PC: Let’s start at the very beginning. Can you talk about where you were born and raised? What you were you like as a young boy? What do you remember about where you grew up?
CB: Sure. I grew up in Sonoma County which is about an hour out of San Francisco; it’s sort of known as the’ County’. The towns aren’t known so much but the County is famous for being next to Napa County, they’re the two big wine areas up in California and that’s what my family does, they sell wine. We moved here in the late 1800s, found whatever was trendy to sell, apples or walnuts or whatever but eventually it was grapes, and we still sell a lot of grapes, but then some we make into our wine.
PC: Martenelli wine?
CH: Martenelli that is correct. I grew up on one of the Martenelli vineyards, before being a vineyard it was an orchard, so growing up I was in the orchard climbing trees and throwing apples at my siblings. Our elementary school was separated by a little creek so we’d run through the creek and go to school. The high school was built next to a dairy farm. It wasn’t the smallest town in the world but it definitely had a lot of country sensibilities; only an hour from San Francisco so modern enough and not too stuck in another era.
I found acting by the time I was 11. Chris Farley died in 1997 and it was so impactful to me because I loved his work so much. I said, ‘I want to be a comedian.’ I went through middle school doing projects and summer classes and stuff but it wasn’t really until high school… The theatre, it’s called The Jerry Garcia Theatre (he used to go there and that theatre fits 900 people, so it was a huge theatre for a 14- 15-year-old to be performing in. It really raised the stakes for me like, ‘Wow! There’s going to be 900 community members watching me. I need to do the best I can!’ Fortunately the drama teacher was incredible, Starr Hergenrather. She’s one of my role models, one of the favourite teachers I’ve ever had – she really helped me do some really cool interesting characters. At high school you end up playing a lot of old people, you end up playing a lot of unique, different characters just because there’s not a lot of characters in your age range, so it stretched me a lot as well. I sort of adopted that kind of mentality, when I find a script, I like to make the character very, very different from myself – it’s a fun challenge.
When I left high school (that was 2004) I went to an acting conservatory called AMDA; I was there for maybe two years; I graduated (I was aged around 19) and then I basically drank beer until I was 26 and didn’t do any acting except for theatre with my friends. It was just a little 50-seat theatre and we’d come up with weird, wild characters to do. Then I went to Nashville, Tennessee for a year (saved up money) in 2012. It was then – that year of not even acting because I couldn’t afford it – that I really rethought my life and during 2013 I came back and started auditioning for film and TV for the first time.
PC: Were your parents more than happy for you to go down that road or were you meant to follow in the family footsteps?
CB: No there’s fortunately enough competent siblings of mine to keep the family business going, and cousins as well. They were supportive but there wasn’t much to support. I was a special needs pre-school teacher for 8 years. I started heading that route of being an occupational therapist (with a misleading name) someone who helps people deal with their motor skills and ideas towards toddlers, particularly with autism – that was my interest. Then I kind of realised that all the kinds of songs and dances and games we do were just another form of entertainment: I was just sort of putting a Band-Aid over my need to be an actor. Once I started auditioning in 2013 and started booking they got even more supportive. They weren’t ever in my way but there was nothing to support until there was something to support.
PC: Yeah but they weren’t anti–acting, they weren’t against it. I’ve had some actors say their parents have said, ‘That’s ridiculous! Get a real job.’ Sort of thing. What were you like as a teenager? Did you hang with the cool kids or were you with the geeks or the in–crowd?
CB: I don’t think I had the slightest idea. I sort of screwed up the perception of myself. My parents [had been] divorced since I was three years old. I saw my dad every other weekend and every Wednesday but in the meantime I was with my mom and she was a very young mom. I was the youngest of three and my older brother and sister had the hugest personalities so I was sort of left to my own devices. What I came up with was to be entertaining and be funny, to keep the house light and to get some attention: I was basically a joke every minute. I didn’t care if 38 didn’t land, as long as that 39th got a laugh I felt I was on a win, so I was pretty obnoxious and then I just felt ‘lesser than’. That was sort of in me and I think I just sort of kept that to myself for the most part. As I went through middle school and high school my peers got older and started seeing I was pushing myself into that role [and] they started accepting me as that: they were only reflecting what I was giving them. By the time I got to high school it was kind of a weird thing because I was the lead of shows and was doing well in theatre, so in that crowd I was kind of popular, but at the same time I would insist that I wasn’t and that I was awkward and weird.
PC: It’s what most teenagers think to be fair: feeling insecure and not cool.
CB: Contrary to everything in front of themselves they will find a way to really believe that they are the outcast sort of thing and I kind of liked it. I would say, in my senior year of high school I was seventeen and I was so disinterested (and had been for years disinterested) in schoolwork, doing my homework. I was flunking every year so that I’d have to go to summer school, every year. So my mom and my teachers just said, ‘You know what? Just do independent study.’ So once a week I was expected to come to school and give in my reports of what I had learned from my week of homework, which was really light homework. It was: read a book and tell us what you think of it, or read a chapter in history. No one was telling me what to learn about these subjects: I was suddenly getting to choose what I found interesting. I kept a couple of classes like drama and video class (that was great) and choir so I’d come to school, but mostly just because, for the rest of the school day, I could just wander round. I’d go in the theatre and just be by myself in this great big theatre and sing and read so I really sort of started leaning into living my own life. I’ve never really thought about this stuff in a long time. But I didn’t think of it that way: I didn’t really think about leaning into it and doing things my own way. It helped mould the kind of career I want which was by doing things a little differently.
PC: What about being tall in school? Did that present its own challenges in that it made you more noticeable to others? Often people try to take the big guy on to prove something.
CB: I literally tried once to get into a fight, I couldn’t do it, nobody would: there was nothing to fight me about I was just too nice. I was obsessed with people-pleasing. I was sort of a big teddy bear.
PC: You do look like a big teddy bear, except when you are playing Kemper!
CB: No matter what character I perform apparently people still find me huggable.
PC: I’m keen to include a bit of romance in my interviews so, if you are not too shy, how did you romance your wife? How did you meet?
