'Camping' Star Arturo Del Puerto on How 'Swimming Against the Current' Made His Career (Exclusive)

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HBO

Arturo Del Puerto didn't always want to be an actor. 

The Camping star was born to a Puerto Rican mother and Spanish father and was raised in Madrid. "I wanted to be a professional tennis player when I grew up. I practiced for hours every day. I wanted to be like Rafael Nadal," he told ET with a laugh. "How did I decide to shift from tennis to acting? I mean, it was pretty simple. I knew I wasn't going to make it as a tennis player."

Del Puerto scored his first acting gig by chance when he was just 14 years old. "The producer of the commercial actually hired my brother," he confessed. "But the shot was below the knees. We were supposed to be roller skating and fall, and then put on a Band-Aid, but my brother, his legs were too hairy, so they ended up hiring me." 

By age 18, Del Puerto was acting in theater productions in Spain. "In the beginning, it was a little rough, because everybody, all my uncles and aunts, everybody, kind of wanted me to follow the traditional life -- go to college, get a career. But I realized very, very early that I never wanted to have a 9 to 5 job sitting at a desk," he recalled. "At the beginning, I really had to fight for it, which is great, because nothing that comes easy is worth it." 

"I really had to go against the current like a salmon, swimming against the current," he added. 

Del Puerto later came to the U.S., where he's since landed roles in shows like Fear the Walking Dead and Chicago P.D., and films like Ride Along 2 and Independence Day: Resurgence. It's his most recent part as Miguel, a "regular dude" in HBO's Camping, however, that he credits for marking the next chapter in his career. Like co-stars Jennifer Garner and David Tennant, who previously opened to ET about playing against type, Del Puerto's role in Camping was a new one for him -- and especially satisfying. 

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HBO

"I normally get to play like, drug dealers or the stereotypical Latino character, either very low class, or just a killer, which obviously, I'm not a murderer," he chuckled. "It is fun to play those characters that are so far away from me... but it was really, really rewarding to be able to play a character that just had everyday problems." 

"Oh my god, I was literally jumping for joy in my backyard when I got the news," he confessed of his reaction to his casting. "That was the best news I've ever gotten in my life about a job. I was so excited to be a part of the cast, and working with [creators] Lena [Dunham] and Jenni [Konner] and HBO. Kind of all the stars aligned together of all the things that I ever wanted to be a part of it, and it happened."

ET: You and the rest of the rest seem to have such great chemistry, especially you and Juliette Lewis. How did you guys create that bond? 

Arturo Del Puerto: We had two weeks of rehearsal, which is very unusual, and very satisfying to have as an actor, because we kind of got to bond during those two weeks, and we hit it off right away... With such an ensemble of great actors, it was something that made me really, really happy to see that we could all just be personable with each other, and trust each other. I'm glad that you say it translated on screen because we did get along very, very well. 

Was there a lot of improvising going on? 

We made sure that we had what was written first, and then there's always a little room for improvisation. You've got great comedians and great actors working in the show, so it was actually, it was really like a breath of fresh air, to feel like we can play around and still be in a safe environment. But we first got what was written on the page, and made sure that whoever was directing the episode, and Jenni and Lena were always happy with what we got first, and then we got to play around a little bit, which was really fun. 

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HBO

The show is called Camping, but I heard you weren't exactly roughing it on set. 

Well, you know, it's not like we were shooting Naked and Afraid, or something like that (Laughs). There's always craft services around, and cold drinks and plenty of food. There's breakfast and there's breakfast before breakfast. And before lunch, there's a snack, and then there's brunch, and then there's a snack. And then we had our trailers with AC, and then at night, we got to go home and sleep in our warm beds and then go back to the wilderness. Most of the problems were the rattlesnakes. We had a wrangler named Marco that just walked around the perimeter finding rattlesnakes and not telling us, obviously, because he told us that he found 10 rattlesnakes in one day, we would probably freak out. So that was the most challenging part of it because really, the grounds were really well equipped in terms of comfort for us. 

You grew up in Spain -- what were your camping experiences like? 

I never really went camping that much in Spain. I went more to the beach... but we have this house in Yauco, in the mountains of Puerto Rico, that we, during Christmas, we go for a weekend or three days, with 40 members of this family. And the house has like two bedrooms, so we got to camp all over the grounds. So I guess that was my only memory of a kid of camping, just camping around the house. But I'm telling you in the mountains, not like in your backyard of your house in Los Angeles, you know? (Laughs) Like, you're still in the mountains, you're here in the wilderness. And we make a pig on a stick, which is a family tradition, so I think camping was something we more did in Puerto Rico. 

What does your family think of your career? 

At first, they were a little disappointed, because I was always a straight-A student. I had no problem in school or anything, so they were like, 'Oh my gosh, he's going to waste so much talent. What a waste!' ... Now everybody's super proud. My mom is like, she walks around like a peacock (Laughs)

Back to the show, we've seen Miguel already making waves with his relationship with Jandice (Lewis). What can you tease for the rest of the season? 

The first episode was just a little crazy, so it's going to get way more complicated and way crazier. It's going to get wacky. There's going to be tension. There's going to be fights, there's going to be a lot of fun guest stars coming too, that are going to stir the pot also. There's going to be some drugs involved. Well, sex, already. A lot of sex involved. And yeah, just all of us just getting at it, that kind of thing. 

You've done some films lately, and obviously TV with Camping. What's up next for you? 

Well, I'm actually doing a TV show right now for Apple TV called For All Mankind, created by Ronald D. Moore, and yeah, it's super great. I play a janitor back in the '60s, and I'm doing an episode of Superstore now too, that I'm shooting today and tomorrow.

Hopefully HBO, and this show, Camping, opens doors for me to play the characters that I think I was born to play, just complicated human beings with dark but also light. And hopefully I also get to work with the directors that I always wanted to work with, like Christopher Nolan and Alejandro G. Inarritu... but hopefully [Camping] will be another stepping stone in my career, because I think this show, HBO is the platform to work. They set the standard for what Netflix and Amazon and all these news platforms are doing. HBO created that kind of TV, taking those risks and putting stories out there that are not easy to tell, or characters that are not easy to watch. But if you tell them truthfully enough, then people will connect to that story.

Camping airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO. 

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