An Interview With Anna Camp, The Uptight Blonde In Everything

‘It’s baffling to me that I get these roles still, because I don’t feel like that’s me at all, but I know how to play them’

You know Anna Camp — or at least you think you do. Because Anna Camp plays The Uptight Blonde in everything: Pitch Perfect, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Mad Men, True Blood (until Sarah Newlin went off the rails), The Help, The Mindy Project, How I Met Your Mother, ad infinitum. This is the sort of years-long typecasting that, by Camp’s own admission, has made strangers a little afraid of her, or at least certain that they understand her. In Amazon’s newest series, the 1960s-set Good Girls Revolt, Camp appears to take up the mantle for the high-strung and the fair-haired yet again as Jane Hollander, a repressed would-be housewife biding her time as a researcher at wildly sexist magazine News of the Week while her more free-thinking peers plan a feminist uprising. (The mag and its constituents are fictional stand-ins for Newsweek, where, in 1970, a group of women famously charged their employers with institutional gender discrimination.)

When I meet up with Camp at the Crosby Hotel to chat about the show, she explains that she only took the role after she was promised that Jane would step outside of that Uptight Blonde box — a box that’s been keeping Camp warm, sure, but also perhaps slowly suffocating her. “Jane was similar to roles I’ve played in the past, so I was a bit hesitant to continue that journey,” admits Camp, who, in person, is warm and goofy and, yes, gorgeous, with much smaller hair and significantly less makeup than her fictional counterparts. “But I met with the show’s creators — Dana Calvo and Lynda Obst and Darlene Hunt — and they really sold me on what was going to happen to Jane. I wanted to make sure that it was meaty and that she gets vulnerable and her walls do break down, and they promised me that.” For Camp, a self-described theater kid who says she’d love to shave her head à la Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta and scare the shit out of everyone, that on-screen breakdown was a long time coming. “By the time that [scene came around], I was so pent up as Jane that I really let loose,” she says.

Is it frustrating to you as an actor, to be typecast in this particular way?

Anna Camp: God yes. It’s very frustrating to me as an actor. It’s also given me a career, so I can’t look a gift horse in the mouth. But I grew up in South Carolina with brown hair and was a total theater nerd and had one friend, who was my maid of honor at my wedding recently [to Pitch Perfect costar Skylar Astin]. Me and Bonnie were not going outside for lunch. We were hanging out, we were creating sketch-comedy shows.

So you were not that cool girl in high school?

Camp: No. That’s why I think I play them so well. Because if I was one, I wouldn’t know how to look at it objectively and create a character. I would just be one, and that would not work. But watching all the popular girls hanging out, I could study them. I was the biggest nerd in the world.

A lot of famous people do say that, though — you know, Taylor Swift is like, “I had no friends!”

Camp: [laughs] No, no, no. I had braces, I had buckteeth. No boys. I was petrified to even look at a boy. It’s baffling to me that I get these roles still, because I don’t feel like that’s me at all, but I know how to play them. It’s fascinating, the perception people have of me. Just like a lot of women I play, there’s so much more to them underneath. You think they’re one thing — you think they’re the uptight, bitchy, blonde popular girl — but once you get to know them and break down their walls, they aren’t just that.

Do people in your real life respond to you as if you are that girl? Do you feel like you have to overcompensate?

Camp: Sometimes. At first, I’ve noticed when people meet me there seems to be a bit of a — not a distance, but you know, not with you, this is very pleasant [laughs] — sometimes there’s a bit of waiting to see if I’m like that, and then I have to hope soon they’ll realize I’m not like that.

Who are you basing these women on, in particular, if anyone?

Camp: I would never tell you her name! But there were some people who treated me really poorly in school growing up who were very popular. And I do know all of their names to this very day, because they made such an impact on me, and I vowed to myself I would never treat anyone the way they treated me. I got lollipops thrown at the back of my head on school buses. There was a time I had a girl pull my hair out and floss her teeth with it in front of me. Yeah, it’s really dark. It’s weird in the South. I got death threats on my phone just for being me.

Why?

