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[The following interview contains spoilers for The Leftovers season two.]
Whether it was her two-season run as the precocious Chloe Mackenzie on Big Little Lies or her mesmerizing turn as Young Patti Levin on The Leftovers, Darby Camp has quickly become one of the most compelling young actors in Hollywood. Now 13, she returns to the screen alongside Kurt Russell’s Santa Claus in The Christmas Chronicles 2, a direct sequel to Clay Kaytis’ 2018 film. With Chris Columbus taking the reins from Kaytis, the latest chapter in Netflix’s popular holiday franchise sends Camp’s character, the now 13-year-old Kate Pierce, back to the North Pole to rediscover her Christmas spirit.
In Christmas Chronicles 2, Camp also performs some of her most emotional material to date, beside scene partner Sunny Suljic. And to prepare herself for the tears she’d have to shed in a particular scene, both actors utilized a lesser-known crying technique that proved to be rather effective.
“Before we would go on set, we would prepare for the scenes and run our lines with each other. Since I had to cry, we would do a staring contest before each take, and then my eyes would get dry so I’d start to tear up,” Camp tells The Hollywood Reporter. “But then his eyes would start to water, and Mr. Chris (Columbus) was like, ‘Sunny, we can’t have you crying because you don’t even know who Kate is!’ So it was really funny because we’d both be crying.”
From 2014-2017, HBO’s The Leftovers was a critical darling, especially seasons two and three which really swung for the fences. Towards the end of season two, an episode called “International Assassin” premiered to rapturous reviews and is still considered by many to be the crowning achievement of the series. Oddly enough, a 7-year-old Camp just so happened to have a front row seat to the proceedings since she played the integral role of Young Patti Levin. The episode also includes one of the series’ most powerful scenes involving Camp, series lead Justin Theroux and a well. To mark the occasion, Camp managed to leave the set with an awfully strange souvenir.
“I was actually sitting on a fake rock that was squishy. That way, when I fell back, the rock wouldn’t hurt me if it also fell. I actually still have it; it’s like a pillow almost,” Camp recalls. “I remember sitting on this fake rock on top of this random well in the middle of nowhere, and I was just like, ‘Wow, this is kinda cool…’ I remember coming home and a lot of my friends’ moms were like, ‘I can’t believe you worked with Justin Theroux!’ It was so funny.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Camp also reflects on working with Big Little Lies’ Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, the joy of filming Santa’s sleigh scenes with Russell and her favorite Christmas movies.
Because Netflix has 195 million subscribers, your generation will eventually reference The Christmas Chronicles and The Christmas Chronicles 2 as Christmas movies they grew up with. You’re still growing up, of course, but what are the favorite Christmas movies in your household?
One of our favorite Christmas movies is How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the one with Jim Carrey. That has always been my favorite movie, not just Christmas movie. When I was younger, I’d watch it all year long. We also love Elf and Home Alone, so those are three classics that we love to watch every year.
Before you started shooting Part Two, did you rewatch the first movie just to remind yourself of who Kate is and how you played her?
Yes, I did. I didn’t have to watch it a lot since I did spend three months being her and filming the first one. But I did watch it over just to give myself a little reminder of who I’m portraying in that sense.
Kate is the second character you’ve returned to and played again. Of course, the first one was the great Chloe Mackenzie from Big Little Lies. Did you learn anything during the process of playing Chloe a second time that you also applied to Kate?
When you’re playing the same character again, they’re definitely going to be older. So it’s like you’re playing the same role, only older and more mature. So it’s a different version of that character you played. When I did Big Little Lies season two, I was playing Chloe but a more mature version of her. And the same thing goes for Kate as well. It’s more about where their head is at now, not where their head was at in the last season or movie.
Kate is 13 in Part Two, and at the start of the movie, she doesn’t want to be treated like a kid anymore. Since you’re the same age, do you also feel that same kind of tug of war between childhood and wanting to grow up?
Yes, I definitely do feel that. I’m always like, “I wish I was old enough to do this,” but then again, I don’t want to grow up too fast. You only get a few years to be a child and before you know it, you’re going to be an adult who misses being a kid. You know?
I definitely know what that’s like. So was it cool to have Goldie (Hawn) around a lot more for Part Two?
Oh, it was fantastic! She’s such a wonderful, bright person, and it was so amazing to get to work with her. In the first one, I didn’t really have any scenes with her since her cameo was at the end, but I did get to meet her. So working with her on the second was just amazing. She’s just a sweet, kind-hearted person who’s always laughing and having a great time.