CB: She romanced me. We met at the pre-school. I was a teacher and she was my aid and after a handful of months she asked me would I like to have dinner at her place and I said, ‘Cool. Should I bring Adam and Brett?’ And she said, ‘Sure’. I kind of assumed it was like a dinner party and then they mysteriously couldn’t make it and I showed up like, ‘Oh no! I already said yes. There will be a bunch of people here I don’t even know!’ I got there and it was a candlelit dinner for two. I had started being suspicious that this was how it would be. So we dated for about three weeks in about 2009 and it didn’t work. I honestly found another girl who was an actress – my wife is not an actress – I found someone who was very loud and exciting; and that’s the type I was used to dating. That girl didn’t work out probably after a year-and-a-half. Then, maybe a year later, my wife and I started connecting again on Facebook and we did about three months of casual sort of dating, not looking for anything serious. Then I moved to Nashville for a year so it was going to be really done. But you know you are kind of bored out there all by yourself and no one to date, so I just started calling and we became really good friends over the phone, and started dating over the phone and when I moved back in 2013 I moved straight in with her and we’ve been together since. We have a lot of differences personality wise but our way of life is really similar: we like the same kind of home and amenities and lifestyle, so it’s just kind of peas in a pod situation with us. It’s not very exciting and we like it that way.
PC: Aww that’s sweet. And what does she think of your penchant for not wearing shoes? Is that just from running around like that as a kid?
CB: You have done a lot of research! I think I have sort of tactile issues: I don’t like the feeling of watches or rings; I wear my wedding ring around my neck. My wife doesn’t mind, I mean she says, ‘Go into the bathroom and wash your feet. Don’t bring those into bed.’ Other than that she’s cool. She’s fine with it.
PC: Yeah I’m like that too, I only wear my eternity ring, can’t bear to wear my engagement and wedding rings, and dangly earrings occasionally; never wear a watch. So I’m dreading when I have to wear glasses. I always wear a necklace though.
CB: Oh I couldn’t imagine long earrings brushing against your neck, it would be terrible!
PC: Tell me about the roles you had before Mindhunter? They were in Camp Takota and Lab Rats?
CB: Yes they were bit parts. They were the most important thing that ever happened in my life at that time. Man I could not say the lines enough on set! It was funny because I’d played major characters in well-established plays in front of a lot of people, and this was only five lines or something, because it just feels different: there’s no audience, there’s nothing to draw off and you just don’t get the same urgency to be ‘alive’ because it’s just a camera and a bunch of people at work. You know, for a lot of camera operators and the folks behind the camera this is a day at work, they are not enthused or motivated, it’s just a day at work! They can be low and their morale can be low and you never know and it can be kind of infectious. I was lucky to do Camp Takota and Lab Rats and some smaller stuff that was kind of ‘high energy’ because of the cast and crew. Lab Rats was for kids so between takes we were blaring music and dancing, having fun, so it helped me. And then I got really lucky.
I did a show called Stitchers on Freeform (it used to be ABC Family); I did that for a good 22 episodes and not a whole lot of camera time. Sometimes I’d have a fun scene, sometimes I’d just say like, ‘All systems online. Go!’ But what was great was just being around cameras: it was so helpful to just get comfortable around them. It was between seasons two and three that I shot Mindhunter and that was the first time I had actually more than five lines – more than five lines! Rare for TV – 10 minutes straight of a scene and just sitting in a chair, nothing crazy happened, we were just having a conversation. Fortunately that’s kind of who I am: at a party I’m on a couch hoping that someone bumps into it, sits down and just have a one-on-one relaxing chat. I’m not the life of the party; I was when I was younger. I’ve really relished the chance to just sit in a chair and act with my legs crossed for 10 minutes, so that was a great thing.
PC: I hate asking this question, but I know it was a bit of a journey to get to the point of actually getting the role because you did two tapes and had four auditions, but it has to be done, so tell me Cameron how you got the part as Ed Kemper.
CB: I love talking Mindhunter so no worries, ask away. I think it was maybe February of 2016 that I got just another audition in my email and all it said was ‘web series Mindhunter’ and obviously my first thought was, ‘Is this going to be some cheesy thing?’ I opened it up and they’d just sent me a few pages but the first line was Kemper saying, ‘I’ve been a regular guy most of my life, nice home, nice suburb. I had pets, went to a good school but at the same time I was living a vile, depraved, entirely parallel other life.’ And that was…
PC: That would grip you straight away!
CB: I was gripped and I just kept reading the sides and I just got the impression like, ‘This feels like a quote. It feels like a real life person and that they’re using direct verbiage from the interview he did.’ Sure enough, I look up Kemper, and I went down a rabbit hole for maybe a couple of hours: watching interviews; reading Wikipedia; just becoming more and more like, ‘Oh my God!’ And then I looked up Mindhunter and I found that it was David Fincher and Netflix and Charlize Theron. Then I freaked out and I auditioned on a self-tape, just on my iPhone, probably until midnight, just trying to get it to where I wanted it – and I’ve re-looked at the audition recently actually and it’s ridiculous. They still called me to do another self-tape, then they brought me in, and they just kept adding more lines, bigger and bigger scenes and then I only had so much time to work on them. Then they’d bring me back in saying, ‘Okay, we liked what you did but we’d like to see you go off book for it.’ It was 6 auditions over 6 weeks and at the last audition David Fincher was there and Jonathan Groff. I knew David would be there but I didn’t know who was playing Ford so I was really nervous. I opened the audition room door and it was going to be Jake Gyllenhaal or Matt McConaughey, like I had no idea who was going to be behind this door – it could be Joseph Gordon-Levitt…
PC: Any of them would do!
CB: When I opened the door I saw Jonathan and I thought, ‘Oh it’s just some kid!’ (Laughing) I’d never seen him before. It was so relieving because Ed needs to be the biggest in the room, he needs to be in charge, and Jonathan at that point – his character is so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and adorable, that it just made it so easy to be manipulative and over-bearing. Man that was really helpful and we were probably there a good two hours just talking about it, and I realised it wasn’t an audition so much as it was a rehearsal.
After that we had real rehearsals, table reads, wrote on our scripts and had conversations – which just doesn’t happen in television, there’s just no time, there’s no money to be sitting down and rehearsing. And then David, being so thorough, he actually showed up at my fittings, which is just unheard of, especially someone as busy as he is, to be showing up and making sure I take my pants home and sleep in them just so they would: a prisoner would only have a couple of articles of clothing, so to fit to him like ‘stiff’.
