If you’ve ever been to theater camp or merely wondered what it would be like if Ben Platt gave you brutal feedback on your acting, Theater Camp is for you. As the name suggests, the film follows campers and workers alike while summering at a theater camp. There’s so much more depth here than a single sentence synopsis could ever get across to an audience — it’s easy to assume that it would be similar to Wet Hot American Summer but what you see contains so much heart.
The story follows Troy Rubinsky, a wannabe YouTube crypto bro, as he takes over his mother’s theater camp following her sudden coma. Troy, who is played by actor, comedian, and writer Jimmy Tatro, is the scene-stealer in the film, bringing both comedic timing and heartfelt moments to the character. In the film, the children are sweet and the counsellors are totally nuts. If you’ve been to theater camp you’ll love this. If you’ve never been to theater camp, you’ll still love this.
In conversation with Schön! Jimmy Tatro talks about how he got into character for the part of a crypto hype beast bro with a heart of gold, what it was like to work with children and being moved to tears by the movie’s conclusion.
I literally just finished watching the film like 10 minutes ago, and it’s so cute. It’s sweet and heartfelt, but also really goofy, which I really wasn’t expecting. I was expecting it to be like Wet Hot American Summer kind of, and then it ended up just being like a really sweet camp story.
Yeah, it’s very, it’s very heartfelt at the end there, it catches you by surprise a little bit.
Totally. I also was just really surprised by how much I liked your character. I was anticipating him to be like this crypto hypebeast asshole. He wound up just being really endearing. And someone who I just really enjoyed watching.
You’re welcome. What about this role in particular spoke to you?
I didn’t grow up as a theatre kid, so I think that drew me in with the character. A lot of this subject matter in the script was something I didn’t really understand. It would have otherwise been a very niche movie. But my character was kind of my own eyes in. The Troy character brought in the movie a little bit, and I could see it through his eyes. It was just kind of exciting for me because I really enjoyed this short film that they made, but I also felt like it was an insight I couldn’t make. I didn’t really get the jokes. It’s helpful to have a character who’s there but doesn’t understand what’s going on. Guys like me, and people like me, who don’t really understand that world, and kind of watch the movie through my character’s eyes, was really exciting to me.
Yeah, I definitely got that sense as I was watching. I’m not a theatre kid myself so a lot of the jokes are over my head too, but your character helps outsiders to make sense of them a bit better, or at least helped me to feel like I was kind of in on the joke. Troy helps you to feel like it’s ok to not get every joke.
Right. It’s like… Without that kind of outsider there, you’re watching it and you don’t really feel like you’re a part of it. But having someone just being there and not understanding what’s going on makes you feel a little seen when you also don’t understand what’s going on.
Totally. What was your journey with the material like – from receiving the script, auditioning, landing the part, production – what was all that like?
Well, actually, Molly [Gordon] and Nick [Lieberman] reached out to me telling me that they had written the role for me. They sent me the script, it was much shorter than I was expecting. It was more of a… Well, they call it a scriptment. It was kind of an outline where there was very little dialogue because they were planning on improvising the majority of the dialogue. I went into it a little unsure. I met up with them at a lunch, and I left the lunch feeling very comfortable and trusting of the movie being in their hands. I shipped off to New York for a month. We shot the whole thing in like 19 days. I didn’t know what was gonna happen with it.
They told me they were trying to get it into Sundance, which I was excited about. We got in. Then, at Sundance, I kind of quickly realized that the movie had a lot of hype. I would tell people what I was there to do, and people would respond like, “Oh, I couldn’t get tickets to that.” I was trying to get my friends tickets to the movie and it was really hard. I’m like, wait, I’m in the movie. It was impossible to get people tickets! The movie just played so well at Sundance. Everyone at Sundance is coming out of some depressing film about a chef who got her arms and legs blown off, and she cooks with her mouth. They walk into Theater Camp, and they’re like, “Oh, a feel good comedy movie with a bunch of kids singing and dancing. With a breath of fresh air.”
Yeah! It really is a breath of fresh air, though. The world fucking sucks right now. Everything’s dark. Every time I open up the news, it’s grim. Theater Camp was so fun, it’s lovely to watch something that is just pleasant and happy and shares a side of life that isn’t all sadness and upset all the time.
Yeah, and I do think a lot of these stories are necessary. A lot of it is good to see in the world. But also, I love to be a part of and make things that I want to see. Right now, I want to see a good, happy movie. It’s not very often I sit down to watch something and think to myself, I want to feel fucking crazy right now. I want to feel depressed and wasted. I want to open my eyes to some fucked up shit going on in the world right now. I’m usually just sitting down at the end of a long day and thinking, “What’s a good escape to feel good?” That’s why I’m happy to be a part of this one.
