Walt’s (David Tennant) birthday trip in the wilderness is anything but fun on HBO’s Camping, based on the British TV show of the same name. On the HBO series from Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, a group of friends reunite and bring their own set of new baggage to the table, including drug addiction (This is Us‘s Chris Sullivan), infidelity (real-life couple Brett Gelman and Janicza Bravo), and health problems (Jennifer Garner).
Among the tribe is recently-separated Miguel (Arturo Del Puerto), who finds himself with free spirit Jandice (Juliette Lewis). I chatted with Del Puerto about what the cast did to build a group of seemingly real-life friends, how his character really feels about his new girlfriend, and why “unlikable” is the wrong word for the characters on this comedy series.
Awards Daily: How did this role happen for you?
Arturo Del Puerto: They had been looking for the part of Miguel for a long time apparently, and I got the audition and it was 11 pages of material, which is a lot. The audition was the next day, so I had to crunch it all in a short period of time. The next day came, I couldn’t remember any of the lines. But when I walked into the room, everything just clicked together and magic happened. I connected to the scene and the person I was reading with, so everything fell together very well. And then at the end, when I left the room, I was in my car, and my agent called me, telling me they wanted to put a pin in me for the part. Two hours later, they called me and told me I got the part. Something I had never experienced before, booking a series so fast.
AD: Did you watch the original Camping, the Julia Davis series your HBO one was based on?
ADP: I watched it after we were done shooting, because I didn’t want to have any preconceived ideas or know where my character was going, although it was not really the same character. The guy in the British show is not Latino, and he’s kind of going through the same separation with his wife and kids, but I didn’t really want any preconceived ideas of what he was playing it like. I watched it after we were done shooting, as a comparison.
AD: You all have such a realistic chemistry on the show. Did you do anything to develop that?
ADP: We had two weeks of rehearsal before we started shooting, so that really helped to get that sense of familiarity and friendship, like we had been friends for a long time. We were able to improvise in the rehearsal room and make jokes, just hang out with each other and break the ice—not show up and see Jennifer Garner and say, “Oh my god, I have a scene with Jennifer Garner!” We also all have very unique personalities, which kind of plays into the story. At the same time, we click with each other, even if we’re so different from each other. Those two weeks of rehearsals really helped. It was a really fun set to be on.
AD: Did you do any improvising? Or is everything tightly scripted?
ADP: Most of the time, when we were shooting the scenes, we’d maybe take one or two takes clean, as it was written, and if we weren’t pressed for time, we’d maybe do a couple of takes with some improvising. We also had a brilliant group of staff writers offering suggestions. It was a very creatively free environment, but we always made sure we got what was on the page first.
AD: You’re so great with Juliette Lewis. What’s it like working opposite her?
ADP: It was crazy. Such a fun experience. She’s a force of nature. We both have very strong personalities, so we both kind of played our characters to the extreme. I think we had very good chemistry because we were also very free to be with each other and explore certain characteristics of the characters, bouncing off of each other new things that came into play, that we hadn’t thought about in rehearsal. We both brought a lot to the table. It was really fun to bounce ideas off her.
AD: It’s interesting to see Miguel go from worried about losing Jandice, to then trying to get out of marrying her. What do you think is going through his mind?
ADP: He found Jandice in a very critical moment of his life. He really is a very confused human being right now, with himself, with love, with his family, so finding Jandice was a breath of fresh air, and being able to explore the wild side of Miguel. He never really proposed to her actually! He got thrown into that situation without even knowing it was going to come up. Maybe Miguel would have given her the ring after the trip or a couple of weeks later. So when she finds it and says “We’re gonna get married,” he thinks, “Oh my god, what have I gotten myself into?” I think he’s trying not to lose Jandice, but also trying not to get so deep in with her that he can’t get out of it. He’s in a water full of sharks right now.
AD: What do you think keeps this group together as friends?
ADP: I think Walter is the glue that keeps this group from going crazy with each other, because he’s such an even-keeled person. He just wants everyone to have a good time. I think Kathryn has changed a lot since her surgery, all of her physical problems. In a way, Walter is trying to keep those relationships in an even-keel level. I think Miguel and everyone in the group thinks she has changed or evolved into a person that’s not very much fun to be around. Before the surgery, she used to be a lot more fun.
AD: What do you think of critics who say that the characters are unlikable? Personally, I think they’re compelling and hilarious.
ADP: I think unlikable is not an accurate word. It’s a very easy way out. I think these characters are flawed and going through such a critical and tough, emotionally-charged point in their life that sometimes when you’re going through that kind of pain or change, you don’t act like you normally would. In this specific situation, these characters are emotionally heightened. As human beings, we’re all flawed. It’s more about studying people we might find ourselves identifying with, with the flaws the characters have, but we don’t necessarily need to like them.
Camping Season 1 finale is Sunday, Dec. 2 on HBO.