Netflix’s new psychological thriller Cam is the catfishing story from hell. Alice, an ambitious cam girl, wakes up one morning to find a stranger with her face is performing on her channel. As Alice attempts to take her show back from this bot, the true horror — losing control over your own image — is revealed.
We also have The Handmaid’s Tale’s Madeline Brewer, who stars as Alice, to credit for giving viewers a vulnerable, funny and well-rounded protagonist to root for.
Yes, rooting for Alice’s success means rooting for her to reach the number one spot on her camming site — it’s her great ambition, and one completely threatened by this mysterious digital clone.
In conversation with Brewer, the actress reveals what she shares with her new Netflix character, how she was inspired by the "Meryl Streeps" of the cam world, and the most difficult aspect of filming a movie set in the digital age.
You’ve played characters who have gone to very dark places. Is that challenging, to get into that headspace?
I find [playing those characters] to be the most fun because it’s never what it seems. If a character looks like they’re just scary or crazy or whatever, there’s so much more happening than just someone going about their day. You don’t play just creepy or scary. [Sometimes, there is] trauma in their past, [like] Janine [from The Handmaid’s Tale’s case]. In Alice’s case, her throughline throughout the whole film is 'I want to get my show back, I want to go back to work'.
Cam depicts sex workers in a very different light from what we usually see. What were your thoughts on how your character Alice was portrayed when you first read the script?
I always understood that [sex work] is a job, and [that] you can’t tell a woman that she [shouldn’t] make money using her body. I wanted to tell this story honestly, and I wanted to project that. I needed a cam girl watching [this film] to be like 'Oh my god, she could totally be one of us, she understands what camming is'.
But, simultaneous to that, I recognise the fact that I am not a cam girl, and I am not as comfortable with the sexually explicit nature of some camming. I’m comfortable watching it and hearing about it, but I myself am not comfortable performing it. Cam girls get to choose how much they do or do not show, so [the director Daniel Goldhaber] and I wanted [Cam] to have that same feeling, that [I had] the same power and control.
[It would be something like,] 'We’ve written a character filming nude here, how do you feel?' And I’d say, 'No, I get that you’re trying to say something metaphorically, but [I don’t think Alice should be nude.]' Sometimes we would end up saying, 'You know, Alice is really vulnerable here, and I think that it should be fully nude'. We wanted to figure it out artistically.
You and Alice are both performers, did you connect with the character on that level?
Absolutely. Alice’s relentless ambition to get her show back and to fight for control of her own life, her career, and her creative space, I put those same feelings into my own career. I mean, the two things are parallel. They are two creative, complex, difficult, sometimes really frustrating and horrible careers to choose, just because of what everybody else thinks about it. Everyone else [has] opinions of you [in acting and camming].
Did you find it difficult to act opposite a webcam, instead of a real person?
There was a lot of me staring at a screen with tracking marks, and it did become very frustrating, because so often my scene partner was whoever was on the screen, and if they weren’t actually there I was literally just talking at myself, talking at a wall. Which is not easy. But so much of camming is interacting with a screen. Our [writer Isa Mazzei] created almost an entire other script of just cam shows, of just comments and tokens and things for me to react to. We would have it queued up so I could respond to it, and I could get that very natural feeling of a cam show. You watch any cam show, and those girls are [always interacting with the commenters.]
I must have watched hundreds of hours of cam, just over and over and over. I had my cam girls that I would return to for Alice, and my cam girls that were for Lola [Alice’s cam girl alter-ego], and my cam girls that were for 'Lola 2', [the copy of Alice’s cam girl image that gets uploaded online.] I would try to embody these cam girls, or note the tricks that they do. I mean, it’s the same thing I would do if I was watching Meryl Streep in a movie and I was like, 'God, that scene was good, I want to try to bring that out in my next performance'. [These women] are the Meryl Streeps of camming — I might as well learn from them.
You are returning to season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale — what can you tease about Janine?
Janine is still in Gilead. The major thing this season is that [the Handmaids are] kind of pushing boundaries and pushing back. That is really all I can say, [other than that] Janine and Aunt Lydia have such a wonderful relationship.