If you’re of a certain generation, Ione Skye will once and forever by Diane Court from Say Anything.
But you can currently catch Skye opposite Jennifer Garner in the new HBO series Camping. Skye’s Carleen is sweet and a bit of a pushover, who’s treated terribly by both her alcoholic boyfriend, Joe (Chris Sullivan), and her controlling, demanding sister Kathryn (Garner).
But that’s starting to change as Carleen is re-discovering her backbone. Paste recently had the chance to chat with the multi-talented Skye (she’s written a children’s book and you can find her artwork at her website) about Camping, what’s next for Carleen, and what it’s like to star in one of the most beloved teen movies of all time. [Editor’s note: The following has been lightly edited for clarity and length.]
Paste: You’ve done TV before, including your memorable guest arc on Arrested Development, but this is only your second series regular role. Why Camping?
Ione Skye: It’s just so well written… I love [executive producer and writer] Lena Dunham’s writing and I love [executive producer] Jenni Konner and I love Girls very much, and this character was kind of fascinating. It was definitely sort of a challenge. I did a lot of homework on this character, more than any I’ve ever done, because I didn’t quite know who she was and I really wanted to go for it and make her sort of strange.
Paste: And did you like the opportunity to play the same character for eight episodes?
Skye: I would have been happy if it was an even longer run, because whenever there’s a good quality show and good writing and good character, unless you are sick of working, I think for any actor they would love to do it. I was really excited to work a lot.
Paste: What kind of homework did you do to prepare?
Skye: I studied a lot of comedic actresses, like Jennifer Coolidge, Julie Hagerty, SNL, Catherine O’Hara. I really studied these brilliant women who played these “taking things literally” type characters. I also realized I have a lot of Carleen in me—this kind of child-like love of people, loving Holly Hobbie and Little House on the Prairie and all things kind of quant and simple and nice like that.
Paste: One thing that’s hard for me as a viewer is Carleen’s relationship with her boyfriend Joe who is just so awful to her in these early episodes.
Skye: Carleen is a hospice worker, a caregiver with her sister and kind of an enabler. I’ve done that in my life, like the time I dated a drug addict. Nowadays it would be not for me at all, but at one point in my life, I had a boyfriend who was a drug addict. It’s such a weird, easy hook to get caught up in. When they’re doing well, you feel good, and when they’re not, you’re worried. A lot of people get caught up in that dynamic. It becomes a very destructive relationship. From the outside, it looks like, “Why are you with them?” but when you’re in it, you get locked into this weird dynamic with people sometimes—especially romances.
Paste: Her relationship with her sister Kathryn is also a tough one. Kathryn is so dismissive of her.
Skye: When they were kids, Kathryn was probably the star of the family, and then she had all of these emotionally based health issues and became kind of more controlling and neurotic as she got older. I do notice with siblings that get locked into whatever role you had as a kid, it’s sometimes hard to break out of the roles. Carleen doesn’t know what to do except to be good and nice to her, but as it goes on that is also kind of breaking apart.
Paste: Joe is played by Chris Sullivan, who also stars on This Is Us. Do you watch that show?
Skye: My husband [Ben Lee] loves that show, and he’s friends with Mandy Moore. My husband loves heartfelt shows like that. I was so impressed with Chris on that show and we were so curious about who would be cast in the role of Joe, because it’s a really hard role to play. Joe is such a jerk, I think they had to cast someone who was so likable. Some of the people I did screen tests with, when they read it, Joe seemed so awful. Chris is so nice inside, and I think it just helps. He really rode this amazing line of vulnerable and needy. He played a wounded person so well.
Paste: We are starting to see a bit of a shift in Carleen as she’s beginning to stand up to both her sister and her boyfriend.
Skye: You’ll see the arc of her relationship with Joe and how she becomes healthier and healthier. She kind of becomes expansive. We all go on a kind of alter[ed] consciousness trip and Carleen’s is sort of finding her strength. We all have these really strong calm, feminine, maternal [instincts] in us, and along the way it got diminished by worrying about other people. Everyone kind of got lost. So the tease is everyone kind of finds themselves towards the end. As the story goes, I get stronger and stronger.
Paste: As someone who grew up watching both of your movies, it was really fun to see you and Juliette Lewis on the screen together. Had you ever worked together before?
Skye: We started at the same time, but we were just so different, and her career was sort of bigger than mine. I never worked with her, and we never went up for the same roles, I don’t think. But we were exactly in the same time. We started at the same year and we were the same age and this was the first time we’ve worked together.
Paste: Forgive me, but I have to ask about Say Anything, which came out in 1989. What’s it like to be part of something that is still so beloved almost 30 years later?
Skye: I just feel so lucky. Just to have been in a film that a lot of people really love. As time goes on I get more and more sort of grateful for that. It’s just great. There’s nothing bad about it at all.
Camping airs Sunday at 10 p.m. on HBO.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .