Anna Camp Fought for Years to Break Out of ‘Pitch Perfect’ Typecasting
The actress and producer tells IndieWire she’d “100 percent” go back for more of the beloved franchise, even while she’s intent on showing off what else she can do.
Anna Camp spent the last few years doing something sort of crazy for an actress who loves to work: saying no.
When “Pitch Perfect 3” hit theaters in December 2017, it marked the (maybe) end of the franchise with which Camp is still most closely associated. The half-billion dollar juggernaut about an all-female group of a cappella singers charmed audiences and thrust winsome mashups (Jessie J and Simple Minds?) into the cultural zeitgeist. It also gave Camp and her co-stars Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, and Rebel Wilson the roles that made their careers.
But, as often happens, the series’ popularity threatened to typecast Camp. Her inbox flooded with offers for other type-A achievers, just like her “Pitch Perfect” part Aubrey Posen — a character so uptight that we first meet her as she pukes her guts out during a particularly stressful competition.
That was enough to make Camp nearly quit the industry. Her extensive resume ranges from recurring roles on “True Blood”and “The Mindy Project” to starring opposite Daniel Radcliffe in the Broadway production of “Equus.” She wanted to be challenged — she knew what it meant to be challenged — even if that meant moving to Montana and raising puppies instead (no, really).
Camp stars in and produces her latest project, Shudder original “From Black,” and it shows why she’s fought so hard to do her own thing. (Other producing projects in the works: a thriller she likens to “‘Succession’ in the wilderness,” plus two TV series.) This is an actress who loves hearing that her part requires nothing less than taking her character “through hell” — Camp plays a former drug addict who undergoes an intense ritual with the express purpose of getting her long-missing young son back, so the “hell” here is more than a metaphor — and can’t wait to say yes to it.
Ahead, Camp reflects on everything from carving her own path to keeping up on her “Pitch Perfect” group chat.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
IndieWire: This is your first leading role in a horror feature, though many people remember you for your work on “True Blood.” Had you been looking for something like this for awhile?
Anna Camp: I was definitely looking for something different. Obviously, “Pitch Perfect” is something that opened a lot of doors for me and changed my life in a really incredible way. It also began to kind of push my career into that type of character, and so I was actively searching for and longing for something that was going to show what else I can do, something a bit more dramatic. I’ve been a fan of horror for a really long time, so I was excited to get the chance to play the girl in a horror movie, and especially one that’s so different from a lot of horror movies that I’ve seen.
It’s easy to say you want to do something different, but much harder in practice.
I’ve been saying no to a lot of things recently in my life, maybe over the past four years, because I kept getting the same part offered to me. There comes a point creatively when I feel like I cannot grow anymore in that specific type of role. I’ve been actively fighting for and searching for things that I will say yes to. That kind of took me away from TV for a while. I’ve been doing a lot of indie films, (and a lot of those roles) are very different from the roles that people have normally seen me in.
This role actually came to me, surprisingly enough, through a producer named Kelly Frazier. We worked on a Western film together called “Murder at Yellowstone City,” and she kept texting me about different actresses and what I thought of them, and I was like, “They’re great, they’re great, but wait a minute, what are you doing?” And I don’t know if this was calculated or not, but she was like, “I’m searching for an actress who can play a mother, who can really go through hell and back, and this is a really low-budget film and we’re searching for someone who has the stamina and who had the emotional range and availability to do this.” And I said, “Can you send me the script?”
I read it in an hour. I called her up immediately and I said, “I have to play this, how can I play this?” She set me up on a Zoom meeting with Thomas Marchese, who’s the co-writer and director of the movie, and I said, “Listen, I have been dying to play something like this for a really long time, and I know I can kill it, so what can I do for the opportunity to get this?” And he was like, “I believe you, Anna, that you’re hungry for something like this.” And he gave it to me on the spot. So it was a great meeting.
This is also the first film you’ve got a producing credit on, and whenever I see those first producing credits for someone, it seems like a strong indication of a passion project.
It makes you feel like you have a lot more at stake. It lets you put your own voice (into it). I feel like, for the longest time, I’ve been going where people tell me to go and waiting for the phone to ring kind of thing, and I was like, no, I’m done doing that. My ideas are valid. My point of view is valid. I’ve been acting for over 20 years in the industry. I have a lot of street cred, hopefully.
It was really, really exciting to see the director and the other producers rally around me and ask me my thoughts and ask me questions. I feel like I have a lot more invested in this film. People are going to get to see that this is something that I am passionate about and I’m passionate about telling stories like this that are different and out of the box and interesting and surprising, and they don’t have to include dancing and singing all the time.
As you mentioned, you’ve been doing a lot of indie features lately, from “From Black” to “A Little Prayer,” which was just at Sundance. What attracts you to these kinds of projects?
These are smaller, more relatable stories. I think that the directors that I’ve been working with are willing to cast me outside of the box. (That) has been really exciting, that they see something in me or in my previous work that they’re not afraid to cast this typical type-A character or person, but they see something in me. I would rather fight for something and do something that is a bit more challenging for me always than just do the same thing over and over and over, because I just won’t be creatively inspired.
I kept telling my agents years ago when I kept getting offered the same type of things, “I would rather just quit and move to Montana and like, raise puppies.” I would rather switch careers because I just wasn’t creatively inspired anymore. So it’s been very exciting to work with people who see me in a new light. The stories that we’re telling are very human stories, very personal stories, and things that I know a lot of people can relate to, which is what I’m excited about doing.
