GQ’s Scott Meslow sits down with David Tennant, Brett Gelman, and Arturo Del Puerto—and occasionally manages to keep them on track.
Camping star David Tennant bounces into a room in Beverly Hills, where the rest of us are waiting for him. He’s fresh off a cross-country flight from New York Comic-Con —balancing a mug of coffee that’s centimeters away from spilling over—and he’ll be on a plane back to the United Kingdom tomorrow. But in this moment, it’s like I’m suddenly witnessing a long-awaited family reunion. “My brothers!” he cheers when he sees costars Brett Gelman and Arturo Del Puerto, wrapping each of them up in a bear hug.
It’s a near-perfect recreation of a scene that happens in the first episode of HBO’s Camping, which premieres on Sunday, and I wonder if it’s for the benefit of me, the guy who has been tasked with writing about what it’s like to hang out with the guys of Camping. But it quickly becomes obvious that if I wasn’t in the room—occasionally managing to steer the conversation back on track—these dudes would happily sit around gabbing and roasting each other all day.
On Camping, Tennant plays Walter, a milquetoast American who lives in the shadow of his high-strung wife (Jennifer Garner). It’s a role that could hardly be more different than Tennant himself—a gregarious Scot who routinely breaks into explosive eruptions of laughter. “I’ve never done anything like this before. It’s not the sort of thing I get offered. I have no idea why they thought of me! I’m slightly befuddled,” he laughs.
Brett Gelman, playing Walter’s unpredictable buddy George, had the surreal experience of auditioning for a role that was specifically written with him in mind, in which he’d be acting opposite his real-life wife Janicza Bravo. “Imagine if you’d not been chosen as the best person to play yourself,” says Tennant. “It happens!” Gelman says. “You write with people in mind. And then they come and do it and they’re terrible.”
Arturo Del Puerto—best known for his arc as Luis Flores on AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead—plays Miguel, a man recently separated from his wife, who falls head over heels for an unpredictable free spirit (Juliette Lewis). He had to audition for his role, and didn’t even receive a full script in advance. (“We’re not all as fancy as Mr. David Tennant!” he teases, putting on his poshest accent.)
It’s clear that, when casting, a large part of what creators Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner were looking for was genuine, lived-in chemistry. The series is set on the weekend of Walter’s 45th birthday, but Walter, George, and Miguel are supposed to have been best friends since college. This kind of casting is “always a gamble,” says Tennant. “We could have all hated each other,” says Gelman. But for three actors who had literally never met prior to production, they do an admirable job acting like they’ve been buddies since for decades—maybe because they instantly became such fast friends on set.
Unfortunately, the fun these guys had goofing around on Camping—swimming, hiking, playing flag football—didn’t translate into a love for real-life camping for any of them. “Whilst hotels persist, I’m happy to defer to them,” says Tennant. Gelman jumps in. “Go into the wilderness during the day! Romp in the woods! Hike in the desert! Go back to the hotel at night!” And the cast didn’t exactly go method for Camping. They describe the set as a mobile paradise of hot coffee and craft service, and—most importantly—getting paid to crouch in a tent or wade into a lake. “And at the end of the day, we went back to showers and beds,” says Tennant.
But that didn’t mean the forces of the wilderness left the cast and crew of Camping alone. The production ended up employing a full-time rattlesnake wrangler, who was literally there to grab wayward snakes, using a pair of tongs, and dump them into a plastic bucket before they could slither onto the set. “He got four or five during the shoot,” says Tennant. Del Puerto raises his eyebrows: “Oh, he got way more than that. He told me one day he caught, like, 20.” Gelman: “He told me 10.” Del Puerto: “Yeah, he told you 10. Because he probably found 30.”
This is the kind of good-natured bullshitting that defines the best scenes of Camping, when the old friends slip away to crack jokes, drink flavored bubbly water, and debate subjects both serious and ridiculous. One episode features a fishing expedition that offers the longest, tightest interaction between Camping’s dudes. Here, the guys were on slightly surer footing: All three grew up taking the occasional fishing trip (though Del Puerto, on regular childhood trips to Ibiza, is the only one who can boast of hunting ink-squirting octopi with a speargun).
But—at this point inevitably—our conversation about fishing quickly segues into a tangential story about Tennant’s boyhood as an amateur Loch Ness Monster hunter in Scotland. “I thought, I’m going to be the one who sees it,” says Tennant. “I’m going to be the one. I used to study the Loch Ness Monster and read books about it.”
Gelman: “How old were you when you decided, Okay, the Loch Ness Monster doesn’t exist?“
Tennant: “Quite recently! I was holding out hope.” He sighs. “But the weight of scientific evidence seems to be very much against it.”
In a conversation this cheerfully aimless, the best I can do is follow the guys of Camping into the untamed wilderness of freewheeling conversation. So I decide to join them. I pick up my coffee cup, take a long sip, and toss out the first of the two questions that inspire so much debate between Camping’s characters: Who is the best James Bond?
“Sean Connery. The epitome of James Bond,” says Del Puerto, quickly and definitively.
“I don’t know. Moore is so entertaining,” says Gelman.
“I love them all. I find great joy in all of them,” says Tennant, earnest and diplomatic.
On further reflection, Gelman finally agrees that Connery belongs at the top; Tennant decides to abstain, leaving the group without a final answer.
“Come on!” says Del Puerto, and it’s clear that we could easily spend another hour sitting around and debating this very important subject.
But we’re nearly out of time, so I pivot to the other big debate the pops up in Camping: What is the worst cookie?
Del Puerto: “Oatmeal raisin. That shouldn’t be a cookie.”
Gelman: “I don’t hate oatmeal raisin, but it is the worst cookie. Profoundly disappointing.”
Tennant nods in agreement. Finally, a consensus we can all get behind.