You might not know it, but you’ve likely seen Bill Camp in your favorite show. The actor is known for his understated but powerful roles in FX’s “Damages,” HBO’s “The Night Of,” and Hulu’s 9/11 drama “The Looming Tower.” He appears in Paul Dano’s recently released directorial debut “Wildlife,” and plays Gerald Ford in Adam McKay’s upcoming political dramedy, “Vice.”
How do you play a character, as in “Wildlife,” who at first glance seems unpleasant?
When I play any character, I try to find something that makes him accessible to everybody who’s watching, because every role is a little bit of me too. There’s a beautiful part of the book [by Richard Ford], and it’s in the movie, where he talks about flying his plane and describing what it’s like to be up there alone — that there’s an understanding of the universality of the world. He talks about being up there with the birds, the geese, and feeling the privilege of being there. It was a good window onto him.
How much research goes into a portrayal of real people?
I would try to meet whoever it was. It’s so much of an energy thing that you get from the person; that informs me when I meet them. I just finished a film in South America where I was playing a real guy. I got to hang out with him for a couple of days. It was great because it informs [my acting] and made me realize, “Oh, my instincts were right here,” just based on what I knew of this individual.
Is a dramedy like “Vice” more challenging than purely dramatic roles?
I had to come to the understanding that this was not a biopic where everything had to be super-super-accurate. What Adam does, which I really admire and I really believe in, is ask: “What are the ideas that are occurring to Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, and how do they work off each other? What motivates them?” It was a depiction of a time in our political history that’s going to be very exciting, and possibly depressing at times, for people to look back on.
You’ve been a mechanic and a cook; do these jobs influence your acting?
Everything that I do in my life, and living my life, outside of when I’m on a set or when I’m in a rehearsal, it just feeds that. I have the greatest job in the world, because I show up to do my job, but I’m really just sort of living my life as I go. I think it’s crucial for actors to have full lives outside of acting. If I’m fully identifying myself as an actor, I know from my own experience it’s just boring and horrible. It’s isolating.
Things You Didn’t Know About Bill Camp
Age: 54 Hometown: Groton, Mass. Married to: Actress Elizabeth Marvel (they met at Juilliard) Favorite Book: “Tree of Smoke,” by Denis Johnson Organizations He’s Passionate About: Planned Parenthood, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union Character He’s Played That He’d Most Like To Have A Beer With: Job