From executive producers Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, and based on the British series of the same name that was created by Julia Davis, the HBO comedy series Camping follows the obsessively organized and controlling Kathryn (Jennifer Garner), who puts together what she thinks will be a delightful camping trip to celebrate her husband Walt’s (David Tennant) 45th birthday. Pretty quickly after arriving, this group’s bonds become tested, and the heightened emotions and tension that arise at the Brown Bear Lake campsite threaten to ruin the weekend. The series also stars Juliette Lewis, Ione Skye, Brett Gelman, Janicza Bravo, Arturo Del Puerto and Chris Sullivan.
At the L.A. press day for the new series, co-stars Jennifer Garner and David Tennant spoke at a small roundtable about why they wanted to sign on for this series, whether we’ll get more of an understanding of why Kathryn is the way she is, playing a guy as normal as Walt, the fun they had improvising together, what it was like to have the team of writers always on set, camping culture in the UK vs. America, and whether there’s a chance of a second season. David Tennant also talked about what he thought of the new season of Doctor Who.
Question: So, what intrigued you about this subject matter and made you want to do this?
JENNIFER GARNER: I don’t know that I was intrigued by the subject matter. I was intrigued by the script, itself, and by Jenni [Konner] and Lena [Dunham’s] cleverness and capacity for words. And then, there were the characters and how deeply disturbed they all are, in their own words, how complicated their relationships are, and how they slowly unravel, as time goes on.
DAVID TENNANT: Yeah, I was drawn to the people involved. That was a big draw, along with the type of show that it is. It’s not like anything I had done before. That’s always appealing. And there was working with Jen [Garner]. It was a combination of all those things. I read the script and went, “Oh, this is good. I’d quite like to do this. I’m glad they’re asking. Yes, please!”
Were either of you familiar with the original British series?
TENNANT: I did see it. I didn’t see it, at the time. I don’t know how I quite missed it, but when this became something that I was involved in, I checked it out and I absolutely loved it. It’s recognizably the same show, but it’s tonally quite different.
GARNER: I watched the British version before I read the script, and it was brilliant and I loved it, but they went so much further with Kathryn that I thought, “I don’t know if we can do this in America.” Actually, Jenni and Lena toned her down and softened her quite a bit, and gave you reasons why, where in the British version, you didn’t get that.
TENNANT: I think Julia Davis, who I love and I think is brilliant, is a very different writer to Jenni and Lena. Jenni and Lena play to their strengths, so it’s about the minutiae of interpersonal relationships. That’s what they’re great at. Whereas Julia likes to take things beyond, into a macabre Grand-Guignol thing. They start to divert more and more, as the series goes on. The finale of the British one is very unlike our finale.
GARNER: Yes, for sure.
TENNANT: They were not trying to be the same show. I think Julia sure inspired this one, rather than being a slavish remake.
GARNER: Oh, definitely.
David, what’s it like to play the most normal guy that you’ve probably ever played?
TENNANT: It’s quite a relief. I spend a lot of my time playing characters where I have to pretend to be much cooler and more suave than I really am. It’s very nice just to lean back and be a little bit of a dork.
GARNER: You seem totally like you’re playing yourself.
TENNANT: It came so easily. There was no stress for it, at all.
GARNER: I didn’t see the work.
Jen, we’ve only seen four episodes and, so far, Kathryn is not very empathetic. Does the show get any lighter on her character, as the season goes on? Do we get any more context to help us understand why she is the way she is?
GARNER: To me, you do. I think that they really mete out those moments carefully, and they were quite strict with me because I was constantly trying to button a scene with a smile, or rub Duncan Joiner’s back, who plays our son Orvis, or something that would soften it, in some way. They were just like, “No! That’s you. That’s not Kathryn. Don’t go for it. You have to stay strong.” But by the end, I think you’ve peeked under enough leaves that you can see who’s hiding behind the tree, and you start to understand who they used to be together and who she was to her friends, and why she is so tough to handle now.
Have you ever come across any helicopter moms or dads?
TENNANT: What’s a helicopter mom?
It’s someone who hovers over and around their child.
TENNANT: Ah, I’ve never heard that expression.
GARNER: You haven’t?!
TENNANT: No, and I’m taking that one home with me.
GARNER: As we were shooting it, there were moments that were relatable for everyone, when it came to Kathryn. We would say, “Oh, my gosh, I have a sister like this,” or “There’s a kid in my preschool whose mom is just like this.” I think that for someone who’s living with chronic pain, and who feels completely misunderstood by everyone in their life, the only people that really understand her are a group of characters that I thought a lot about, that we never see, who are the people that she has this blog with ,about living with chronic pain. That is real to her. That’s her community and her posse, and she’s a rock star to them because she’s out there camping and doing things, even with this pain. It must make you feel crazy, and she probably started off being really controlling and tough, to begin with.
Do you know women like Kathryn?
GARNER: Yeah, I know women with some of Kathryn’s attributes.
Did they inspire you, with this role?
GARNER: Of course! That’s why I can’t really talk about it too much. That’s gotten me in trouble before.