For someone who’s a novice in this industry it was so important to get this chance to really know what was expected and that we are doing everything we can to make the performances as good as possible, so when I showed up on the day the only thing left to do was to do my job; and we would do so many takes you could try it so many different ways. I really loved that sort of structure.
PC: When you were sat in that room with Fincher, was it hard not to show your nervousness, what did you do to combat those feelings or were you not nervous?
CB: It was back and forth that I thought, ‘Oh I’m doing a terrible job, he’s going to fire me,’ and Jonathan would talk me down from the ledge. There were days when we had done 50 takes – let’s do 50 more, 70 more I don’t care, I’m having a blast, I’m just lost in the moment, because it’s not just the takes it’s how quickly we get back to the top of the scene. Often when someone says ‘Cut!’ you know you don’t actually get to start the scene again until 10 minutes later, with him it’s 15 seconds! We are back in it. I’d never done that in my life before and that in character, for that long for a whole day of, since you’ve been awake you’re in character. It just starts becoming this sort of spiritual experience where you kind of forget what you planned on doing, you’re surprising yourself, you’re going, ‘Oh oh God! I’ve never delivered it that way before! Where did that come from?’
PC: I was talking about that with Adam Zastrow and he said by the time you do the 50th take you feel like it’s going through the motions, you don’t have to think about it but by then you are delivering something that is more natural, or organic, and that is what Fincher is looking for: that very moment when you are not acting, you are being it, doing it, aren’t you?
CB: You are! And day one I thought, ‘Are they going to fire me? Am I going to get too tired to do this?’ And that is just not the case. I met a few people playing killers who were nervous – anyone who’s worked on Mindhunter and worked with Fincher – they all think, ‘Ah, they’re going to fire me!’ But when you are in there, man you just keep going. Being fired is the last thing you’re thinking about, you are just alive. It’s a hell of an experience and honestly is moving forward my career. I’ve been fortunate enough, because of my character, to get to do bigger projects now, like that’s sort of my standard. When I go to other projects now I go, ‘Okay, are they living up to what Mindhunter taught me and are they making good art?’ And if they are not then I sort of politely find a way to come off what’s going on.
PC: What about learning your lines: how easy is that for you? Obviously you had quite a bit of dialogue: how do you make it stick?
CB: There’s knowing all your lines, that’s fine and that comes really quickly, what really takes repetition is to do it enough so you don’t need to think about them. There just coming out and that is so necessary to me, if I’m just thinking about the line then I’m not living ‘in the moment’ and that’s just the kind of acting that I do. I need to have nothing happening to distract me. I just take every opportunity to be where I need to be ‘in the moment’ because I’m still working on it. If I don’t feel connected to the scene, or ‘the moment’, I can kind of panic and then you can sort of see me acting. Some actors, they are able to go, ‘Well I’m not connected right now but I can sort of fake my way through this,’ and that’s just part of life: if you have a job there’s some days you are just not feeling it even if it’s your favourite job in the world. I’m still working on that but no matter what, I have to know the lines backwards and forwards.
PC: With regards to David Fincher’s style of directing, is there any room for a bit of give? Do you feel you could suggest to him that perhaps you’d like to try something different or is it all very controlled by him or the other directors?
CB: With David there’s a line here, a line there, in this big, giant script where he says, ‘I want this to be arrogant,’ or, ‘I want this in a form of a question.’ And I think, when he says ‘arrogant’ there are many, many, many ways to do that so it’s up to you how you want that to be conveyed – the rest of the script is all yours. And maybe that’s just my experience. David puts you in: he guides you in the right direction. So if an actor strays too far this way or that way he’ll sort of put you back on track, but the point of all those is not to do anything you’ve prepped and just be truly alive ‘in the moment’. If you’re over-directing somebody then it won’t be that: then you’re just using all those takes to get this exact delivery or performance out of them, which is fine, but it’s not allowing… like he’s so trusting that inspiration will come; you know if he has too much vision for a moment he’s not allowing for a better vision to show up. If he’s saying it has to be this way then how do you know if something better wouldn’t have come along? He’s very trusting and it empowers you; you can tell [when] your director is letting you do your job. There’s been times he’s had to put me back on track: the hospital scene in the final episode when I stand up and turn around he let me go two or three takes where I just went ballistic. When we first started shooting that part I stood up like a maniac and then by the third he said, ‘I can’t think it up with the rest of that part of the scene. You can’t do that’. It needed Kemper to stay calm and collected but, in a way, I needed to go crazy for a second, I needed to really feel that wild, impulsive energy, that’s sort of Kemper though isn’t it: even when he’s calm you can feel his urge to hurt; he’s almost masking a lot of violence, no matter how mellow he looks.
PC: It’s like how you hear people say, ‘Never turn your back on a tiger or lion because they are always going to have that killer instinct, no matter how nice they are.’
CB: Exactly I’ve often thought of Kemper as a time bomb: just sitting, chilling, unassuming and then slowly, before you even realise it, it’s a snake around my chest.
PC: Then boom! Lights out! I read that Fincher said – and I’m assuming it’s true – that he didn’t want you to mix and mingle with the cast because he wanted to keep you from being influenced or informed, he wanted you to be the way you had set Kemper up to be and not start thinking, ‘Maybe I should do this or that.
CB: Yes I think he wanted me to outside of those few rehearsals, show up and really, really, truly not know anything about who Holden and Tench are and what it needed to feel like in the episode where Ed’s like, ‘FBI agents are coming to see me! What do they want?’ They needed to come into the room and say, ‘I’m about to interview my first serial killer ever and he is a giant. He’s done horrible things to his mother’s corpse.’ So, as he put it: he wanted us to ‘come from outer space’ until, once we got on set, we were then free to do what we wanted. There was sometimes, between takes, that if I had a little extra time I might just be sitting there and sort of getting where I needed to get but more often than not there would be singing or dancing; Jonathan is better at both of those so he would do it with me and Holt would join in and we would joke a little and have a little fun. Everyone else has a ‘real job’ so they’re running around making sure everything is perfect and we’re just goofing off. The stuff is heavy and it’s nice to be light for a second.
