Interview: Christian Camargo talks "Days and Nights" and "Dexter"

Photo Credit:

Photo by Syfy - © 2013 Syfy Media, LLC

October 8th, 2014

Most people know actor Christian Camargo from his brilliant role on the hit show “Dexter”. You’ll be happy to know that he is broadening his skills with his directorial debut “Days and Nights” which was just recently released. Christian wrote, directed, and starred in the film about a broken family meeting for Memorial Day weekend in New England in 1984. Christian was nice enough to tell us here at The Movie Network all about the film, his role on “Dexter”, and his upcoming role on “House of Cards”.

Nick Leyland from The Movie Network: I really enjoyed your new film “Days and Nights”, and after I watched it, I read about it and how you wrote and directed it and starred in it. That's a mouthful.


Christian Camargo: It is, yeah. It was not intended to be that much of a mouthful, but it just happened to work out that way.

TMN: You didn't do the lighting too, did you?

Christian Camargo: No, I just did the catering.


Christian Camargo: Just catering. But it did feel that way after a while. It was a great experience though. I mean, you know, massive workouts.

(Christian Camargo in Haven - photo credit: Photo by Syfy - © 2013 Syfy Media, LLC)

TMN: It definitely was not too shabby for a directorial debut.

Christian Camargo: Oh, thanks so much. Yeah, it was basically an experience of happy accidents, in a way. Just sort of very ambitious, I'd put it that way.

TMN: So it wasn't as hard as you anticipated or was it?

Christian Camargo: Oh no, it's far harder than I anticipated. I think that if I actually knew... I mean, you know, it's strange. I've been an actor for almost 15 years and you think you know how stories put together on film and television and it's just nothing like it until you do it yourself. And especially with the small budget we had, the huge cast we had, the concept of taking like... Doing an ensemble piece with one camera, it was all just a little... It was like, I don't know. I wouldn't say it was like... It wasn't hubris, it was just sort of ignorance that got us through.


Christian Camargo: If you know what I mean. It was just sort of like, let's tackle... Let's throw in an eagle, let's throw in a frog, let's throw in a child, let's have three dinner scenes, let's have... Everything you're not supposed to do as a first-time film director. We did everything. And so, you know, the fact that we do have a beginning, a middle and an end is quite miraculous, and I'm very proud of it for that reason.

TMN: Now there were no bald eagles hurt in the filming of Days and Nights, right?

Christian Camargo: Oh no, no, no. They were hurt before that. [laughter] There's a law in America that you can't really, because its a national bird, you can't really use a fully 100% healthy bird. It has to be a bird that was taken and rejuvenated, and a lot of bald eagles that are in captivity are there because they're injured and they're whatever. So we had Abe the eagle, who was missing a wing. So if you could imagine, we had no idea until the eagle showed up. So it was an incredible feat of editing engineering to get what we got. Which thank God that we had two incredible editors to help us through. But yeah, that was a whole 'nother thing. If we were in Canada, we would have had like 50 eagles at our disposal.


Christian Camargo: If that's not a reason to shoot in Canada, I don't know what is.

TMN: You know one of the coolest things about this film that I noticed, and I was reading about how it was inspired by “The Seagull” and stuff, and what Chekhov did which I thought was like this film was that it didn't seem to focus on one person. All the characters are really developed and diverse and you have all these different characters that you focused on. It kinda reminded me of something like Wes Anderson would have done with the “Royal Tenenbaums” or something but is that what you meant to do?

Christian Camargo: Yeah. Yeah, that's definitely an inspiration, yeah. When I was writing it actually sort of brought up the tertiary characters. Check out the original play. It's sort of centered around a little bit more the mother-son dynamic. And there are these wonderful characters that surround this mother-son dynamic, but I really was more interested in sort of bringing up all the tertiary characters to an even plane. Because I think growing up, in fact actually my biggest inspiration beyond the obvious classics of Bergman and Visconti and all those characters, was “The Big Chill”. That was one of the movies that I grew up with, which sort of, had very concrete characters you really followed through. And that has since taken a new sort of life form within the stories that... Like Wes Anderson and a few others that are currently doing it. But I love the fact of having this sort of 12 disciples around a dinner table. It just sort of stuck with me. And so that was sort of was what I wanted to do. And also, when you have the racehorse of a cast that we were able to assemble, you wanna be able to give them as much as possible.

