“I went into the project telling my wife, ‘I hope I’m not fired.’ The last thing I was worried about was being nominated for an Emmy,” Cameron Britton tells ET.
The 32-year-old, 6-foot-5 actor is the breakout star of Mindhunter, executive produced and directed by David Fincher, on which he portrays real-life serial killer Ed Kemper. On the Netflix series, Kemper is one of several convicted sequence murderers that FBI Agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) interviews in an attempt to profile these killers in the early days of criminal psychology.
Relatively new to screen work, the budding actor cut his teeth on the stage after moving to Los Angeles with a desire to be the next Jim Carrey. “I used to be quite long and thin like him,” Britton says of wanting to make it big in comedy. But over the years, he started taking on more and more serious roles, leading to a handful of episodes of TV before he auditioned for Mindhunter. “Jumping straight from that into working with David -- I was worried, because of all those takes, that I wouldn’t be able to keep up,” Britton says, referring to Fincher’s penchant for filming many, many takes.
However, in just a handful of scenes spread out over three episodes, Britton makes an indelible impression on both Ford and the audience alike, earning him his first-ever Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for channeling the darkest and creepiest characteristics of Kemper, who murdered 10 people before he was arrested.
“I feel like I had to give a bit of myself up to play Ed. I had to be a little willing to be honest with the darkest corners of myself,” Britton says about getting into a character that became hard to let go of -- especially when he went months between filming scenes. “When you’re enjoying acting, your body wants to create more endorphins because it gets addicted to those dark thoughts.”
What intrigued Britton most about the character was that Kemper is “a small-town, down-to-earth dude and yet he speaks incredibly formally and with a lot of poise,” he says, adding: “It’s my favorite dialogue ever. There’s so much packed into one sentence and many different ways to take it.”
While he was put through the ringer of doing at least 15 takes in a row and had to overcome his nerves, Britton made the most of his time on set as an actor, pushing the limits of his acting experience. “I’d never quite reached that level of character work before. I’d never -- onstage or onscreen -- really connected to a character in such a big way.”
Moving forward, Britton feels like he’s raised the bar in terms of performance and what he can deliver, which will only continue to rise with each new, high-profile project. Since appearing on Mindhunter, the actor has landed a small recurring role on HBO’s Barry, as well as a part in Claire Foy’s The Girl in the Spider's Web. The film, a follow-up to Fincher’s The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo, sees the actor playing a computer expert and close associate of Lisbeth (Foy).
His other major project is the new Netflix series The Umbrella Academy, which is an adaptation of the comic book series of the same name about a dysfunctional family of superheroes. On the star-studded show, which features Ellen Page and Tom Hopper, Britton plays an assassin, Hazel, who spends much of his time with Cha-Cha, played by Mary J. Blige.
“It’s the wildest,” Britton says of meeting the singer-turned-Oscar-nominated actress. He was initially star-struck, but within a few days of shooting, he says the two became the best of buds on set, hanging out together between takes. “Mary doesn’t want to be treated as Mary J. Blige, she just wants to be Mary.”
While he’s not worried about typecasting -- at least when it comes to only getting serial killer parts -- Britton is surprised that so many of the interesting roles that have come across his plate are for characters in their 40s or 50s. “Maybe it’s something about Ed,” he muses.
The 70th Primetime Emmy Awards, co-hosted by Saturday Night Live’s Colin Jost and Michael Che, will air live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Monday, Sept. 17, starting at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on NBC. Check out the full list of nominees and ET’s ongoing Emmy coverage here.