I hear that so often, especially from actresses who are like, “I played a doctor once and all I ever get now are scripts about doctors.”
Why does that happen? It’s so frustrating.
As you’re crafting this period of your career, is there anyone else’s career that inspires you, that perhaps you’d like to emulate?
I have these two actors that, if I could take both of their careers and meld them into one, that is something that I’d want to do. I love Naomi Watts. I love the choices that she makes. I think she’s incredibly talented. I’ve been a fan of her since “Mulholland Drive,” one of my favorite movies ever. So if I could be anything like her, I would be very, very, very grateful and happy.
And then on the other side of things, I love Paul Rudd, right? He’s a comedian, and I’ve loved him since “Romeo + Juliet,” when he was playing Paris. If I could meld those two careers together, I would be so lucky. They’re my two inspirations.
They’re also both actors who have been in the business for decades and continue to evolve and don’t seem to have an end point.
I want to be acting when I’m old and gray and someone’s having to feed me my lines in my little Bluetooth ear(piece), whatever. We’re going to see our lines in our eyes, with contacts that we can have to give us our lines. (Laughs)
“Pitch Perfect” is a franchise that still very much has legs. There’s a TV series now. Do you ever see yourself returning to the “Pitch Perfect” fray?
100 percent. I would love to do it. Absolutely. It was a really amazing thing to get to play a character over three huge franchise films. That is something that I never even dreamed could happen to me when I was coming up as an actor. It’s such a gift to be able to grow with the character and grow with the castmates. We’ve seen each other through a lot of personal ups and downs. We know each other so well. Elizabeth Banks, I adore. I think she’s phenomenal.
I close my eyes and I think about my very first audition for Aubrey and “Pitch Perfect.” I had graduated school. I was doing an off-Broadway play in New York City. I came in, I brought my little ukulele and sang a song and booked the job that basically really changed my entire professional career. So 100 percent, I could go back and see what’s going on with Aubrey these days. I don’t know if the fans would want it, maybe they would want it, I don’t know. Probably they would.
©Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection
I think that they would!
A Bella for Life, we say that. We’re Bellas for life.
It seemed obvious from the start that you and many of your “Pitch Perfect” co-stars became actually really close friends on screen and off. When did you realize that that was not always the case in Hollywood?
Right away, on our first film, we got along so well, that we knew something really special was going on. I had done a couple movies and a couple TV gigs before that, and I only had about three friends that were really close from all of those projects. The rest of the people, you think you’re going to be friends with them forever and you form this very quick bond because you’re shooting on location and you become this family, but then, you go back and time moves on and you lose contact.
We still have a group text that we’re on that we check in with each other. That doesn’t happen. That’s only happened on one other job for me, a TV show called “Perfect Harmony.” We’re still on a group chat. It ran just one season, but we check in with each other. It’s so rare to have that. It’s a bond. We’re bonded for life. It’s a very special thing that we all have. I know that all of us don’t take that for granted at all in this business, because people come and go and projects come and go so quickly.
Other people might also think it’s rare that so many women can get along, especially in this industry, but I think that we as women know that that’s not the case.
When we first came out and we were actually friends, people were so surprised by it. They were like, “Wait, they’re not competing all the time when they’re on set?” And it’s like, “No, we actually like each fill our roles so specifically well, and the people that were all cast were actually really good, lovely people, which also makes a difference.” We’re girlfriends, man. We give each other advice. We give each other tips on things. Hopefully people aren’t as surprised by that anymore.
©Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection
You are also in this period of your career in which projects are being rebooted.
I think they were doing a prequel to “True Blood” or something where they were casting younger people. I remember being like, whoa, this is crazy. That’s so many years ago. And as far as I know, Sarah Newlin is still stuck in the basement. I had the very last spoken line of the entire series of “True Blood.” So Sarah Newlin’s still alive down there. I don’t know what she’s doing!
It’s exciting to see that there’s still people that care about the characters’ journeys and that care about the town and the things that are happening. It just definitely makes me feel a little old sometimes. I’m on a new show (“Hysteria!” for Peacock) where a lot of the cast are younger, high school students, and I just had my first hair and makeup test literally the other day, and they walked me through the trailer and they put me up in the room and shut the door (away from) the kids, and I was like, “I was the kid!”
Now I’m the grande dame who’s getting taken up the stairs. It’s just so fascinating how quickly that happens, because I still feel like I’m 26, you know what I mean? In my soul, I still feel like I’m that, but I’m 40. And it’s just amazing that I’m still working, and hopefully will continue to work till I can’t anymore.
What have you not yet done that you really want to do?
Oh, so much. I could sit here and talk for 500 hours to answer that question. A bajillion things. I definitely have a bucket-list role. I love theater and I love plays, and I’m still very much wanting to do a Tennessee Williams play. I would love to do “A Streetcar Named Desire.” I’d love to play Blanche DuBois.
I want to just continue to work in challenging roles that help me grow and evolve as a person, and never get stuck in one thing. I’m never going to give up. I’m never going to turn around and be like, “I can’t do this.” I’m going to keep fighting for the good roles.
“From Black” starts streaming on Shudder on Friday, April 28.
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