Actress Camille Balsamo will remember June 9, 2014 as a very special day in her career. First up, the long awaited trailer for the Kickstarter funded, practical effects film Harbinger Down will be released. The film was written and directed by her father Alec Gillis and she will star opposite acting legend Lance Henriksen. On that same day is the series premiere of her new TNT series Murder in the First which stars Taye Diggs and Kathleen Robertson.
The talented actress took time out of her schedule to talk with us about both projects, what it’s like working with her father and why making your own path instead of waiting to make it in the business is the way to go.
Pop Culture Principle – How did you become involved with the Harbinger Down project?
Camille Balsamo – Well, my dad is actually Alec Gillis who is the writer and director of the movie. He has known that I wanted to act since I was 9 years old. Both he and my mom said that I had to stay in school and that I really couldn’t pursue acting until I finished college. So, I graduated college and moved back to Los Angeles where I grew up and started taking classes, auditioning and making my own little projects here and there. When the opportunity presented itself to do a Kickstarter, of course he enlisted my help and I was more than happy to participate so that we could get the project off the ground. It’s been a dream come true for us. We’ve wanted to work together on a movie for fifteen years.
Pop Culture Principle – Can you tell us what Harbinger Down is about?
Camille Balsamo – Lance plays Captain Graff and I convince him to pull up something that I noticed the Beluga whales seemed to be interested in. It turns out to be a piece of Soviet wreckage that contains some thing, some creature that has mutated and is able to change shape and starts to terrorize the ship and its passengers.
Pop Culture Principle – What can you tell us about your character Sadie?
Camille Balsamo – Sadie lost her parents to the sea when she was younger. Captain Graff is basically all the family that she has left. He sees that she is here with her research team and that she is definitely smart and capable, but isn’t really stepping up and taking a position of leadership. She is allowing herself to be walked all over by her professor. So, Captain Graff encourages Sadie to step up and take things into her own hands. He wants to see her empowered and not be taken advantage of, but unfortunately in doing so, she unleashes this horrible monster.
Pop Culture Principle – Harbinger Down is being promoted as a practical effects film. As an actor, how much more effective is it working with practical effects creatures than CGI creatures?
Camille Balsamo – There is no comparison. I always think about how Joey Tribbiani on Friends described acting which for some reason was a huge joke when Joey kept saying acting is reacting. Everyone would laugh, but I was always confused because to me that’s what acting is, at least most of it. I think Joey Tribbiani would say it’s nearly impossible to act off of something that isn’t there. It is better for the viewers because they would rather see these tactile, really living creatures that exist in the real world, not just on computers. Not only is it better for them in that regard, but it’s better for them because they get better performances from the actors. If it’s more lifelike and the threat seems more real, it’s going to be scarier and that’s what people want to see.
Pop Culture Principle – What was it like working with first time director Alec Gillis?
Camille Balsamo – He was just a natural. He was a great leader who had a very specific vision which is really important. He also was willing to listen to other good ideas. On set, he kept quoting his mentor Stan Winston who always said a good idea can come from anywhere. So, he had a nice, healthy combination of being very clear sighted and focused as well as collaborative which is the key to filmmaking. It’s not just one guy in a room with a camera, it’s a team.
Pop Culture Principle – Did you have much input with your character?
Camille Balsamo – No, not really. In fact, I guess it was a little frustrating for me at first because I thought that maybe Sadie was a little too weak, but I think that is her character arc. She has to learn how to become strong. It’s kind of interesting to me because I usually don’t play those more passive characters. If I had my way with it, Sadie might have been strong off the bat, but wouldn’t have had any character arc. It’s not as fun if you don’t have a journey to follow.
Pop Culture Principle – What was it like working with Lance Henriksen?
Camille Balsamo – Lance is just a legend. Not only as an actor, but beyond that he’s so humble and gracious. He really knows his stuff and it’s a lesson in itself to work with him in a scene. I remember the first day of filming. This shoot was more of a family affair and we didn’t have big fancy trailers. We had two little green rooms for the cast where they could prepare for their scenes and hangout throughout the day. One of them had Lance’s name on it and everyone else had the other one. On the first day, he tore down the sign that said his dressing room and put one up that said everyone’s dressing room. He would strike up a conversation with anyone and would be generally interested and would ask people questions. I think that is such a rare thing to maintain, especially for someone who has had as much success as he has. I have nothing but warm fuzzy feelings for him.