PC: Jonathan and Holt can be incredibly serious though, when I spoke with Jonathan I thought he’d be Mr fun but he’s really quite serious and Holt, he always wants the best for everybody. Really nice, both of them!
CB: They are both perfect gentleman.
PC: Holt is so old school!
CB: Holt really does the ‘70s era well because he’s got that old-school style and I think Jonathan, he has some old-school in him that makes you buy into that era. I didn’t know much of Kemper before but I fell right in. Watching his interviews there’s something about them that just reminded me of my family and the way they speak and carry on. It’s hard to watch yourself act but when I watched the show that’s one of the first things I noticed: like I really buy that I’m a 1970’s man.
PC: You know when you said ‘there’s something about them’ there, you sound incredibly like the real Kemper! That nearly creeped me out there, that did.
CB: The writer is British so the formality to the dialogues… Kemper is very formal. I tend to speak that way as well, there is much stuff I’d be working on and I’d be like, ‘Wow! I’ve got a lot in common with this character.’
PC: Just the good things, not the bad. How do you feel about him? I know Holt said he had some sympathy and empathy for some of the killers but I fail to see how anybody could have any empathy for Kemper. What he did was just the pits!
CB: Yes. You are told as an actor to never judge your character but I don’t know how people succeed at that when they have a character like Ed; I think it’s a sign of a really, really good person. If you watch his interviews and he talks about killing his mom [and] he’s crying, if you feel empathy for him you are an incredible person! He’s crying saying, ‘Oh I feel so bad about hitting her with a claw hammer, removing her head and having sex with her head, putting it on a mantel and throwing darts at it, screaming at it for hours and putting her vocal chords down the garbage disposal. Calling her best friend, having her come over and murdering her, then playing with their bodies over a weekend.’ And that person is crying about their actions and if you to feel bad for them you are clearly a very good person: you see someone crying and it makes you just want them to feel better.
PC: But it was said that even Kemper’s crying wasn’t real, that again it was him manipulating people, because he asked them to film it again as they hadn’t caught his tears at the right moment or something.
CB: They say he could be crying because he’s feeling sorry for himself – that’s a narcissistic thing. I’ve seen interviews with him, same subject matter, where they are asking about the night he killed his mom, they are asking the same questions and instead of crying he will be telling the story and the interviewer will interrupt him with a question and he will get sharp like, ‘Wait a second. You’re wiping out ‘the moment.’ Which is like, ‘What do you mean ‘the moment’? You shouldn’t be thinking about this as a performance, that’s not what this is, you’re telling a story about when you killed your mom, you’re not here for ‘chills ‘n’ thrills’ or to blow us away with how sad you are about it!’ I just couldn’t… When I saw that interview, that was when I really realised how I wanted him to come across. So when an audience member says they have a lot of empathy for him I think that’s a good thing because that’s what my character is going for. You can feel bad for him, he wants you to like him, he wants you to go get a beer with him – you shouldn’t! But you know, if I can do what Ed can do: look you in the eye and say, ‘I did all these horrific acts and still get you to enjoy my company,’ then… That was my only goal really.
PC: He was very charming and you could quite easily sit down and have a chat with him. I assume you have no desire to do that for any reason?
CB: No, no. For many, many reasons! I would be just as scared as anyone and I feel like I’d just be there to look at the animal in the cage like, ‘Wow! I want to stare at a serial killer, look into their eyes see what they’re like,’ almost like creeping as a kid towards a haunted house, knocking on the door and running away. My intentions would not be as noble as I’d want them to be, meeting someone like that and also I just think he’d love it, relish some actor coming and studying because, ‘Why wouldn’t they look how interesting I am?’ I might be wrong on that – I don’t know.
PC: I pretty much think you have nailed that one on the head, but Holt, he wants to. He told me that he’s written to someone (who I think is going to be in season two) and asked if he may go and interview them.
CB: He bought a motorcycle and put ‘Death by Torture’ on it; he had a custom paint job. Ed has a line ‘death by torture’ then he had some other serial killer stuff actually painted on the vehicle. He’s into this stuff. I’m a little more squeamish, but I’ve always been fascinated by them.
PC: I like Mindhunter because I’m terrible at watching horror movies but obviously we are not getting all the gore and the guts. I find Mindhunter so compelling as a horror show without the horror. I hate watching scary horror films I just can’t do it. What lengths did you go to to get into character? Adam Zastrow told me he spent a week smashing melons with rocks to get the feel of what it’s like to cave someone’s head in.
CB: I would have done that if I’d thought of it! Kudos to Adam. I went to dog parks in character, nothing as exciting as smashing watermelons. I went to grocery stores and on Uber rides.
PC: What kind of feeling did you get from that?
CB: Well if I could make this kind of scary guy… what happens if I take him into the real world? This man was able to be who he was, and as a giant, still get college girls to climb into a car with him; he said sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. He practised being trustworthy and I wanted to see if I could get folks to enjoy my company whilst I’m in character and it was kind of shocking, folks were really, really into it. There was a guy at the dog park he started going off about how proud he is [that] he beats his dog; I’m in character I’m rolling with it, agreeing with him, letting him go as far as he wants.
PC: It’s a bit like Holden when he goes along with it isn’t it?
CB: Exactly, watching somebody embellishing their own issues, applauding them for it. I’d let them roll with it and start agreeing and saying what I’d do to a dog and he agreed with me! It helped me a lot I think. A lot of Ed, it’s the sort of pretend machismo. Ed really liked John Wayne, he really wanted to be a police officer, so I thought he needed this sort of level of being a little bit of a macho dude and so I’d bring that out in the parks and places like that.
PC: How did you know how to choose the person you did that with? How did the guy know it was acceptable to start telling you?
