Mackenzie Davis, who plays Cameron Howe on AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, discusses how Cameron handles professional failure, the end or her marriage, and her complicated relationship with Joe.
Q: Did shooting this season feel any different knowing that it was the final chapter?
A: I felt a bit more present and sentimental. Everything felt like the last “first time” for everything. There was the concern of wanting to chart this character towards an ending that felt more urgent, for me, than seasons where I was along for the ride. It put a bit of pressure on me. [Laughs] It was like, “What does this mean? Where’s she going? What’s she going to do? Is she going to be OK at the end?” instead of going with the flow, which is normally the way I engage with it. It was both nice and stressful.
A: I think it was sort of an open secret. Tom would have to be really limited to not pick up that something had shifted drastically between them. For Cameron, I think a lot of this season is about trying to do things differently and not live in this cycle of making the same mistakes and expecting different results. She’s trying to engage with her life in a way that undoes her habits and cycles. She’s peddled in secrets and autonomy and the right to have a life that nobody gets to know about for most of her life. Her telling Tom and owning what she did was a big part of her trying to not create this sanctuary of mystery for herself.
Q: As a result, she works from Tokyo, which puts strain on the browser project and her relationship with Joe. While we mostly see that frustration from Joe’s side, why do you think Cameron was hesitant/sluggish to complete the project?
A: She loves Joe, but also recognizes that staying attached to this group of people and this person across the world while she’s repairing her marriage and making great sacrifices to repair her marriage is lunacy and really hurtful for Tom. I imagine it was sort of a clause of their reunification that she wouldn’t be in constant contact with these people, but it’s proven to be such a temptation for her.
Q: Despite all the tension, we see that Gordon isn’t nearly as upset with Cameron, and even lets her crash at his place. How would you describe the relationship they have formed over the years?
A: I think they’ve grown into their senior years together. They both fought a lot in their adolescent time in their relationship and slowly met again as adults later on. Finally, they’re in this senior period of just acceptance. Grievances change a lot when you age. Things that were egregious and unforgivable when you were 20 become just part of a long history. Gordon knows that. Cameron is starting to feel time having passed by with enough years and things aren’t quite as shocking and painful to her as they would have been in the past. I think both of them are meeting at this place of “You f—ked up. I f—ked up. Let’s get over it.”
Q: Where’s Cameron at with Donna? Have her feelings changed in the years that have passed?
A: I think she’s just over it. She’s had a whole other life in Tokyo that nobody knows about and a divorce. Too much of her life has passed. She’s no longer ruminating on the events of the past.
Q: Cameron’s conversation with Joe in Episode 1 inspires him to pick up the web indexing idea. What do you think it is about them that allows these ideas to spark?
A: I think they are very complementary in their abilities and personal assets. Joe’s great ability is learning what a thing can be and how to use the thing and seeing the potential. Cameron’s great ability is about connectivity and a more technical aspect. They complement each other. Each holds a very unique gift of their own, but together, they complete this master puzzle. They can say something to each other in passing that ignites this thought pattern that was maybe dormant before.
Q: Meanwhile, Cameron’s new game Pilgrim is being met with lukewarm response in focus groups. How is Cameron handling this first taste of commercial failure?
A: I don’t think her ego is ever not fragile, but she’s in a particularly fragile place right now. She’s living in a hotel on the outskirts of a town she used to have a thriving business in. She’s single, she’s not talking to any of her friends, she’s living in the shadows. I think she really had all of her eggs in Pilgrim’s basket as this thing that could redeem her. She’s had a ton of failures – professional and romantic – and the one thing that everybody could agree on was that she was a prescient genius. To have that not be confirmed by the focus groups or people she’s working with is not only a professional failure but it’s a wake-up about her own mortality. She’s not connecting with the youth all of a sudden. She’s getting older and lost her youth and this prodigy status.
Q: Why do you think Cameron decides to tell Joe that Tom left her when she did? Is she feeling vulnerable about the game and wanting to connect with someone?
A: Yeah, [she’s] wanting to connect, wanting to be taken care of. [She has] this person who she has a complicated history with reaching out to her and offering kindness at a time she feels very alone. I think, ultimately, it’s like a survival thing. You’re drowning so you jump to the nearest lifeboat, and the nearest lifeboat is Joe.
Q: What does it mean to Cameron that Joe is willing to talk to her on the phone all day and night?
A: I think what’s lovely about that whole conversation is that it’s the first time they’re introducing themselves to each other. They’re having a first date that they never had. On their first date, they argued in an arcade, had sex in the back room and then she worked for his company in a dungeon in the basement. They’ve never done these “first date” things. They’re really juvenile in a really charming way. “What do you believe? What’s out there? What was your childhood like?” It’s like, “This is who I am. Who are you?”
Q: By the end of the episode, Joe asks the loaded question: Do you know what you want? Does Cameron even know the answer to that?
A: I don’t think she knows. I think something really beautiful grows between Joe and Cameron. Over the course of Episode 2, the foundation is laid for them to explore that. I think she’s in a place in her life where she needs somebody to show her some love and Joe is doing that in a way that is very new. I don’t know if her next steps are completely unselfish or thought-out. They feel a bit like she’s trying to survive
Q: Do you have any memories of the last days of shooting you can share?
A: It was emotional. A lot of the people on the show – the crew, makeup and hair people, the camera department – I’ve worked with since the pilot. Everybody felt thankful for this show, but even more than that, the opportunity to spend this time together in this beautiful working relationship. I felt really thankful and emotional when it ended.
Q: How would you sum up this experience and what it has meant to you?
A: I feel extremely grateful and indebted to the show and people I got to work with. I really grew up on this show, and I can’t imagine I’ll get a chance to have another experience like this. It’s the experience by which I’ll judge my future ones because it was so full of love and so special.
Read a Q&A with Lee Pace, who plays Joe MacMillan.
Halt and Catch Fire airs Saturdays at 9/8c on AMC. To stay up-to-date with all the latest Halt and Catch Fire news, sign up for the Members Only Club.Read More