Mackenzie Davis, who plays Cameron Howe on AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, discusses the ever-growing rift between Cameron and Donna, how Cameron’s impulsive behavior led to a surprise marriage, and the real motivation behind her late-night visit with Joe.
Q: How surprised were you that Cameron got married? What do you think led to that decision?
A: They told me a while before we started shooting. It was an idea I was interested in, but I couldn’t exactly understand how it made sense for Cameron. Even at the beginning of the season, I was still trying to figure it out. It all kind of came together in the first two episodes for me because of how alienated she was from herself and from her ambitions. Nothing is turning her on, but she’s doing her duty in a surprisingly mature way to be a good partner and a grown-up and pursue this next stage of growth in her company. But it isn’t an idea that moves her. She feels isolated from herself and her success, and it just made sense to me that this was a decision she would jump on – for better or for worse – based on the state that she’s in and what goes down with Bos and her mom in Texas.
Q: Given that she felt isolated, was she just looking to have someone in her corner?
A: I don’t think it was a logical or rational 12-point plan, but I think she was isolated from this thing that she had been chasing. She got the thing that she wanted, and it didn’t feel the same as it felt to dream about it because it requires compromise. Loyalty’s always been an important way for me to understand Cameron, in the sense of trying to find ground to stand on and a family. She has that with the Clarks, with Bos, and she thought she had that with the company, but then those things start to fray a little bit. She’s left searching for where her family is. It’s not her biological family, but it’s this person who loved her and challenged her. The last time she can remember feeling creatively engaged and supported was with Tom.
Q: Cameron is often accused of being impulsive. Is that what this is, or do you think there is true love there?
A: I think it’s both. I don’t think she knows she’s going to do it until she goes to Texas, but I think seeing him is a little more real than she anticipated. [Laughs] Her efforts to put him out of her mind or to not think of him were successful until she got to Texas and re-engaged with him. It could be a terrible decision, but I think he gives such a sense of family and love that she needs at that moment, and it feels like the right decision when she comes back.
Q: There have been fractures in Donna and Cameron’s relationship all season. From Cameron’s point of view, what’s causing them?
A: She pretty clearly thinks that Donna’s ambition can outweigh her integrity sometimes. The way Donna goes about getting things alternately makes Cameron feel safer than she has for the past couple of years of their life together and then just completely betrayed – which is a really hard thing for Cameron to recover from. It’s not business disagreements, but actual underhanded moves – from Cameron’s point of view – that becomes a harder thing to resolve.
Q: Cameron seemed to sense something was off all season, but what is going through her head when Diane confirms that Donna lied in Episode 5?
A: I think she’s pretty stark with her feelings about that betrayal. The actual thing that Donna did is not irrevocably awful, but it’s the act of going behind their partnership and their loyalty to each other to protect who? Why the Swap Meet Guys? Why does she care? Why did she sacrifice the integrity of their relationship for these two wieners that are going to get fired anyway? It’s such a confusing act of betrayal, I think, that it becomes bigger than the act itself.
Q: Why does Cameron move out without telling anyone in Episode 6?
A: I think she just flees. She’s got animal instincts and she doesn’t think things out based on what would hurt other people. I think she finds herself in vulnerable situations and saves herself. She takes care of herself and it makes it a lot easier on Cameron to not have to deal with any of the messy confrontations.
Q: Cameron and Gordon bond over his health issues. What does it mean for Cameron to know that?
A: I think the whole relationship is special because it’s a surprise. It’s not one that either of them actively pursued or expected. They were both just happy to be cordial with each other for the first time in their history, and then it blossoms to them both feeling alienated by Donna. It deepens with them each confiding in the other and exposing themselves to each other. It’s a seminal moment of finding out that you don’t hate this person and it’s an active exchange of privacy and trust. It’s a really nice moment.
Q: Why do you think Cameron goes to Joe to advocate for Gordon?
A: It’s a pretty nice gesture. I think Cameron’s very aware of the power she has over Joe. It’s not all-encompassing – Joe won’t just do what she tells him to do with no questions asked – but I think they both understand that if she’s asking for it and making the effort to be alone with him, then there’s something important at stake. At the same time, as Joe rightfully calls out, she did forget to take off the wedding ring and she did make a point having one of the first people to know about her and Tom’s marriage be the person she can’t really put behind her and who is lurking in the background of her life. I think sometimes our subconscious does the work for us that we need to have done. I think she went with a noble aim, consciously, but an ulterior agenda.
Q: Cameron had a confrontation with Bos in Texas in Episode 5. Why do you think she lashed out at him like that?
A: [Cameron has] a very selfish, immature and underdeveloped emotional state where she’s the one that needs to be made to feel safe. Bos does that for her, generally, and she likes having somebody to look to as a mentor. In that moment, he feels less unconditionally loving, and I think it makes her explode at him. She wants the relationship – like all of her relationships – to be entirely on her terms. In that moment, he makes it on his terms and pushes her in a way that is deeply uncomfortable for her. She tries, in that same animal way, to wound him.
Q: You lived with your cast mates this year. How did it compare to Cameron living with the Clarks?
A: [Laughs] It was really nice. It’s funny to think about it relating to the show. It was a lot less contentious than [Cameron] living at the Clark house. It was lovely to be immersed in the whole thing for the time that we were down there and have wine after work with somebody or make dinner together. It’s nice when you’re away shooting to feel like you have a family or a home life.
Q: Cameron and Donna’s characters have gained recognition as strong women on television. What has that experience been like for you?
A: The nicest thing about it is that it’s a surprise that people are talking about it. The writers never said, “We’re going to do something really revolutionary about two women who are business owners.” They just wrote good characters and we got to play them, but we never had to deconstruct how special it was. It’s only after – when people are talking about it – that you’re like, “Jesus, I feel really insulated from all the sh–ty roles I could be playing right now.” [Laughs] I didn’t put together how lucky we were until it became so notable. I just credit the writers so much for never applauding themselves for writing two human beings who are coincidentally women. They gave them all the struggles, flaws, anxieties and fully-rounded human characteristics that we should expect in all the characters that we watch – female and male.
Q: You’re working on the new Blade Runner movie now. Do you credit this show with where your career is now?
A: Absolutely. I got to be introduced to people by playing this really unusual and interesting woman. The parts that I audition for and read for most often are interesting, complicated women. There aren’t a million of them and I’m sure the older I get, the harder it’s going to be to find those parts, but I think the show gave me access to more interesting parts. I’m so grateful for that.
Halt and Catch Fire airs Tuesdays at 10/9c. Sign up for the Insiders Club to be the first to receive show exclusives.