Pop Culture Principle – Even though Harbinger Down is considered a low budget film, do you think it’s going to surprise many people when it’s released?
Camille Balsamo – I know that the fans have high expectations for it, which they should because we’ve been talking big game about what we can deliver as far as practical effects go. I think what everyone will be pleasantly surprised about is how good the story is and how good the performances are. What was really important to everyone was to create a world that was realistic and characters that people really could connect to. I don’t think they will be disappointed. It’s going to be a fun monster movie, but it will also be a good movie, monsters aside.
Pop Culture Principle – There was a big event recently at Monsterpolooza for Harbinger Down. What was it like at that convention?
Camille Balsamo – Our panel started at 10am, but Monsterpolooza didn’t officially begin until 11am. We were thinking there would be more people on stage than in the audience. We got there at 9:30 and the line was already out the door. The entire auditorium was jam packed. Some of our crew that showed up to see the trailer couldn’t even get in. It was such a tremendous show of support and everyone seemed to react really well to what they saw on screen.
Pop Culture Principle – You also have another new project that you are working on called Murder in the First. Can you tell us about that project?
Camille Balsamo – I’m so excited to be a part of this project. It’s created by Steven Boccho who created LA Law and NYPD Blue. He sort of is the father of the modern day cop show. It’s so amazing to work with people who know that genre so well, but who are also trying to take new steps for the genre. This specific series has a couple of departures from the norm. One being that it follows one crime over the course of the entire season. One murder sets off a string of other crimes and the whole season is devoted to figuring out who the culprit is. It’s a bit like True Detective in that regard. Murder in the First is on TNT, so it will be a little less risqué. Hopefully it will be just as exciting and riveting with good characters. The stories for all the main characters happen naturally and organically, nothing feels forced. I would also say it’s like Game of Thrones in that there are a ton of characters that you really feel for, which is difficult to do, but I think they will have success.
Pop Culture Principle – Can you tell us about your character Kami Keefer?
Camille Balsamo – She is the computer forensic s specialist in the homicide department. So I get to use a lot of big words that I don’t even understand. I do a lot of research between episodes.
Pop Culture Principle – How tech savvy are you in real life?
Camille Balsamo – I would say on the scale of normal level of tech savvy, I am on the high end. I still have to do my research to figure out exactly what I am saying on the show. I do tend to play brainy characters and I think I am pretty good at handling the brainy stuff.
Pop Culture Principle – Murder in the First has an amazing cast with Taye Diggs, Kathleen Robertson and Tom Felton to name a few. What’s it like working with the cast?
Camille Balsamo – First of all, everyone in the cast, the crew and the creators of the show are so welcoming and friendly. When I was filming Harbinger Down, I was thinking that I would never have this amazing of an experience again because this is a bunch of family and close friends who are filming together. I went to Murder in the First to film my first episode and low and behold, the same thing was happening there except with more cameras and bigger sets. I don’t know if everyone is so excited about the project or the fact that they have put together a team of amazing people, which they definitely have. I just never felt so at home on such a big, exciting project.
Kathleen and Taye have taken me under their wings in a sense that they know I am starting out and that I get nervous with all this crazy dialogue. They are just so kind and so helpful and put me at ease. I just feel so lucky.
Pop Culture Principle – Any other upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
Camille Balsamo – I’m definitely focused on Murder in the First and having fun with that. I actually just finished up a short film that Reid Collums, who plays one of the fishermen in Harbinger Down, he wrote a short film. We pulled a little bit of money together and acted in it. We just finished filming it and we are now working on editing the film. I’m glad I learned the lesson that I did early on in my career. You just have to do make your own things. You can’t wait for the phone to ring with an opportunity. I am so glad I was chosen to be part of Murder in the First, but the odds were against me. For every one of those jobs, there are one hundred that I don’t get. It’s just empowering as an actor and a filmmaker to not have to wait around for the phone to ring and sort of take your destiny in your own hands. It’s also valuable to try and learn something about other roles within the process.
We would like to thank Camille for taking the time to talk with us. If you would like to keep up with Camille and her career, please check out the links below!