How many days did you and Kurt spend in the sleigh this time?
Probably not as many as the first one. In the second one, we were more in the North Pole than the sleigh. But we were still in the sleigh a lot. If you put it all together, it was maybe a month, or a few weeks, of working in the sleigh. Working in the sleigh is always a super cool experience. I’d never done anything like that. It’s on this gimbal thing and it can go up and down or side to side. It was super fun and it felt like I was on a rollercoaster.
You’re probably at the point now where you’re comfortable around actors like Kurt Russell or Reese Witherspoon. Is it bizarre to think about how routine these interactions have become?
Yeah, it is kinda crazy. They’re like old friends to me now, and my other friends are like, “I can’t believe you know them.” (Laughs.) When I did the first Big Littles Lies, I didn’t really know who Reese Witherspoon or Nicole Kidman were because I was too young to really see any of their movies. So I wasn’t really starstruck. They are like any other people, but as I got older and watched some of their films, I was like, “Wait a minute, that’s Reese? I can’t believe it.” So it’s been really cool to watch their films while I grow up. Sometimes, I can’t believe that’s them because they’re just my friends now.
How did they handle the elves on set? What were you looking at?
It was really, really funny. They would have a ping pong ball on a stick or on a wire, and it would just be sitting on the ground. So I’d stare at nothing and talk to nothing most of the time. It’s so awkward and funny because I’ll say something and just stand there, looking at nothing. But it’s so cool to see what the elves look like at the end, and just think to myself, “That was nothing and now there’s an elf there.” So it’s really neat to see that process.
Did you prepare the most for your scenes with Sunny Suljic since they were the most dramatic ones?
Yes, actually. Before we would go on set, we would prepare for the scenes and run our lines with each other. Since I had to cry, we would do a staring contest before each take, and then my eyes would get dry so I’d start to tear up. But then his eyes would start to water, and Mr. Chris (Columbus) was like, “Sunny, we can’t have you crying because you don’t even know who Kate is!” (Laughs.) So it was really funny because we’d both be crying.
There was some delightful production design in this movie. Was the Santa’s Village set really cool to explore?
It was amazing! It was really incredible. The first time you see Santa’s Village is through a camera that’s all the way at the top of the studio, but it looks like a model. And as the camera starts to go down to the set, you start to see us walking and you realize how giant the set is. And it’s not just a set. It’s like a real village. They’re not just storefronts; you can actually go into each store. It’s really magical and when you’re there, it feels crazy. It’s like, “Is this real? Am I dreaming? Am I actually in this magical place?” It was just really, really cool.
You were featured in one of the greatest episodes of television ever made. Of course, that’s The Leftovers’ “International Assassin.” I actually talked to your director Craig Zobel about you, and he remains impressed by the improvisation you did during the famous well scene. He said that you suggested the idea to keep talking until Justin Theroux’s character pushed you down the well. What do you remember about shooting that scene?
It was a long time ago; I was seven, I think. I remember sitting on the well. I was actually sitting on a fake rock that was squishy. That way, when I fell back, the rock wouldn’t hurt me if it also fell. I actually still have it; it’s like a pillow almost. I remember sitting on this fake rock on top of this random well in the middle of nowhere, and I was just like, “Wow, this is kinda cool. I’m just sitting on a well and chilling in the middle of nowhere.” I remember it being super, super sunny that day, but they edited it to make it look not sunny. But it was so funny because my eyes were squinting. It was also really cool to work with Justin Theroux. He’s a really amazing actor to work with, and he’s super down to earth and super sweet. I remember coming home and a lot of my friends’ moms were like, “I can’t believe you worked with Justin Theroux!” It was so funny.
I presume you’re not allowed to watch the full episode yet? It’s pretty dark as you can guess from being pushed down a well.
(Laughs.) I actually haven’t seen the full episode. I’m still waiting to see that. I can’t even watch Big Little Lies so…
Lastly, what was the best part about playing Chloe Mackenzie?
The best part about playing Chloe was pretty much everything. We’re super similar, and we both love the ‘80s and ‘80s music. We just have similar interests. She also has an amazing sense of style. She has that one group of friends that she always hangs out with, and I have that too. I really like how bubbly she is and how unafraid she is to speak her mind. Yeah, we’re just very similar in that way.
The Christmas Chronicles 2 is now streaming on Netflix.
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