Yeah, it’s a really fun movie. The cast is so stacked. How was it working with everyone on a daily basis for those 19 days?
It was so much fun. They all came into it already as such good friends so I was kind of a new guy.
Which is fitting because that’s your whole role in the film.
Yeah, it kind of made sense. But I very quickly just felt like part of the family out there. It was a whole experience, which is so nostalgic. When we were shooting the movie it felt like summer camp. You go off and you’re with a bunch of people you may have never met before for two months, and then you become best friends and part ways and maybe never see them ever again. We were actually shooting at a real summer camp on a lake. It’s just bringing back all those old memories I had going into camp as a kid. It was just a great energy.
Yeah, that sounds fun. Was there anyone in particular that was the best to work with? Or someone that you couldn’t stop breaking when you were opposite them?
Yeah. Me and Noah [Galvin] had a really fun scene together, that as we were shooting I thought there was no way it was going to make it into the movie. We knew that the whole time we were shooting it, but we just kept going and going. We had a lot of fun. But Owen was the guy that I probably hung out with the most just because Nick, Ben, Molly and Noah were busy. Molly and Miller were writing and producing the whole thing. They had very little free time. Owen would hit up Outback Steakhouse and rip up the outlets of upstate New York.
As you do.
As you do.
That’s funny. Given that there’s so much improvisation in the script, how much of the character is you and how much was on the page?
They really let people run with the dialogue, but the actual structure itself was very meticulously planned out to ensure you don’t go on too many tangents that will never make sense within the context of the movie. But it was fun, I was able to bring a lot of myself to the role and they were super open to all of my ideas and suggestions and the catchphrases I came up with for the character. They ended up printing it on the merch. A lot of the ideas that I wanted to base the character on were like these crypto vlogger guys that have taken over the internet offering so much unsolicited advice relentlessly.
I know a guy who was an NFT guy and he would always say, “Let’s build!” and I just thought it was the douchiest thing to say. So I started working in, “Let’s build!” It eventually became my my catchphrase for Troy and they put it on my shorts, they put it on my on my merch. En-Troy-preneurs was another one. Troy Vision Enterprises, too. I said, “ We need we need to make my slogan on Content, Concepts, Ideas,” which is just the vaguest nothing niche that you could possibly have as a slogan.
How would you go about getting into character? Do you make playlists? Did you mow down on CBD gummies?
I mean, it was kind of one of those roles where you get into the outfit and then immediately start to just feel like Troy.
Yeah, the bucket hat goes on, kind of thing?
Yeah, the bucket hat and that little… What are those? Those fanny packs that go over the shoulder? What are those called? Man bags?
Manny packs? Is that a term or did I just come up with that?
I think you just came up with that and you should probably coin it.
Yeah, I’ll coin it after this. We’ll cut that out of the interview because I’m going to need that.
Yeah, obviously. You’re gonna need to copyright that.
It was like one of those things where my outfits were so ridiculous that the second I put the outfit on it was like I started rubbing my hands together… Feeling this Troy vibe start surging through me.
That’s funny. Well, I can see why though — those outfits were insane. They were so good. I was really blown away by just how well fleshed out that character was, especially considering that there wasn’t a lot of time to get to know him throughout the course of the film. The audience is just kind of plopped into the situation along with Troy and it’s all about him trying to figure out how to run this camp. All of those little character elements really tied it all together.
Yeah, it was a fun arc. It was fun to watch him get won over by the thing that he was so confused by initially.
Definitely. Obviously, there’s a lot of children at the kids acting camp. How was it working with kids? Did that change your process at all?
Not really, it was fun. I actually enjoy working with kids — these kids are not your average child actors. I was very impressed by how talented they all were. After a couple of weeks I started to think, “Wait. Where did you find these kids?” Luke is an incredible singer, many of these kids are incredible singers. But the way it all came together at the end, just really caught me off guard because I hadn’t seen what they had been working on in the final production for the end of the season musical. I had wrapped for the day but I hung around to watch the performance. I’m sitting there and I totally got so sucked in by it. It ended and I touched my eyes and I was like, “Am I tearing up right now? Am I fucking moved by this?” It was just so catchy. Then, immediately it was like one of those things where I was like, “Well, duh… of course this song is good. It’s written by Ben [Platt].”
Theater Camp is out in theatres now.