Camp: I don’t know! One time someone wrote — I never even spoke to boys, but someone wrote “Anna Camp is a slut” on the bathroom wall. And I went to my teacher and I asked her to get it removed because it was painful to see, and she was like “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ll get it done.” And then she comes up to me at the end of class and she hands me paper towels and a bottle of Windex. So I had to go into the bathroom and clean “Anna Camp is a slut” off the wall. There’s countless stories. They would invite me to a party and be like, “We’re all going to throw water balloons now. Close your eyes.” But they’d all made a pact before they got to the party that they were all going to throw them at me.

Who are these monster teens?

Camp: Women can be mean. I’m hoping that Good Girls Revolt — it’s about women who come together and overcome their differences for the greater good. And I’ve been fortunate to work on projects like Pitch Perfect, where it’s a group of women coming together. I usually play the antagonist, and I feel like it’s a really difficult role, because you want the audience to want to follow your journey and not hate you. Jane doesn’t know any different. And there’s a lot of vulnerability under there. When I was alone in scenes, I tried to really let her guard down, so you can understand that people who put up walls — there’s a reason for that. They’re scared. And maybe she’s scared that she’s not the best and the most perfect. And maybe she’s scared that she doesn’t even want to be a journalist. There’s a lot going on there underneath the surface.

What’s going on underneath yours? How would your friends describe you?

Camp: Funny, I would hope. At my wedding, my bridesmaids said, “You’re the funniest person we’ve ever met.” I hope I make people laugh, I hope I make people feel comfortable. I like to go out and have a good time. I don’t take myself too seriously. I never have. This is all one spinning granite planet, and I’m lucky I get to act and do what I love. Life is good. I’m not going to compete for attention. You find that a lot in Hollywood with actresses, where you’re just like, “Just chill out.”

Is Hollywood kind of a microcosm of what you experienced in high school?

Camp: It is high school. It’s another bracket of that, of competing for popularity. But if you’re not in the competition because you’re not competing, then you’ve already won. That’s what I try to live by.

Is that why you gravitate toward those projects where women band together?

Camp: Yeah, it’s interesting. I would be so delighted if the [fans of Pitch Perfect] grew up with the franchise like Harry Potter fans. I understand that I’m a role model in a way. I didn’t ask for that — I auditioned for a movie and got the job — but all of a sudden it became this great thing where people really responded to it. Young girls, I see them at Target, and they’re like, “You look like Aubrey [from Pitch Perfect].” It’s so sweet and so lovely. Of course I say I am, and then I go, “I’m not that mean and I’m not going to puke on you, I promise.” If it’s a little kid, I’ll do whatever you want. Because I know if I was a little kid and I saw somebody that I idolized in a movie, and they said “sure,” that would make my day.

A lot of famous people aren’t so into that portion of the job.

Camp: I feel like I never got that one role that blew me up. I feel like I’m steadily working and chipping away. I think that’s why it doesn’t feel like I’m famous in any way. Do you know what I mean? It’s been such a gradual, slow thing. I don’t feel any different from when I was living in Queens. I still ride the trains. I’m fortunate that I can afford a house in L.A., which is great, but I don’t ever think of anything other than that, really. Whenever I’m on a red carpet, I’m exactly the same person as I am getting coffee at Waffle House when I go back home to South Carolina.

When you go back home, are those high-school bullies like, “Oh shit, sorry”?

Camp: Yeah. You know what? I was shooting The Help, and I went back down to South Carolina to say hi to some people, and one of the girls who was so rude to me and mean, so mean, came to this party. She came up to me and said, “I was thinking of not coming because I was so embarrassed about the way I treated you back in the day.” And it was so gratifying to sit there, to be honest. Of course I said, “Oh my god, don’t worry about it. Life is great. No worries. We were young. Everybody makes mistakes.” But it was really satisfying and gratifying.

Your very first role was as a drug dealer, according to a random IMDb factoid. Where was this?

Camp: Yeah, that is true [laughs]. I was a drug dealer in the DARE school play — “dare to keep kids off drugs” — and I remember going home to my mother and telling her I got cast as a drug dealer. She was like, “What?” And I remember just going, “What do I wear?” [laughs] And you know what we decided on? A pair of cutoff shorts. Because that was super dangerous. Because my mom doesn’t own a pair of jeans.