CB: I don’t know, anyone who’d be interested in engaging in conversation, it was interesting to see where the conversation went. Sometimes it would just be a quiet Uber ride: I really like driving around. I didn’t feel too comfortable doing it with women – Ed was really awkward with women anyway – but I would drive around in my car and frankly watch women, and walking on the sidewalk. I wouldn’t follow them, I wasn’t trying to make anyone scared or anything like that. If I could be near a window and watch women walk by or anything like that, and just start working on a real maybe hatred of them. It was so important, the mother aspect, the female aspect, that you bought like this guy really has a problem with chicks. It was important to make it imagination-based too because of his fantasy life, and he’s so obsessed with talking about his childhood and this rich, dark, fantasy world. You know he slept in the basement. His mom made him sleep down there and he’d think of the women upstairs, and him downstairs in Hell, and all the horrible things he would like to do to them. I didn’t feel like I had to bother women to do that, I could just lie in my room and do that just fine without making anyone feel uncomfortable.
PC: To be fair I would have kept him in the basement too if he’d been my son: he was already at aged 10 or something killing the family cat and decapitating them and doing things to his sisters’ dolls. I’d have had him manacled in the basement never mind have him sleep down there. And he did little test runs leading up to the killings didn’t he. I read he started out by picking up female hitchhikers then the next time he’d have a gun inside of his boot, and the time after that the gun would be tucked under his leg, going further each time. I also read recently that his family members are dreading the possibility of him being released and his brother is sure there are more murders he hasn’t disclosed. Also he said sometimes he would pick up girls and it was like a 50/50 chance of killing them but sometimes let them go and he wondered if they ever think they had a lucky escape or even realise it was him.
CB: I grew up in California where, up north, there were a lot of famous serial killers who went through, and I know a couple of people my mom’s friends who chose not to get into a car with one of them. That’s the thing about hitchhiking: there’s a lot of trust. Ed would rig his passenger door so it could be opened from the outside but not from the inside; he really thought this out. He spent a couple of years picking up hitchhikers before he ever harmed one, practising and that thrill of thinking of killing someone, keeping the gun on hand was enough. But then, eventually that’s not enough, eventually the things under the seat aren’t enough, the trial runs aren’t enough – he’s got to do it! If you look at the 11 months of the killing spree he did, the longer it went the shorter amount of times between killings and he said, ‘It’s the only way you feel good anymore, you gain pleasure from it,’ or something. I’m glad we cover that in the show. Kemper just kind of flatly says ‘these people never stop’ and that’s still the belief in the FBI that if somebody is a murderer, a serial killer, and suddenly they stop, they didn’t actually stop, they either died or they are in prison for something else or they moved away and are doing it somewhere else. They simply have to keep doing it.
PC: Why did he turn himself in after killing his mom rather than just continue killing?
CB: His intention was either to kill his mom and turn himself in or kill his mom and kill himself. He attempted to kill himself in prison I believe. Since he lived with his mom he’d been getting away really scot-free for a while but he knew, once he’d killed his mom, he would be a prime suspect. So he killed her and he ran away to Colorado and he heard no sirens, nobody showed up, that’s when he called and turned himself in. At first he got cold feet to turn himself in, and clearly got cold feet for suicide, but once he was in that prison, through the trial period I think, he attempted suicide 4 times which is where we get the set up for the hospital scene.
PC: I just feel like, if he was that evil, why would he not carry on? But then, if the murders were driven by his hatred of her, then hers was the ultimate murder.
CB: I don’t know if we will ever know. He’s a serial killer. He’s a compulsive liar so he’s never even going to be honest with himself. I just don’t know if we will ever fully understand what makes these folks do what they do when they do it. Everything’s so impulsive to them even the ones that are as gathered as meticulous as Ed; they do stuff that just doesn’t make sense to them either. They just decide to go this route or this way with something. I don’t know if it’s all of them but they say serial killers want to be caught, maybe part of them at times does.
PC: Yes because he was quite daring when he was decapitating one of the girls right under his mother’s window or somewhere like that, at any minute he could have been caught.
CB: I don’t know if you can call it ‘lucky’ – since lucky is a good thing – but his version of luck I suppose. I keep in mind, or try to, with these guys that they are incredibly weak. They’re incredibly impulsive and they’ve chosen to lack accountability for their actions, they are weak, weak people. They don’t have as much sense; they do things that don’t make any damn sense. It’s whatever they’re feeling in the moment, they don’t control their impulses, and they don’t look and discern on whether that’s something they should act on – they just do it. I think almost any human, if they just follow their impulses, they’d be an enigma and we must get thousands of weird impulses a day – or maybe that’s just me! (Laughing)
PC: Yeah that’s just you Cameron, I never feel like that!
I wondered, in that scene with Holden in the hospital where you went to hug him, and in all likelihood could have broken his neck on a flip of a coin, and he went to pieces: do you feel empowered when you act out a scene like that, even though you are only acting?
CB: Yeah I felt more powerful than I have in my whole life, just the sheer environment, you just feel so much sort of control and calm. I know I’m doing Ed right when I’m really calm and really comfortable and that’s not every character. I recently did one that’s completely the opposite, to feel out of my comfort zone, I don’t fit in my own skin. With Ed it’s just got to be nice for the ego to be 6 feet 9 and just to know you could kill someone at any second. You got to just feel invincible.
PC: Like you’re the King of the World.
CB: With his level of intelligence and then the benefit of talking about his favourite subject – himself! Have an interview with a narcissist, it’s the best interview you’ve ever had in your life, he will talk about himself all day. He doesn’t get the chance to always talk about, as he calls it, his ‘vocation’.
PC: It’s my calling!
CB: There was a lot of power there!
PC: Do you think the ones who are still in jail get to watch the show? Do you think Ed will have seen your portrayal of him?
CB: Yeah, I assume that he gets to. I haven’t heard anything about it…
PC: Good or bad…
CB: If he were to write me a letter or something…
PC: You would die…
CB: I wouldn’t respond. Again, not the most noble thing, but I’d relish to know he wrote me a letter and I didn’t respond and he has to live with that.
PC: You are a brave man. It’s quite scary to think he would do that.
CB: I don’t know how he would get it to me…
PC: Oh I’m sure there are ways! What about when you went home at weekends after you’d been shooting your scenes, can you just switch off or does it go home with you? Do you just get on with normal stuff or are you thinking, ‘It could be my neighbour who’s a killer or the guy in the grocery store’?