I did overwrite a lot of things, which then we sort of carved away to bring all the characters to an equal playing field. So, that was an intentional concept. And I felt like, if I'm gonna make an ensemble piece then I really wanna embrace the ensemble character. I wish there was some more things with... Cherry Jones and Jean Reno, and I wish that those characters would've been even more into the movie, but when producers are starting to think, "Four-hour movie," you have to make some hard calls.

But, yeah, that is definitely what Chekhov did, and that's what I did. It's also helpful when each of those characters represents a facet of oneself in a way. So, you start writing all different facets of your own imaginings and personality traits put into each different character, you want them all to interact all the time. So, from a writing standpoint, that was why I was doing that.

TMN: That's what I figured would be the hardest part You got all these characters, but in a way they didn't even really wanna be in the same room together. [laugther]

Christian Camargo: Yeah, and that's sort of... Well, I don't know how your family is, but growing up, my family certainly was like that the big family dinners of awkwardness. But there's obvious, not political statement, but there's obviously a commentary on our society to this story. But I didn't want that to be heavy-handed at all, but there is a concept of, we're all in this country, in this world together and yet, everyone is just fighting to be top dog, or have their space, or whatever; we have to learn how to be all one. And that, I guess, is a real, very large cinematic element through the piece; we have to take responsibility and come together kind of thing. I'm glad you got that.

TMN: It was set in the '80s, how much did that complicate everything?

Christian Camargo: Well, basically, I talked to the designers and the '80s is one of the most challenging periods to actually set. If it was much more of a comedy, you can really embrace that look, so we did have quite a long discussion about how are we're going to set this period? And luckily we were primarily in one location, so we could really use that home as an... The house itself, to me, is the 12th character in this piece, so we were able to set that and make it sort of a very eclectic, timeless '70s, '60s; you don't really know what period you're in there. And then we toned down the clothes. Originally, Allison Janney's character, had this bright, flaming red '80s wig. And actually I thought it was more interesting to make her wig much more like her real hair, that she really wanted to be recognized, and she never did get recognized wearing this wig on the train. So, we actually just toned everything down and made it a little bit more like it's its own period. But yet still feeling like you're in another time. And I really think the designers, we all sort of got that, I'm really happy about it.

And, obviously, the '80s was a period where I grew up and because this is my first film, I knew I really needed to be as personal as possible, because, I guess... I don't know why I thought that, I just thought I needed to make it personal. So, that was the period that I knew best in my memory, and that's what this film is, to me is, it's like a memory. So, yeah, it worked out. And, obviously, again, from the social commentary aspect, to me, personally, that's where I feel like our country got a little bit off track, we didn't have the oversight and the discipline to say, "Hey, we're getting a little out of hand with certain things." .

(Scene from Days and Nights - photo credit: Art Cine Productions)

TMN: And you're exactly right when you talked about the house and stuff, because... I didn't even think about it till you just said it, you didn't really go anywhere else in the film so it wasn't like you were in society and you had to worry about that, or you were in New York City in the '80s or anything like that.

Christian Camargo: Right.

TMN:It was funny because it was the '80s, but it also was out of date '60s stuff in the house.

Christian Camargo: Yeah. Absolutely, absolutely.

TMN: This film has, to me, it has a very relaxing tone to it, even though there was a lot of conflict between characters and stuff. I think the reason you pulled it off was because of the lake house setting. Do you think that is one of the most important things to pulling off for the overall tone of the film?

