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Rachel Griffiths talks about 'Camp' and what she's learned from Calista Flockhart

Wonderwall, Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 10:42am (PDT)
  • Rachel Griffiths is best known to American audiences for her work on such hit shows as "Brothers & Sisters" and "Six Feet Under." But this summer, we know her as the star as our favorite new show, "Camp."

    Wonderwall caught up with the native Australian by phone from her hometown of Melbourne, just in time for Wednesday night's new episode of the NBC series that sees Griffiths play Little Otter Family Camp head honcho Mackenzie 'Mack' Greenfield. We talked about her role as the heart and soul of the show, what it was like to shoot in picturesque New South Wales, Australia, and what she learned by watching "Ally McBeal." Calista Flockhart will be so proud.

    What did you like best about going to camp as a kid?

    "I never did camp in America (as a child) … but I went to Camp Montecito up in the Sequoia National Park with the kids, and we just had an absolutely wonderful time. We met these gorgeous kids and there were gay families and Indian families -- there was a great mix. Some Hollywood families trying to be more rustic and trying to get their kids away from the devices. It was very much camp and I really got it. The kids ran off all day and did great things and we hung by the lake and drank Chardonnay and read novels and then it all came together at night. I really got it, it was a very nostalgic camp that had that 1950s feel so when they were explaining the pitch of the show I was like, 'I know! I've been there!'"

    Can you talk about what it's like to film on location in such a beautiful place and the way "Camp" makes use of the environment around you?

    "That's a really good question. You know we had long days on 'Camp' -- maybe not as long as any day on 'Brothers and Sisters' -- but I would get to the end of the day, and would never feel that kind of fatigue and bottle exhaustion. ... You're in these wonderful studio lots that basically are these giant make-believe vaults and it was absolutely a completely different experiences to this. We were always outside (on 'Camp') or in an inside/outside flow. A lot of scenes we tried to make transitional, so you would enter a world from an outside world, have a scene, and then exit. It was just absolutely beautiful to be breathing real air and everything you interacted with was real. Everything you leaned against, every object you held, every door you closed, was real. Every prop had kind of a reality to it. … You don't really realize the energy that you put in as an actor in that studio environment to create reality, and to not have to do that was quite a different experience. You could kind of relax and occupy the environment, feel very much like it was yours and it affected everything -- your level in your pitch and you would be really reaching across actors in time and space, walking and talking, it was really different and a great pleasure. I love being outside; it's my favorite place to be. I'm a real water girl, so it's stunning -- just a stunning place to shoot. It's got to be one of the most beautiful locations in the world."

  • Like many of the younger characters, your character, Mack, is going through some big changes on this series. Would you say that the summer camp experience can be viewed as a metaphor for transitions?

    "(Laughing) I love that; I love that you have a serious approach. I know this is with my own kids, that over the long summer, the to-do list is taken off the table. You are not just meeting your deadlines and doing your homework and being shuffled from all of your activities so it does create some psychic space where we are able to catch up to who we are and maybe who we want to be and either make those decisions really actively or kind of lean left or lean right ... politically ... I don't think that has been true of Mack until this particular summer. ... But I guess this is her second adolescence.”

    We haven't seen you do much comedy recently. How was it to tackle something like that again?

    "It was two things: it was terrifying for sure, but also a real pleasure. It's where I wanted to be in my life right now … And it was kind of a return (for me) because 'Muriel's Wedding' definitely had the same kind of dramatic tone with lighter, hilarious moments, so it's a return to that. But I always love lighter shows. I'm the biggest 'Ally McBeal' fan. I learned a lot from Calista (Flockhart) … She would take the drama when it was there, but she used quite a unique way of keeping it light when you know that's really all that's being called for. They took a risk on (casting) me … and I have to say, the kids really helped me because they were just naturally carefree and funny and they kept it very light too."

    Can you just talk a bit about the gay dads on the show?

    "I'm really proud to be part of … a change in attitude towards gay families and gay marriage and also the representation of gay families and gay relationships in a very kind of normalized way. ... They are still kind of at a 'sidekicky' role in these early episodes, but those issues certainty become more significant. … To be following the child of (two gay fathers) and her being such a beautiful girl and the voice of how it sometimes feels to be the subject of any prejudice -- it's a really interesting progression. … And these are funny, warm guys that we love. You know, it's great."

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