CB: Yes I’d say even more so than before, this role has helped me truly understand that ‘nice’ has nothing to do with ‘good’. Being nice is just sort of a practise act that we do, being good… you can be an unlikable person and be a good person: being a nice person has nothing to do with what your intentions are; and it is a little hard to trust people. It really is hard to trust people because of that element, you know. Kemper killed a 14-year-old and my cousins are 14 and their parents don’t want them to watch Mindhunter and I’m sort of torn because I think if there’s any chance to show what a stranger can be like, why you shouldn’t trust them – it would be: ‘watch your older cousin, who you love and trust, play a likeable maniac’.
PC: Yes because it was like the killer Adam portrayed, Gene Devier, he was just cutting down a tree and he thought the 12–year–old girl was flirting with him and that was enough to take him to the next stage. Well that was a situation where the girl was perfectly innocent, as any 12-year-old would be, that’s just the sort of thing, like you say, that would make them more aware of how easily that can happen. I’d be inclined to agree with you about letting them watch it.
CB: Yes there’s no gore in it there’s no violence shown, but I get it. I know grown adults who say, ‘I love you Cameron but I’m not going to watch that.’ That’s fine. I’ve been there, I’ve seen some movies where I can’t sleep for a couple of weeks.
PC: I was asking Jonathan about female serial killers and I read where you said there are very few that are acting on their own, that they normally have a partner or a gang.
CB: The youngest serial killer ever was in India: I believe she was 5 or 6, and she’d lead toddlers, her cousins or whatever, out to the river and drown them. Thinking about Aileen Wuornos, Charlize Theron’s performance in Monster is one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen of any kind. Female serial killers are rarely motiveless, she was making money off of it, so it is weird, very strange. I think there’s many elements. I think men just love control and it goes to the weak, cowardly sense of these folks: they never put themselves in a position where their victims can escape; they always find victims that are not as strong as them.
PC: So Kemper would never take on an equal 6 feet 9 man.
CB: If I took a 15-year-old and put her in a locked car and had a gun with me…
PC: Not really a fair fight, is it.
CB: It’s the thing about Ed that always pisses me off. He tried to act like he’s this sort of tough guy but, at the same time he’s complaining about his mommy issues, he’s putting himself in a position where he can be the only victor! Obviously they are not great people. As a woman it would be a lot harder to be a serial killer, that’s why as a woman and a man they find children.
PC: Why do you think Mindhunter was such a success?
CB: Mindhunter was kind of something we haven’t really seen: you watch Jonathan’s performance and you are trying to reconcile [it] with all of the FBI agent leading men you’ve seen before, and it’s different; and you are waiting for gore and violence and it just doesn’t come. What I love about television or film is it can feel like a book: books are amazing because every time you read a book you read it differently than anyone else because your imagination is your own; and when a TV show or film can access your imagination it’s rare and it’s done its job – and that’s Mindhunter. Kemper can sit in a chair and talk about what he did to his mother and everybody sitting in their living room watching can be thinking of a different image or go to a different place. Every audience [member] ever gets their own version of Mindhunter, which is great. So much of why Jaws was so successful was because you don’t see the shark until the end.
PC: I was reading something that said at some place in Australia, when there’s a shark alert they actually play the theme music to Jaws over the loudspeaker and that it is much more effective than putting red flags up or whatever. It’s a thing that stays with you: that music.
CB: That’s amazing! I know that when John Williams first showed it, Spielberg thought he was joking ‘what is this bump bump thing?’ he kept playing it and realised: this is actually a great way of telling the story of the shark approaching. And if you notice in the movie, the only time they use that music is when the shark is actually there, there is no false music. If you go here he comes, if you don’t hear the music you know he’s not coming!
PC: It’s amazing considering it was out all those years ago but you just hear the word ‘Jaws’ and that’s instantly what you think.
PC: Moving away from Mindhunter I watched a couple of trailers for Barry – now that looks a lot of fun! Someone commented that although the premise of the show was that of it being a comedy, there were in fact some very moving and serious scenes.
CB: By any account Barry is a very unique show that people haven’t really seen before. I’m in maybe a few scenes in episode two and one scene in episode three, so I didn’t have much to go on, but I read the scripts for those episodes and I just thought, ‘Wow!’ Goes from hilarious to edgy in a second – it really does. Bill Hadar was the director of my episode. He really let me improv and he talked to me a lot about the project and stuff. He had mentioned in an interview that whenever he edited it together and realised there was some moment that was really funny he would actually edit that moment out. If the show got too funny it felt wrong – the other jokes just didn’t land at all and then the serious stuff got confusing – so he was actually brave enough to edit out the funnier moments.
PC: What is the show actually about then?
CB: It’s about a hitman and he is sent to eliminate a target in Los Angeles. His target is just an actor in a theatre company trying to make it. Circumstances fall that he ends having to pretend to be an actor for a moment and it’s this revelatory thing. He’s just a depressed hitman who has to cut his emotions off to do his job, has no friends and is lonely. Suddenly there’s this outlet to feel and all he knows is he really needs to follow it. So he’s trying to quit being a hitman and become an actor – and he’s terrible at it – his past is catching up with him, so he’s trying to balance pretending to the other actors he knows what he’s doing and also getting all these Chechen mob following him. There’s a lot of actors you haven’t really seen before and there’s definitely another side of Bill Hadar you’ve never seen and it understandably was nominated for 13 categories in the Emmys. It is pretty unique and pretty cool.
PC: And it’s got Henry Winkler – The Fonz! In the cast.
CB: He is so funny. He’s perfect.
PC: How did you feel about being the only one nominated from Mindhunter for an Emmy? That must feel pretty amazing.
CB: Well honestly my first thought was, ‘Awesome, I’m nominated!’ And my second was, ‘Wasn’t Mindhunter nominated for more?’ Obviously if I’m nominated it’s a testament to the other performers, a testament to the directors and the writers; you don’t get nominated without them so they deserve the credit just as much as I do. Just personally I just felt like this is the best writing on television at the very least and that should be recognised as such but, you know, it’s true crime and detective shows don’t often really end up in the nominations category for Golden Globes or whatever; they just kind of don’t. I really do think that it’s such a quality show. Breaking Bad was not a hit hit, until season 3, it needed to gain traction and I have a feeling that Mindhunter could do the same thing: that by season 3 enough people will have been told ‘you have to see it’.
