Family relations shouldn't require a TV-MA rating, but even the censors couldn't have predicted the steamy way in which Dave Annable first responded to Emily VanCamp when they began playing half-siblings Justin and Rebecca on ABC's Brothers & Sisters.
''They were Ephram and Amy from Everwood,'' says executive producer Greg Berlanti, in reference to the beloved WB drama he created that starred VanCamp in the central romantic role. Problem was, here the two were supposed to play like family not love interests. ''I looked like an idiot,'' Berlanti remembers. ''Here were two young people who didn't grow up with each other, didn't know each other, but they had this electricity. There was nothing I could do.''
He can now. When the ABC drama returns April 20, Berlanti will tackle their attraction head-on when Rebecca starts to question whether she's really a Walker, the clan at the center of B&S. Suspicious of the relationship between her mother, Holly (Patricia Wettig), and an ex-boyfriend, David (Ken Olin), Rebecca takes a paternity test which will have an impact on the way she relates to Justin.
For Annable, 28, and VanCamp, 21, the twist can't come soon enough. ''I'm all for breaking boundaries, but we didn't need to get into incest,'' she said, while taking a break from shooting on the Disney lot in Burbank. ''I draw the line at that.''
''It's been crazy!'' added Annable, who joined VanCamp in the studio dining room. ''My mom started to send me links to gossip about Justin-Rebecca, Justin-Rebecca. I was like, 'Wow, this is starting to be a bigger thing.''' But hardly a stretch for the actors, who continue to dodge rumors of an ongoing romance (they admit to dating briefly but insist they're now just friends). They won't deny, however, the immediate connection they felt when VanCamp joined the cast.
Even today, they finish each other's sentences like longtime sweethearts. ''I met her an hour before our first scene in hair and makeup...,'' begins Annable. ''We really didn't know each other...,'' interrupts VanCamp. ''But she had met everybody else in the cast,'' continues Annable. ''So I walk in and she says, 'I've heard so much about you!' And I'm like, 'I'm sure it was all bad.''' '''Stay away from Dave,' they say,'' she recounts, laughing.
Their compatibility has turned out to be an embarrassment of riches for B&S, blessed with a cast rife with chemistry. Among the plot twists planned for the other pairs: Kevin (Matthew Rhys) finally commits to Scotty (Luke MacFarlane), the relationship between Nora (Sally Field) and the austere Isaac (Danny Glover) deepens, and Kitty's (Calista Flockhart) desire for a baby takes on new meaning when Robert's (Rob Lowe) political future hits a critical juncture.
Berlanti's also promising a shocker for the May 11 finale, though he swears he'll stay true to the drama's primary goal. ''This show deals with what it means to be family,'' Berlanti says. ''We try to do things that make people's emotions conflicted.... What will [the paternity test] mean for her? Was the intention all along for Rebecca to be part of this family?''
The very thought spooks VanCamp. ''I was like, 'What if I'm not a Walker? Where do I go from there?''' she ruminates. ''Rebecca's mom has done serious damage and created a lot of waves within the Walker family. It's just one more lie for Holly to deal with that would really affect everybody.''
Annable casts her a reassuring glance. ''I don't think there's anybody who wouldn't want to see the Walkers deal with a big problem,'' he says. Agreed.
The Other Man
The intrigue over Rebecca's lineage has been a blessing for thirtysomething fans because it's meant more screen time for Michael Steadman, er, Ken Olin. An executive producer of Brothers & Sisters, Olin has been spending time in front of the camera, guest-starring since December 2007 as David Caplan, the mysterious ex-boyfriend of Holly Harper. (And as thirtysomething diehards know, Harper is played by Olin's real-life wife, Patricia Wettig.) Acting opposite her 53-year-old boss is ''scary,'' admits Emily VanCamp, but it sure seems to fire up the female fans. ''My mom literally has a crush on him, so when she comes to the set, she starts getting red,'' laughs Dave Annable. ''Ken totally plays on it. 'Your mom's checking me out again,' he says. 'Is she available?' I'm like, 'No, she's not. But my dad is 66, so good luck, bro.'''