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[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Brave New Jersey.]
In 1938 when Orson Welles presented a radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, a number of people who heard the tale believed the alien invasion at the center of the story was actually happening.
The new indie comedy Brave New Jersey centers on a small town whose residents were fooled by the broadcast and respond to the fear of imminent danger by reevaluating their life choices.
Schoolteacher Peg (Pitch Perfect‘s Anna Camp) cheats on her fiance as she takes a strong feminist role in preparing to fight the invasion. Peg and the other residents (played by Tony Hale, Dan Bakkedahl, Heather Burns and Sam Jaeger, among others) ultimately realize there are no aliens and return to their everyday lives but remain affected by the night they thought would be their last on Earth.
While modern forms of communication might have quickly alerted the characters that the alien invasion they were preparing for was merely the subject of a radio show, Brave New Jersey is being released at a time when social media has made it easy to spread fake news.
“You get enough people to retweet you or like your post, it all of a sudden becomes a fact even though it’s not necessarily true. And that’s very similar to what happened in this film,” Camp tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s a scary thing. When you get enough people to believe in a certain thing, the actual truth ends up not mattering as much. That’s also part of what the film is saying, but it also is just incredibly relevant today because it’s scary. It’s a lot of mob mentality that we’re seeing these days. It’s definitely a force to be reckoned with.”
Mob mentality certainly takes over in Brave New Jersey, and Camp talks to THR about what her character goes through in the film, as well as other projects she has coming up, which the actress hopes will showcase a different side of her than the “uptight blonde” Type A character she’s become known for.
What made you want to be a part of this movie?
I wasn’t too familiar with the Orson Welles broadcast, although I had heard that it had happened. And when I read the script, I thought, “My God, why hasn’t anybody made a full-length feature about this?” The script was so well-written, so funny, so creatively done, so smart. Peg I fell in love with immediately, because I love playing strong women who have surprising turns, and she definitely does in the film. She has a wonderful arc. She really learns a lot about herself and what she wants. She obviously makes some mistakes and doesn’t handle everything the way she should, but I think what’s partly fun about watching her is that she really goes for it and you get to see what’s bubbling under the surface pour out on the night that she thinks could be her last night of being alive.
After you got this part, did you do more research into the time period and the real War of the Worlds broadcast and people mistaking it for a real news broadcast?
Yes, our director-writer sent everybody the links to the actual recording of the broadcast, and it’s really fascinating because it’s so well done. I mean, there are people screaming. It’s so well acted. You have to put yourself back in the time period. Because nothing like that had ever happened before, it’s so easy to see why people believed it. There was no reason not to. It was so well done and scary. You hear aliens coming and all you have is the radio. You don’t have cellphones for people to tell you, “No, it isn’t true. This is a joke and a lie.” Your imagination runs wild and if you’re living in a small town, there’s not much to do and you’re a little bored. That also lends itself to the hysteria that we see happening in the film.
I was really struck by how, as the characters prepare for this supposed invasion, Peg really wants to be on the frontlines of this fight and isn’t interested in doing what other female characters are doing. Was that something that spoke to you from a feminist perspective?
Absolutely. I loved — there’s a scene where you see Peg and she’s eating with the rest of the guys and she’s changed out of her schoolteacher’s uniform and she’s wearing pants, which is a big deal. And she’s super-excited and anxious to hold a gun and be on the frontlines. I just admired that spirit and that spunk about her and the fact that she really wasn’t holding back and she was going to be doing exactly what she wanted to do no matter what her gender. There’s definitely a very strong pro-feminist stance that Peg takes in the film.
One of the things that she does — and she tells her fiance that she wanted to do it — is that she goes off and makes out with this other guy. Why does she do that? Was it just part of wanting to live and do whatever she wanted to?
Yeah, I think it’s partly that. I think she’s really going to follow her heart and follow her gut for the first time I think she ever has, and that’s why this night is so important for her and the other characters in the film. She and a lot of them have really been doing what’s expected of them throughout their lives, and this night truly gives them the opportunity to follow their heart and gut because if it was really your last night of being alive and you weren’t following your dreams or you weren’t really living your life for yourself, what that night could give you is such a gift. It might not be along the lines of what [Peg’s fiance] would want her to do, but ultimately she has to do what she has to do. I love the scene where he says, “Why’d you do this?” And she says, “Because I had to! There was no other choice.” And for her, there was no other choice. Other characters might think, “I should at least love the person I’ve been with this whole time” and have this guilt complex, but Peg really unleashes and lets that out, and I think that’s something that’s really inspiring. I really love that she made that decision. It’s fun as an actor, too, to get to play, definitely.
By the end of the movie, though, after the residents have discovered the truth, viewers see that many of them have gone back to their lives the way things were before they thought the world was coming to an end. It seems that Peg does go back to her fiance, but she also seems sad and looks off into the distance. Where do you think Peg is at mentally at the end of the movie?
That was one of the most inspiring scenes for me to shoot as an actor because the stage direction Jody Lambert, the writer, had written was she’s looking off sad and then you notice that there’s still a fire brewing underneath. So where I saw Peg is, yes, she had to go back the next day because there’s this overwhelming shock of what’s happened. But I wanted to make sure that I left the audience and that I left her with a feeling of fire and fight, that she was going to get out and that she’s not done and that that flame had been lit within her the night before and it’s not going to be so easily stifled. I’m hoping that that flame’s never going to die, and Peg’s going to get out and follow her heart no matter what.
What sort of projects are you looking for at this point in your career?
I’m always looking for roles that are challenging to me. I’m getting ready to pack up and move to New York for about four months because I’m shooting a movie called Egg about fertility, and it raises a lot of important questions about what it’s like to be a mother and to be a woman in a society where you’re supposed to want to have children, and it’s a really strong feminist piece, directed by Marianna Palka, who’s fantastic and had her film, Bitch, at Sundance. And then I’m doing something totally different. I’m going to be doing a period piece play called Time in the Conways, where I get to be British, and Elizabeth McGovern from Downton Abbey is playing my mom. I usually get cast as the uptight blonde-type character. But I’m really looking to play other things right now and stretch that out and play somebody totally different.
Brave New Jersey is now playing in select theaters and on VOD.
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