Christian Camargo: Yeah, absolutely. The setting was so important to the piece. And, in fact, it's not just the house, too. And like you said it's the lake, it's the nature around it. It sort of felt like the nature was much more powerful than the people in it. Those few shots where you see trees are sort of swaying in the wind and the calm lake and, that is the calm around the storm, the storm being this family. And I think that without that, it would've been... If we set it in New York city or if we set it really anywhere else, it would've been so overwhelming, I think. So, yeah, I think you're spot on picking that out, 'cause thank God we found that. And the designers had everything to do with it. Tommaso Ortino, our production designer, I mean, we walked into that space. First, it was me and the DP looking at places for the crew to sleep, and we were given this old, sort of ex-summer camp as an idea for crew camping out in. And we got in there, and it was just an empty, empty space with a ping-pong board in it. And, basically, that whole house was created, it was just an empty space. So, it's just amazing that the designers did what they did with $3.50.

TMN: Wow.


Christian Camargo: I mean, just to give you an idea of our budget, the last thing that we did at the end of the shooting was have a tag sale.


Christian Camargo: Just so we could sell all the furniture.

TMN: You talked about having more on time or more screen time for Jean Reno and stuff, but the movie went too long. One thing I was hoping for was that you would've given him a thick Boston accent or something, 'cause his French accent is so...

Christian Camargo: Yeah, I know, I know, I know.


Christian Camargo: I know, the accent, and then Michael Nyqvist was from Sweden. It was like we're... I had to rewrite a few things to sort of get their mouth around certain things. But, I actually... It didn't start off this way, but I'm so happy that we have this international kind of feel to it, because it sort of breaks it out about being too preciously American, if that makes any sense.

TMN: Sure, yeah.

Christian Camargo: And then, the other reason why I was... Which no one would get probably unless you've lived through with that whole illness that William Hurt's character is going through with a nod to the mysterious illness of AIDS in the early '80s, and the French doctors actually were some of the most frontline doctors in the whole discovery of what that disease was. So, I mean, that's a tidbit that has nothing... It won't help you at all through the movie or to understand what he is talking about, but that was a little bit of the impetus behind creating that.

TMN: I thought it would just have been funny if he would've come on screen with this, "Hey, yo. What you doing?"


Christian Camargo: Yeah, I know, I know. That would've been so great. It would be like that's Jean Reno? Yeah, but I'm gonna pass that along to him.

TMN: My last question for you. I wanted to ask you about something you'd done in your past, because it was so good, was "Dexter".

Christian Camargo: Oh, yeah.

TMN: You played Brian. I have seen you in a lot of stuff, I just loved that show and I loved you doing that. Was playing a serial killer the most fun and weirdest role you can ever imagine?

Christian Camargo: Yeah, it was but not because of the killings. It was the psychology behind it. I mean, I guess serial killers are a fascinating study of psychology, especially ones that can operate in normal society. And the reasons behind it and trying to justify horrible actions like that. That was... It's sort of gold dust for an actor to be able to sort of... I don't know. I just seem to... I seem to be very interested in it, and then I got a lot of experience doing it.


(Christian Camargo in Dexter - Photo Credit: Photo by SHOWTIME - © 2006 Showtime Networks, Inc.)

TMN: Well, I thought you were great and I really enjoyed that role. Now, what can we look forward to seeing from you in the future as now that “Days and Nights” has come out?

Christian Camargo: This took two-and-a-half years of my life. It's so strange to think, but it was I guess a sort of rites of passage in a way. So, I'm writing another movie. It's in the sci-fi genre, so it's a completely different world than this one, and I'm having a lot of fun with that. And then, I've done some... I did a play on Broadway for a while. And so, I'm just getting back into work. I just did something in the House of Cards. I just did something on Elementary, so some television work, and we'll just see. But it's just been like full on, full-on movie work which is... It's really creative, I really like it.

TMN: Cool, I can't wait to see you in the House of Cards thing, 'cause I watch that show. I'll watch that third season as soon as it comes out.

Christian Camargo: Yeah, yeah. It's a good part and fun group, really fun group.

TMN: Well, thank you so much, Christian, for talking with me. I really appreciate it.

Christian Camargo: No, thank you.