unconscious as the show cuts to black. I can’t tell you how many angry texts I got from friends accusing me of killing Nolan Ross that night. Success!

Luckily Nolan wasn’t dead, but simply held hostage by the White Haired Man as bait to lure Emily out of hiding. Emily risked her own life for Nolan’s, and took on the White Haired Man mano-a-mano. This intense battle in the finale happened to be the final scene that the amazing production crew shot of season one, and I was lucky enough to be the writer covering set. Emily Van Camp is one of those extremely talented actors who can go from expertly wielding an axe in an elaborate combat sequence to lounging in her chair laughing and chatting with me about her plans for the hiatus — I guess that’s why she’s so damn good at turning a polite smile into her signature Camp-y stare. Emily commented to me about the added line of dialogue to the fight scene. The night before, creator, showrunner, and all-around Revenge guru Mike Kelley had a midnight stroke of genius and added a line for the White Haired Man to jab — mid-ass-kicking — at Emily: “You’re a hell of a fighter. Must have gotten that from your mother.” It was epic.

This last-minute addition uttered by our new, now officially badass character opened up a completely unexplored chapter of Emily’s saga: her mother. And this single throwaway comment brought with it so many questions: How did the White Haired Man know her mother? What did he mean by ‘a fighter’? What could possibly be the relationship between White Haired Man and Emily’s mother? Who would be cast as Em’s long-lost mama? The answers to these questions became the seeds of Emily’s mother, Kara Wallace Clarke (embodied by the formidable Jennifer Jason Leigh), rocketing Revenge into season two.

Read more:
EW’s Complete Best & Worst of 2012 coverage
More Best of 2012 (Behind the Scenes) coverage
Best of 2012 (Behind the Scenes): Madeleine Stowe looks back at the ‘Revenge’ season 1 finale

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