PC: Funnily enough I only watched Breaking Bad last year, even though Charles Baker, who played Skinny Pete, was one of the first people I interviewed when I set up my website. I thought it was amazing and I am enjoying Better Caul Saul too.
What other shows do you watch or do you just not have the time to watch many?
CB: There are too many shows now… I watch The Handmaid’s Tale. I get a little embarrassed, sometimes I go back to the same comedies: I watch the American version of The Office and I watched the U.K. The Office simultaneously. I recently finished Barry. I watched [the] Fargo TV series.
PC: Your role in The Girl in the Spider’s Web, that’s a pretty exciting role!
CB: I watched The Crown and I had to stop watching it because it was becoming kind of hard to imagine Claire Foy’s character but that turned out not to be a problem. My God, that woman! You just buy her as the Queen of England and you buy her as a Swedish, punk rocking hacker and then, when you just sit down and chat with her, she just has this adorable, bubbly positive energy, and then they call action and she just drops in like a light switch – what a frigging actress! It was really cool working with her. There’s a lot of great actors on the cast: Stephen Merchant is cool, we didn’t have any scenes together but we’d go get lunch and chat and stuff; Claes Bang from The Square, he’s in it.
PC: Had you already watched Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc?
CB: Yes I’d seen the Swedish one and the David Fincher one. They are really fun books, really cool and there’s something so factual about the books: they are written in such a simple style you forget it’s fiction. But this movie will be kind of a departure from the books in that it’s exciting (not that the books aren’t, they are more kind of slow-placed) this one will be Lisbeth Salander thrown into some pretty scary situations. There’s some car crashes that I think are going to be pretty fun to watch and those are mixed back in with her hacker world. I watched the trailer as well (I’m in a few scenes) so worked on that show watching the rest of filming in a bubble – the trailer looked incredible. Fede Alvarez is the director: his stuff always looks amazing.
PC: That’s being released this month isn’t it?
CB: Yes November. This is book 4. I think the next book is already out (I haven’t read it yet) but they have planned all three movies so I imagine there will be 4, 5 & 6, which is interesting because Claire could do all three.
PC: Which other directors would you be keen to work with, or actors even? I’ve had a good half–dozen actors say Daniel Day Lewis when I’ve asked that question.
CB: Daniel Day Lewis, I’d have trouble acting, because I’d just want to watch him act.
PC: You’d be like: ‘I will just stand here and watch you act, in fact I will pay you’.
CB: Totally! For directors I would choose one that Daniel Day Lewis has worked a good deal with, Paul Thomas Anderson. He only does a couple of takes which is kind of nerve-racking but he gives incredible scripts, whereas Fincher is sort of surgical: a rocket scientist by all accounts. Paul Thomas Anderson is a kid with a chemistry set: he just sort of experiments and fiddles around. In The Girl in the Spider’s Web is Vicky Krieps – she is the lead gal in Phantom Thread – she had just came off working with both of those men, it was really cool asking her about that experience. It got me even more excited about Paul Thomas Anderson. It’s kind of interesting, he does films kind of like Stanley Kubrick in a way that people don’t even see these movies, as far as Middle America goes. They are real heavy, they are real think pieces, kind of strange. When he did The Master with Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, it’s a very long movie but he edited out many, many scenes: just because he felt like it made too much sense; he just thought it was too linear.
PC: That’s interesting!
CB: He’s a very strange guy. He’s very young. Obviously I would like to work with Spielberg and Scorsese. There’s just some people you want to work with, like a good coach of a sports team they make you want to do a better job.
PC: My ultimate would be Tarantino. I love his work.
CB: Me too.
PC: Moving onto music questions, originally the website was meant to be about music, hence the name, but never has been.
CB: I wondered about that!
PC: What was the first record (or download in these modern times) that you got?
CB: I didn’t get into music until I was around 15: I mean it was on the radio and stuff. My friend for Christmas got me 1960’s Number 1 R&B hits that was the title, it started with “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”, it had the Isley Brothers “It’s Your Thing” on there, Wilson Pickett, it had “Green Onions” by Booker T. & the M.G.’s. It had a lot of music that I sing constantly. It had some Supremes on there and that started me down a road of Motown which is still sort of ‘60s & ‘70s. R&B is kind of my King of Kings, as far as music I love. Classic rock became big but my first was that.
PC: How about a song that you associate with a particular time or memory? It could be a song that takes you right back to high school, or something you and your wife shared.
CB: There’s one that’s a real trip. Up in Northern California it’s known for being warm and actually Mark Twain has a quote ‘The coldest winter I ever spent was the summer I spent in San Francisco’ because it gets really cold up there because the air is so wet so in the mornings. On the way to high school [it] would be freezing and we had an old car and it would take 10 minutes to warm up, and then the school was about 13 minutes away, so by the time you’re warm you’re jumping right back into the cold. My sister was a senior in high school and she got what we called ‘senioritis’ where she knew she’d gotten all the grades so wasn’t even trying. She started smoking pot and would smoke on the way to school. I would start smoking with her. So we’d be freezing and smoking pot in the car and she played Bob Marley’s Legend album and the fourth song would come on around 10 minutes – which is “Three Little Birds” – and then, to cover up the smell of weed, she would spray this strawberry-scented spray. So every time I hear “Three Little Birds” I get warm and I smell strawberries: it would all sneak up together on that song, I’d be warm, strawberries would come and I’d be a little stoned and relaxed – so that one brings it all back.
PC: How about driving music?
CB: The Beatles were everything but I still have CDs in my car. It’s usually just The Beatles. LA is just such a driving city, you can’t walk, so you have to drive and they’re just the best band ever.
PC: You mentioned dancing earlier so I think I know the answer to this already: do you dance?
CB: All the time. I love it!
PC: Really? I love a man who dances. See, you are just perfect really aren’t you? Do you have a guilty listening pleasure, you know, say Justin Bieber or Bonnie Tyler?
CB: I used to sing “Come Sail Away” by Styx ironically and I sing it ironically so often that now I enjoy singing it – I actually love the song – so that’s one. Katy Perry: I don’t even know if I’m guilty about that. And in my family they can be a little old country tough so I will sing Simon & Garfunkel but yeah, Katy Perry (Laughing).
