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 series, actress Bridget Everett (who plays Harry, the tough-talking, nature-loving leader of the campsite) and showrunner/executive producer/director Jenni Konner spoke at a small roundtable about what led to this American version of the original British series, some of the changes that were made, finding who Harry would be, assembling this cast, exploring issues that everyone can relate to, and whether we could ever see a second season.
Collider: What was your impression of the British TV series, and what made you want to do an American version of that?
JENNI KONNER: What we saw in the show and what I thought was so exciting about the show is that it reminded me a little of The Big Chill, with this idea that, if I got mad at someone who I’m friends with, I could not call them or text them. In this scenario, you have all these people, and you have the big, wide world of the woods, and yet it’s totally claustrophobic, so all of this stuff comes to the surface that might not have. You might think you have your life together and you might think that you’re doing fine, but then it all comes out. There’s no way to keep it repressed. I also thought the show Julia [Davis] made was hilarious. We loved a ton of it. We did make some changes. The character that Bridget took over for was a psychotic murderer. It was a man who we think murdered his mom and maybe Miguel. It’s vague. So, we wanted to ground it a little more, and Bridget very much helped with that ‘cause she’s so talented. The original was way more brutal. There are some things that you can do on English television, where you cannot explain people or redeem them, at all, and you just let it go.
Bridget, the character of Harry is always around when the other characters need her, and she’s always reliable and always funny. How did you find this character?
BRIDGET EVERETT: I had a lot of creative freedom, which is what made it wonderful. They were so generous about letting you figure it out. I think there’s a way that Harry could’ve been a caricature, but I had to bring Harry to me, a little bit. There’s something special about working with women because you feel cared for and like they’re giving you the opportunity to jump off a ledge and trust, in yourself in a way that you might not feel otherwise. At least, that’s how I felt. So, I really valued the experience of getting to work with them. And then, there were the literal shoes and pants that Harry wore, just getting to show up to work in basically what you would wear around the house, with no bra. It was just like a typical night with your gal pals. That’s how it felt, being Harry. It felt like a big slumber party without the booze because sometimes you’ve gotta show up sober.
KONNER: We worked with Bridget on Girls. She came in for one episode, and we wrote two of the lines and she wrote all of the rest of them. We truly knew that she had this gift, which is one of the reasons we were so excited to hire her, besides her talent. She has a specific thing that we know she can do, very, very well, which is improvisation. It’s very character-based. She’s not doing it for the joke. She’s doing it from Harry.
When you did Girls, there was that magic that the four of them had. What’s it like to put together the cast of a TV series like this?
KONNER: It’s like a writers’ room, where you really try to feel the chemistry between people. We were lucky enough to get to do rehearsals for a few days, so that cemented the relationships in the cast. They got along very, very well. They wouldn’t go back to their trailers. They would sit in a chair and talk to each other. It was a very good, friendly group. We got lucky, in that way.
Bridget, when you play a character that is not a part of the couples that are really at each other’s throats, does it feel like there’s less pressure in being the one that unexpectedly shows up and gets to do things, but doesn’t really have a stake in their outcome?
EVERETT: The cool thing about the way that it’s written is that Harry shows up and develops unexpected friendships and alliances, at certain moments, and that makes it more genuine and more interesting. Those were my favorite parts of getting to be in this show. The mayhem and all that shit goes on, as the show progresses. It gets crazy and wild, and I love that, but I’m always drawn to the tender moment of something. I just love Harry’s unexpected friendships with four of the characters, as things go along.
KONNER: One of the things that Lena and I always do, and we did this on Girls too, is that we had this scene in Episode 2 where Bridget and Walt, played by David Tennant, are together in a waiting room at the hospital. There was such great chemistry in that scene. We watched it and were like, “Oh, we’ve gotta figure out a whole story for them.” It was one of those things where it just sparked for us. It was like when we figured out that Ray and Shoshanna were so funny together. That was one of those moments where we were watching that scene and going, “Okay, now that we have a real good team, let’s explore that.”
EVERETT: It’s pretty bold to be able to just write in real time. If I was writing something, I’d want to have it all sketched out and laid out.
KONNER: Oh, we tried! This isn’t the A-plan. We were gonna come in with each script and just be done with it, but no.
It feels as though you’re giving voice to the issues within a certain demographic while also exaggerating and poking fun at it. Was that your intention with this series?
KONNER: I would say that Kathryn (Jennifer Garner) came from Lena’s experience. She’s been incredibly public and generous about her life of chronic pain. I would also say that was something we really wanted to explore and talk about in the world because it felt like a new, fresh area. And a lot of [the issues in this show] are problems for everybody. It’s not like drug addiction is just for the rich. The rest was much more about relationships, and thinking you can just keep going and power through, but when you’re all clustered together, you have to admit the truth about those friendships, romantic relationships, drug addictions, and all of those things. Jandice (Juliette Lewis) is really the catalyst for that.
Some men can find themselves in situations with their friends where, after keeping so much in, they’ll just blurt something out, all of a sudden, or get in somebody’s face, seemingly out of nowhere, because their feelings have festered. How did you develop the fishing scene?
KONNER: I didn’t write that. It was written by John Riggi, who is another executive producer on the show and a brilliant guy. He was on The Comeback, The Larry Sanders Show, and 30 Rock. If you’ve ever liked a show, he’s probably worked on it. And I remember actually having a discussion with him about it and saying, “Do straight guys really talk like that?” It felt like a lot of feelings being very well-articulated. We had to pull back a little on that, and he really fought me on that. I think he was right because it turned out to be very, very powerful, but I remember being like, “This is what it sounds like?”
Jenni, you talked about writing to the magic between Bridget Everett and David Tennant. Were there any other moments that led to things like that, where you write more for certain characters, once you saw them interacting with each other?
KONNER: That happens a lot. We always had this idea that Harry really wanted to be a mom, so we knew we were gonna put her with Orvis (Duncan Joiner), at a certain point. We also knew that someone had to babysit Orvis while everyone was taking ecstasy. So, there were certain things that we could predict would be funny. We always knew that Juliette and Jen would be funny together. One of the things that came up was David Tennant and Ione [Skye]. We found this love between them that was based on their abuse from Kathryn that came out of their performances, and we just started writing to them because that felt really, really funny to us. They were like abused children.
Bridget, are we going to see Harry sing, at all?
EVERETT: No. I feel like I show up in things and sing, and it’s nice to get an opportunity to work out a different muscle and see if people stick around.
KONNER: Bridget is incredible, but it’s funny because I think people think that who Bridget is in her shows and her touring is her. It’s part of her, obviously. It’s in her, but she’s so different.
EVERETT: I’m probably closer to Harry, in real life, than my stage persona.
Was this always designed, from the start, to be a series that’s limited to one season, or is there a chance we could see another season with these characters, especially if HBO asked you to do one?
KONNER: We’ve talked about it. I’m not gonna say no to that. We had a pretty good time making it, but it was intended to be limited. Part of the reason you do a limited series is that the original was limited. Also, after doing a series for so long (with Girls), it feels like you can’t do that again. But also, it’s a great way to attract movie stars.
EVERETT: That’s why I said yes. I’m just kidding.
KONNER: But, who knows? We’ll see. I’m not doing camping again. I hated every fucking minute of that dirt pit.
EVERETT: They could go on a different kind of trip
KONNER: To a 5-star hotel.
Camping airs on Sunday nights on HBO.