HBO’s Camping essentially runs on a single mantra: Hell is other people (whom you’re inescapably stuck with). The Lena Dunham-Jenni Konner brainchild wouldn’t be nearly as fun if the middle-aged monsters populating the comedy could spend time with people outside of their titular camping trip. Walt’s (Jessica Jones villain David Tennant) birthday party is a claustrophobic, suffocating time — mostly due to the ultra type-A machinations of his mommy blogger wife, Kathryn (Jennifer Garner) — and that’s the whole point.
So, it was all the more shocking to see Busy Phillips, Nicole Richie, and Hari Nef pop up for a perspective-shifting, awkward cameo appearance in Sunday night’s episode, “Up All Night.” After chatting with the Camping crew, it sounds like it was just as much fun having the trio on-set as it was seeing them in the mix for one of the series’ most uncomfortable moments.
“We had this idea that we [would show] a bunch of really fancy women who were on a camping trip, but on a much better camping trip,” co-creator Jenni Konner told reporters during a Los Angeles interview. “And [we wanted to explore] how that would make Kathryn feel if she knew them, and they were bigger internet and Instagram influencers than she is.”
Considering how competitively on-edge Kathryn, of unwittingly ironic “Don’t hate, meditate” T-shirt fame, often is, being confronted with extremely successful, glamorous, and exclusionary women like Allison (Philips), Beth-Ann (Richie), and Nia (Nef) would be a nightmare for the camping taskmaster. And, it would be even worse since the “clique,” as star Juliette Lewis called the group, absolutely loves Nina Joy (Janicza Bravo), Kathryn's former friend who couldn’t want to avoid her more, and absolutely detests Kathryn's aggressive behavior.
But, the entire situation is even worse than one would expect since Kathryn accidentally took an Adderall pill from Lewis’ Jandice, thinking it was a dose of sleep-inducing Ambien. So, Kathryn’s usual anxiety-ridden obsessiveness somehow finds an even higher plane of intensity. The result of these extreme circumstances is Kathryn badgering the stylish, fur-draped influencers despite their every attempt to get rid of her. The situation becomes even more stomach-churning when Kathryn both attacks the state of her sister Carleen’s (Ione Skye) uterus and outs Nina-Joy, who has already fled the awful woodsy hangout session, as a cheater. Alison, Beth-Ann, and Nia all look on in horror.
It was as if we were in an alternate reality.
“Jen’s chemistry with them was hysterical,” Konner said of the scenes, which were filmed over a few days. “They were born to be those women,” Garner added of her short-term co-stars.
Although Phillips, Richie, and Nef were born to be the most fashionable campers in HBO history, the scene wasn’t without its internal strife for Garner, at least according to her on-screen sister. “It was as if we were in an alternate reality,” Ione Skye, who plays poor, bullied Carleen, dreamily said of shooting those moments. “Like we would go into the tent with the three of them, and Jen Garner personally was a little terrified to do these scenes because it’s like the mean girls teaming up on her.”
Garner, a rom-com queen who posts some of Instagram’s most wholesome celebrity content, also confirmed it was “hard” to lean into Kathryn’s boundless cringe during filming. “I kept wanting to soften Kathryn because I could see both sides of her in the words,” the Camping star explained. “I would say, ‘Well, I want to button the scene with a smile or just have a nice gesture, be maternal. Just have something.’ And Jenni was really strict with me in a good way to remember I was Kathryn and not me.”
And why was writer-director Konner so confident Kathryn’s relentlessly awkward tendencies could work for Camping? “I think if things are grounded in real emotion you can go super far into cringe,” she explained.
The Girls co-creators gambit payed off, since, as Ione Skye said, the dissonance in the glamper’s luxe tent “was a particularly delicious scene to film.” If only we had more time with them.
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