The actor who plays a homicide cop set on solving the murder of Andrea Cornish in The Night Of delves into the shades of gray around his character, the ambiguities within the series itself and the fun of working on set.
HBO: What did you find most compelling about the series while filming?
Bill Camp: I was coming at it from a “Box perspective” and the character’s need to inquire and be curious. But in terms of the story, I just found it really masterful how Richard [Price] and Steven [Zaillian, series creators] very subtly give out bits of information. It kept my interest as somebody reading a story and trying to figure out the mystery. It’s so textured and so rich.
The way that Steve wanted it shot, the way that he wanted us to act, the way that it was written on the page; there’s nothing illustrative about it in terms of, “Oh, I get this,” or that we’re illustrating a point or a certain movement of plot. We have these very easily defined ideas of policemen, lawyers, criminals, and crime scenes, and even of New York City. But this story is unique. There are so many different layers, and it’s like, “Wait a minute, I’m not sure what this person wants,” “I’m not sure what this person’s story is.” It’s odd, because the story is distilled in a very real way, but at the same time it’s opaque.
HBO: Box is described in the script as a “subtle beast.” What’s your read on him and did that characterization inform your performance?
Bill Camp: The subtlety is a genuine need to be of service as a policeman. He’s not the kind of guy who’s looking for any kind of recognition from anybody. He just wants to solve the case. He’s a beast in terms of what he knows it takes to find out as much information as he possibly can and to find the real perpetrator. It’s hard for me to say, “subtle beast means this to me,” and this is how I laid it on Dennis Box. It was something that was just in my head all the time. It grew over time and it definitely evolved. And Steve would remind me of it as well when there were places that he felt perhaps I was being too illustrative or too non-committal.
HBO: Is it fair to call Dennis Box a “good cop”?
Bill Camp: It’s so funny, because I often will play creepy guys or mean guys. People I know who have seen the episodes are saying, “It’s so nice. You smile and you’re a nice guy. You’re a good cop.” I think generally, deep down, yes. But after so many years as a homicide cop, after all of the blood, all of the death and all of that stuff you have to go through, I think that’s had an effect on him. Dennis Box has the ability to play both sides of that card. He’s not a super nice guy all the time. It’s that duality in him, where you’re not really sure which side he falls on. This guy lives in death and murder.
HBO: How did you and John Turturro approach your scenes together and establish the bantering familiarity between Dennis Box and John Stone?
Bill Camp: There’s a moment at the vending machine between me and John. Steve saw something at the end that he wanted to get, which was the moment of me walking away from John. His direction to me was — it was the tiniest little thing and it had to do with a certain lightness: “John Stone is a clown.” I remember Steve had a huge smile on his face throughout that whole scene; he thought it was going to be really difficult to do.
John and I have known each other for quite a long time. So we have a history and there’s an ease between us. I love John’s energy. He’s really fun to act with and I think we just fell into it. We never discussed how this was going to be or that was going to be. I think John and I were just instinctually with each other. Really, as long as I stayed within my character, I just followed his lead.
HBO: How did you go about capturing the authentic feel of what happens in a precinct?
Bill Camp: When the scenes are written really great, we as actors try not to mess them up by getting in the way. Steve was such a master at keeping it as simple and as real as possible. You buy into the story and what’s happening. That makes it a real joy to do, because you let the scene take you. When I’m sitting and working with somebody who’s listening, and then if I listen to that person, then I think it works out OK. But really, John and Riz [Ahmed], you know, they made me look good. I think we just vibed.
HBO: In that final scene before Box charges Naz with homicide, what’s behind his taking the inhaler from the crime scene and subsequently handing it over to Naz?
Bill Camp: What do you think? I tend to feel, because it’s me, that he’s being a beast there. It’s such a deliberate thing. He’s not being a nice guy. At the same time, he knows he can always say he’s being a nice guy by doing it. But really? The bottom line is he’s a homicide cop who’s trying to solve a murder.
From creators Steven Zaillian and Richard Price, ‘The Night Of’ is an eight-part limited series that delves into the intricate story of a fictitious murder case in New York City.