Camping, the new HBO limited series from Girls duo Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, arrives on the Peak TV landscape in a refreshingly stripped-down way. That is, this show eschews intricate narrative twists and CGI wizardry to tackle the complexity of human interactions with a simple premise: Four couples get away for a long weekend to celebrate the birthday of Walt (David Tennant). Along the way, his wife, Kathryn (Jennifer Garner), irritates several characters by overplanning every last detail during what should be a relaxing trip. Things grow ugly, and Kathryn’s sister, Carleen (Ione Skye), attempts to mitigate the drama while a newcomer, Jandice (Juliette Lewis), threatens to disrupt the natural order of the group with antics like skinny dipping and so much more.
Skye and Lewis were gracious enough to sit down with us to discuss their reflections on the series. In the below interview, they delivered insight into their characters’ motivations and explained how labels and reputations (specifically, Lewis as a “wild card”) don’t always match up to reality. They also have some pretty cool companions in mind for a real camping trip.
Let’s get real. This isn’t really a series about camping, and it’s unlike much of what’s on cable right now. There’s no time-travel or dragons or purging, just a set of people forced to interact. Did you have hopes for what this show could do on this subject?
Ione Skye: Like with the interpersonal aspect of this show? Oh definitely … it’s like the Girls grew up.
Juliette Lewis: What I like is that no characters get shortchanged here, even when Walt goes off fishing with the guys. You know, with Jandice, I would have wanted to learn different things about her as well, but there’s such an art to this type of this comedy, a 30-minute show, and having it be so character-rich.
Skye: Yeah, and there’s just so much you can do at times with all these characters who are so complex, and there are so many different dynamics, and everyone’s coming in, like “the new guy” or “the new girl” in a group of friends who have been friends for awhile. There are so many dynamics, that you could go on and on.
Do you feel like it’s difficult or easier these days for people to interact face-to-face, without relying on texts and Instagram, and getting away from technology?
Lewis: I think it’s a generational thing? Our generation, we want it. I know I do. I’m always craving balance in everything, so too much reliance on … I just like human interaction. Being a creative person, I like to create in person. I know some songwriters send tracks back and forth, it’s driving me crazy. I want to be sitting in a living room, writing a song, so I know I crave this connectivity with friends. I have a group of girlfriends, we all meet up and have met up over the last 20 years. But it’s getting harder and harder to create that time because everyone has expanded families and things like that.
Skye: Yeah, because beyond the technology, I think that you get to an age where you partner up, or you have a kid, or you just start liking your little life. And when you’re in your 20s, you kind of roll in a posse. And you just get older, and I think there is a tendency to get paranoid, every parent’s generation, of what kids were doing before that was hurtful to them, and it didn’t look like what you had. One of the good sides is that maybe with the technology and the ability to be entertained so quickly, it forces you, that side that really wants to interact to be even bigger and make a big effort to interact, and it feels so good, and you meet up and hang out and have a meal together, and it’s like so much more. In human nature, we want to interact, and you want to do things, so we’re always wanting to do things other than sit on our phones.
What I looked forward to about talking with you two together is that your characters don’t appear to have much in common. Are they really that different?
Lewis: It’s so funny because as we’re [promoting this series], we’re reminded of scenes and the writing, and I feel like Jandice and Carleen can hang out. They’re one of those odd-couple friendships that somehow makes sense.
Skye: Yeah, because where Janice would at least be able to lead, to steer the ship, and Carleen could follow. I feel like Carleen would be interested in Jandice, and my character is seemingly not very judgmental, so I would find you interesting along with the experience that is right in front of me.
Lewis: What was odd about Jandice … I know people sometimes have preconceived ideas about me and being a wild card. And I’m glad to make people feel that way within my art, but within my life, I’m nothing like a Jandice. I don’t skinny dip with a group of people that would be uncomfortable with it.
Skye: You’re very proper. It’s funny, your persona is a little different sometimes with people, but you’re way more composed, it’s cool.
Lewis: I’m wildly traditional, like in my relationships, I’m very funny in that way.
Your characters also react very differently to Jennifer Garner’s Kathryn. I feel like Carleen has little choice but to be loyal to her sister, but Jandice has kind-of declared open season, right?
Lewis: The thing about this type of person is … and Jenni Konner helped me so much. She directed the first two episodes and was explaining that a Jandice tries to fix other people, and they think they know what’s best, and they think their way is what’s gonna liberate people from their self-imposed prisons. But what’s under the surface of that type of person is probably their own failures or shortcomings at something that’s more conventional. Like when we learn how she wants to be married? That seems like such an odd twist for her, but I do think she has a problem with scheduling, and that’s why she needs five different jobs. I think that’s similar because I grew up doing this kind of work. I love structure, but too much of the same thing makes me a little bananas.
Skye: And I think our approach to Jen Garner’s character was very different. [Carleen’s] trying to be helpful, but to the point, [her] sort-of low self-esteem and meekness is like aggravating, almost seemingly passive-aggressive, which I don’t think I am, but she’s trying so hard to just figure out her sister and help her. And Jandice, in general, is trying to get everyone into her way of thinking, like “It’s been good for me, it’ll be good for you.”
Lewis: That, and I played few of the scenes, I don’t know what they used in the cut, but where Jandice’s kinda insecure and kind of reveres Kathryn and wants to be liked, and she so desperately wants to be the girl who is listened to, so she admires Kathryn’s ability to run the show, I think. Even though she’s disrupting it. It’s a fun dichotomy.
Alright, so if you could go camping with anyone, alive or dead, who would you pick and why?
Skye: I’d go with Juliette Lewis. She’s been doing it for two decades.
Lewis: Haha! I’d go with Ione, and maybe we would invite Jimi Hendrix. And Leo DiCaprio. Maybe after doing that movie, The Revenant, he would know how to keep warm in a dead horse carcass.
HBO’s ‘Camping’ premieres on October 14 at 10:00 pm EST.