At all?

Camp: No. I had to buy her a pair when she came to L.A. the first time. She took them and she got them hemmed and tailored. She’s just very put together and particular about what she wears. You know, khaki pants, cardigans.

That sounds like a lot of your characters to me.

Camp: There's maybe a little Sarah Newlin [Camp’s recurring character on True Blood] that came out of that. Just a little. My mom is definitely not as crazy as Sarah Newlin and would never murder anybody. But there’s a bit of that steel magnolia.

Or Deirdre Robespierre on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, who’s one of my favorite characters on that show.

Camp: I love her, too. I didn’t know that that was gonna be as fun as it was. Deirdre Robespierre — what a name! When you get that script, and you’re like, Deirdre Robespierre?! And then you get on set and you start acting nuts, and Tina Fey is behind the monitor going, “Go even further!” and I’m like, “What, are you crazy?” and she was like, “Anna, you can’t do anything wrong! Go, go, go!” I felt like I was gonna explode. You cannot be too big on that show.

She almost feels like a caricature of your other characters, like you’re mocking your own typecasting.

Camp: That’s the thing! I feel like if I was that woman, I never would’ve been able to play that. I would’ve taken myself and my other roles too seriously. That’s a great insight, that I can — not comment on it, because I wasn’t thinking that in the moment — but play these women who are sort of crazy.

With Good Girls Revolt, do you feel an added responsibility knowing that this is a real place and a real story, and that workplace harassment is, yet again, a very real conversation we’re having now?

Camp: I know, I was just gonna say, Trump made our show way more relevant than we even imagined. Jane is a fictional character. But Grace [Gummer] felt a little bit of that pressure, playing Nora [Ephron], who’s real. I mean, we’re all representing these specific women who did work at Newsweek at the time, and there’s an honor that you carry when you get cast in something like this. We would fight on set when script things were not right, or if we felt they weren’t organic. I’d say, “I feel like my character doesn’t sound so smart here.” I would fight for her integrity because I do think she’s an incredibly smart and strong woman.

Is that something that you’ve gotten more comfortable with over the course of your career?

Camp: Absolutely. I definitely feel like I’ve found my voice in this business. Because when you first get out of school and you’re looking for jobs, you don’t want to rock the boat — you can’t rock the boat. You’ll get known for being that sassy girl that, like, has no résumé and no one wants to work with her because she’s always trying to change your lines. But ultimately now, I’m “proven,” at least in the television world, and hopefully in the theater world. I’m working on the film world. Unfortunately, it takes a while to build that kind of street cred. It’s been pretty recently that I even started to have more confidence in myself.

What changed that for you?

Camp: It’s been a long journey. When you get work and then you don’t get work, you doubt yourself as an artist. And the constant battle as an artist is, Am I really good? Am I fooling everyone? You know that you can do the scene, but then still, when you walk out, you’re like, Did I suck? I sucked. Oh my god, I totally sucked. I’m never gonna act again. [laughs] But that’s what I feel like drives me. I never want to get to the place where it’s like, Oh my god, I’m frickin’ great. Those people, I know those people — those people are not good actors.

To go back to our initial conversation, what would people be most surprised to find out about you?

Camp: I think people would be surprised to know how laid-back I actually am because I play such uptight women. I guess that’s what I would say. There’s other things that I don’t really wanna say ... [laughs]

I’m so intrigued now.

Camp: Uh, I used to — I had a rap name. I would freestyle.

What was your rap name?

Camp: It’s, uh ... The Vodka Cran [laughs]. Because that’s my favorite drink. And I’m the president of Vodka Cran Productions.

Please elaborate.

Camp: As an actor, you get incorporated for tax reasons, and I was under a deadline to come up with my corporate name, so I was like, “Oh, the Vodka Cran Productions.” So now, when I go into banks and things, they think I’m a party planner. And for a while I used to explain to them that, like, “No, I’m an actor, that’s my corporation name and it’s so weird,” but now I just go, “Yeah, and we make the best vodka crans. Just a splash of lime.”