EXCLUSIVE: How Quitting Hollywood Led ‘The Night Of’ Star Bill Camp to His First Emmy Nom

Emmys Bill Camp The Night Of
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After nearly quitting acting, Camp sees his career-long commitment pay off with an Emmy nomination for the HBO miniseries.

Longtime stage and screen actor Bill Camp nearly quit Hollywood 15 years ago, citing a distaste for endless auditions and unsatisfying roles. Lured back after a two-year hiatus, Camp has built a steady career of supporting roles in award-winning films -- 12 Years a Slave, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) -- and recurring arcs on Damages, Manhattan and The Leftovers, earning his first-ever Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his work on HBO’s The Night Of.

“It’s been 25 years. And not that this should mark anything, but what it does is it reminds me of all the really awesome people I’ve worked with over all these years and all the stuff that I’ve learned,” Camp tells ET by phone. 

“Something occurred to me the other day and it was just that,” he says, referring to the period in 2002, shortly after he won an Obie Award for Tony Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul, when he was ready to give up acting and, according to the Village Voice, pursue a career as a mechanic. As he puts it: “I had no real intention of getting back into acting. I was actually beginning to pursue another [area] of interest that had nothing to do with performance or anything to do with the business.”

However, a friend eventually convinced Camp to think twice about his decision. “He said, ‘You know, you were probably pretty good at that. Just try it again and maybe you’ll enjoy it more, or maybe it will be different, maybe it will have a different meaning to you,’” Camp recalls.

Back in the game with a renewed interest and a lack of ego (“I’m more teachable and less close-minded about the work”), Camp says he has more clarity and focus when it comes to acting. “The target is doing the best work I can possibly do,” he explains.

Bill Camp as Dennis Box on The Night Of. - HBO

And soon Camp found himself being directed by the likes of Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Michael Mann and Steven Spielberg, who all taught him to be honest in his work. When it came to Stephen Frears, who directed the actor in Tamara Drewe, Camp recalls “him making me feel OK.” Being able to listen and communicate with these directors led him further down the path of strong roles, ultimately landing two standout parts as David Burton on The Leftovers (“It’s just a giant gift I’ve been given,” he says of the show co-created by Damon Lindelof) and Dennis Box on The Night Of.

On the latter, a miniseries about a Pakistani-American college student (Riz Ahmed) accused of murdering a young woman after a night of partying, Camp plays a veteran homicide detective who aggressively investigates the case, pinning it all on one kid only to realize he had it all wrong. And it was on this set where Camp’s years of listening paid off. Having established a dialogue with co-creator and co-director Steven Zaillian, the actor knew exactly what he wanted out of him in the role. “Before I even read the first episode, I had a real understanding [of the character] and I leaned into him in a way that was so engaged. I was so excited when I was given the opportunity,” Camp says.

Not only was The Night Of a critical hit, earning 10 Emmy nominations, it also made the industry take further notice of Camp. “More people know who I am or what I can do,” Camp says, adding: “I’m encouraged by the fact that people liked it so much.” And the attention will only be bolstered by his roles in the Sundance hit Crown Heights, which is in theaters on Aug. 25, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Yorgos Lanthimos’ upcoming psychological thriller starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell.

Indeed, both Camp and his wife, Elizabeth Marvel, who’s had back-to-back scene-stealing roles on House of Cards, Fargo and Homeland, are enjoying what can certainly be considered career highs. “We dance in the living room,” Camp says of their shared success. “We’ve been doing this since a long time ago [and] we take stock in it. We think how lucky we are and that we’re really grateful that we’re still around.”

In fact, it’s made him think about his career, especially the last 15 years, after nearly quitting. “It’s like, ‘Wow, it seems to be working out that I came back to do this’” Camp says, “Not just because of an Emmy or any other kind of deal, [but] because I’ve enjoyed it since coming back a lot. But also how important it was that I did stop.”