PC: How about a band or musician that’s really exciting you now: like where you’d say, ‘Oh, have you heard this?’
CB: Recently no. I really don’t like modern music. Once in a while something comes along. Any new stuff I’m the one who’s asking, ‘Anyone got anything I should check out?’
I did The Umbrella Academy – which is coming out next year – with Mary J. Blige, we have a lot of work together, and I asked her that question and she basically said ‘the Top 40 is just kind of generic right now, there is some good stuff but it’s not popular’. She showed me some Kendrick Lamar, I’m pretty ready to jump down that and get to know that a little better because lyrically and musically it was all there, some pretty cool stuff.
PC: There are lots of people raving about him but I’ve not taken much time to listen to him yet.
CB: I do like a recent song by Childish Gambino I’d get excited if music could start paralleling the music in the ‘60s: music was popular and about something at the same time. There may come a time in America where artists really want to start expressing their displeasure with where the country is going with audiences and we’d jump all over that. Macklemore had a song a few years ago about gay rights and it got popular because we are looking for someone to help express our feelings about this.
PC: I wonder if we will ever get back to the music of the ‘60s? In fashion trends seems to go full circle but I don’t know about music. I do think there is a lot of great new music, not in the pop music genre but in Indie or modern folk, but there is a lot of meaningless pop lyrics being churned out and encouraged by the likes of The Voice or X-Factor.
CB: It’s interesting you know, poetry has made music simpler and easier to just make sort of an algorithmic top 40 melodies, so it will be interesting if it truly is cyclical. As humans we need change. That’s why you don’t hear ‘Save the Whales’ anymore, it was heard in the ‘90s all the time, and ‘Free Tibet’ that’s still going on – Tibet’s no better, we didn’t succeed! Things get old to us, the gun control thing comes back and forth and I think it’s the same thing with music. I think eventually we will just go: ‘Okay I’ve heard this song 8000 times’ and some new Bob Dylan will show up with his guitar and turn it all on his head.
PC: It’s funny, at one time Justin Bieber, for example, was churning out song after song and that’s exactly what bands like The Beatles did back in the day and that’s what their fans loved, song after song after song, but now I look at that as a bad thing. Even the likes of Ed Sheeran, who I think can write really good lyrics at times, seems to put songs after song out which he knows are going to be picked for weddings or funerals. I feel that it’s not a real thing, he’s pretending to having had the heartache or whatever.
So let us take a morbid twist or turn and ask you which song or sonnet you would like included in your own funeral service?
PC: At this point I’d love you to say: ‘one banana, two banana, three banana four’…
CB: (Laughs) I would like something funny and lighthearted…
PC: But then you are thinking about the people who are mourning you…
CB: I don’t need a bunch of people crying over me, I’m dead, and I hear that about 98% of all humans… die!
PC: What happens to the other two percent?
CB: It’s maybe 96%! My grandpa died recently and people keep saying they’re sorry for me and I’m like, why? He lived until 86, what else was he going to do? I want something fun, something from The Beatles probably, because they were just the best.
PC: The best!
CB: Maybe “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” but that would be in appropriate because there would be a bunch of people there, like my Grandma, singing: ‘Why don’t we do it in the road?”
PC: Do you have any retro Beatles T-shirts?
CB: I still had some. They don’t fit though.
PC: Ahh okay, well as long as you have some, that’s what counts.
CB: And my friend painted a picture for me – it’s in my hallway – it’s all black, it has The Beatles outline of their faces and eyebrows and stuff all painted white, their hair and everything. Then I have a little yellow submarine toy.
PC: Cool. You are a true fan!
PC: There are three questions we ask everyone:
What is your most used or favourite word? And I’ve not noticed a pattern really, usually I do when interviewing someone over a longer period, but not with you.
CB: I don’t know how I would have squeezed it into this conversation but my favourite word is ‘banana’!
PC: Why? (Laughing)
CB: It’s a weird word. I end a lot of texts with it. If someone is like ‘We are on our way we will be there in 15,’ I will just respond with ‘banana’ it just says it all. It will be my last word on earth…
PC: The money is on the… banana!
CB: As I’m pulling the harpoon from my chest and I’m falling back into the sea I say ‘banana’ and then, you know… I delve into darkness.
PC: How would you describe your perfect day? You wake up, you have nothing planned: how would your day pan out?
CB: My perfect day would not be planned. It would probably involve some swimming and dancing. It would be a very leisurely start. I don’t sleep or move around my house with clothes on – that’s a sin in my book – so I’d just be wandering around the house for a while. Then, you know, it’s hard to get me out of the house once I’m in my zone, but it’s my perfect day: I would end up seeing friends. (My two best buds and I still play Mario Kart 64 that came out in the late ‘90s, we still play it on the original system). It would be a real low-key day: some cuddling with my wife and then for food. Breakfast is usually skipped, sometimes if I’m in the mood, but usually I go straight to a burger or a steak – something with a lot of meat. I really kick back in the evenings. I’d probably put some whiskey in some tea. I love whiskey! Then I’d go to sleep at 4 in the morning. That would be my day.
PC: Sounds perfect, it does actually!
CB: I think I might actually do that today!
PC: I think I might! When I asked Jonathan that question he was like, ‘I’d get up really early and go for a jog, come back and I do some yoga,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Oh really?’ and he’s saying, ‘I’m going to have a smoothie, some celery,’ and I’m think, ‘Yeah, me too Jonathan!’
CB: Fincher turned to him at one point, when Mindhunter first started filming, and he said, ‘You’re not allowed to get sick,’ because he’s in almost every scene. Then he says he jogs miles a day. I don’t know. I don’t even believe him.
PC: Yes he’s a pathological liar…
Next question: what could you absolutely not live without?
CB: Oh my wife… well if she got hit by a truck I guess I’d have to live without her but yes, my wife.
You can find Cameron on:
[Update: Since this interview was published The Girl in a Spider’s Web has been released. Cameron can also be seen as Hazel, in the new Netflix show The Umbrella Academy]
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Any opinions or views expressed within the interview are the subject’s own and publication does not imply endorsement of any such opinions or views by Absolute Music Chat or its personnel.