11 October, 2021
Actor Christian Camargo is known for playing some pretty scary dudes. He’s probably best known as Rudy from the first season of Dexter but most recently, he stars in the indie Witch Hunt, portraying a menacing witch hunter in a modern-day America where witches are real and witchcraft is illegal.
Part psychological thriller, part social commentary (particularly on immigration), the story revolves around Claire (Gideon Adlon), a teenager whose mother (Elizabeth Mitchell) hides wayward witches in their home until they can get across the Mexican border to find asylum. Claire must face her own demons and prejudices when she helps two young girls escape, just as the witch hunter comes for them.
ScreenPicks spoke with Camargo about his knack for charismatic villains, working with first-time writer/director Elle Callahan – and paying homage to the Ice Truck Killer from Dexter.
ScreenPicks: Witch Hunt is a very interesting concept. What did think about it when you read the script?
Christian Camargo: I felt the same. It’s a really nice piece of social commentary, the parallels to today, wrapped up in an accessible genre that people seem to like. The Salem Witch Trials were how long ago? But not much has changed. It's just changed now on gender, the two colors of skin to other things. That’s what witches have always been. It wasn't just about women with magical powers, it was women wanting to do things differently. My grandfather was Mexican American and dealt with all of that, his family. So I felt like it was when I when I, when I realized what [writer/director] Elle [Callahan] was doing, I was like, yeah, I'll do whatever you need.
ScreenPicks: But you have to play the witch hunter…
Camargo: I know. I always play bad guys, but I don't mind. To be honest, the bad guy generally gets the point across first before anyone else. What it is we are seeing, so let’s go for it.
ScreenPicks: What kind of research did you do?
Camargo: I didn't have to do too much of that because it is still so much part of our culture and storytelling. I come from the theater background, and there's so many stories about the Salem Witch Trials and those periods of time. There are a lot of archetypes that fit into that kind of character.
Every story has to take one side and it’s hard to show both sides to an issue. I do think that the immigration problem in the US is way more complicated than a lot of people can understand. However, the treatment of people remains the same. America sometimes misses the point or fails a little bit on how to treat people equally, which is what is one of the tenants of our country. I know a lot of examples and you can see all sorts of characters that really have demonized “the other” as I call it. I feel like the any story that can shed light on how unhealthy that is is worth telling. Because we are all “the other.”
I just wish more people read and understood history because if you did, you'd realize that this happens all the time. Happens all throughout history. There is an opportunity for us to learn and that's what's great about storytellers like Elle and others who choose to take very accessible genres and inject social commentary into it. Get us to wake up a little bit.
ScreenPicks: What was it like working with Elle Callahan, especially this being her feature debut?
Camargo: She was so confident and quiet and collaborative -- and the mixture of those three things were a dream to work with. She is someone who has actually done their work on the script and knows what she wants to see visually. To know the feeling and texture of the movie that she want. She gave also gave us great latitude, to let us find it. Playing this guy in Witch Hunt, there's not much on the page for this character, but I think that was on purpose. Elle didn't want to have much of a backstory on him, so I just sort of played with it, had fun with it and actually decided I wanted him to have fun. I think he just enjoyed torturing people. There are those kinds of people that just think that they are righteous and that they know better than “the other” and really enjoy their stubborn ignorance. I just decided I wanted to believe in this this up-and-coming director and really do whatever she wanted, and she let me do my thing. I want to work with her again.
ScreenPicks: Speaking of playing charismatic villains, you were so good in Dexter. Do you still get recognized for that?
Camargo: I do and it's amazing that it still holds relevance, as far as the story goes, right? I'm proud of it because again, that was the first season of Dexter. No one knew what was going to happen to that show and there's a certain freedom that comes with that when you are performer because you're not feeling the stress. There's not that huge intimidation of like, “Oh, this is a big, big show. You're coming in on it and it better be good.” So I brought a kind of lightness and sardonic humor to that character as well which wasn't necessarily on the page, you know? They let me collaborate and made him more of an enjoyable demon to watch.
Also, the complexity of psychological states is always of interest to me. And I slightly made an homage to Rudy in Witch Hunt because I don't really play baddies like that anymore. I mean, I'm doing the series See on Apple TV+ and we think my character is pretty maniacal. But then he has a real turnaround in the show. As for playing baddies, I really don’t do that much anymore, so for Witch Hunt, it’s kind of a final cap to the journey, a wink and a nod to the old Dexter fans. I knew this movie was going to come out during the Dexter reboot [on Showtime] Like what if Rudy came back as an immigration officer? [laughs]
ScreenPicks: I actually wanted to talk to you quickly about See. I haven’t had a chance to watch it, but it looks intriguing to me.
Camargo: Yeah, it's really quite a unique project, with some great talent behind it, like creator Steven Knight, who did Peaky Blinders and director Francis Lawrence, who did Hunger Games. Just an amazing group. The story set in the future hundreds of years in the future where humanity goes through this virus, and most of the people died. The ones that left are left without sight. Everyone's blind and having sight is basically demonized as the reason why everyone was killed. Having sight is a really bad thing, and then these two children are born with sight. They're considered witches and there's a witch hunter -- and this is hysterical because I'm also the witch hunter in this. Jason Momoa, Alfre Woodard, a great cast. I feel lucky to be working through these strange times.
Check out Witch Hunt, playing in theaters now!