Camille Mana, a California native with a string of film and TV credits, stars in Jesse Eisenberg’s off-Broadway debut as a playwright,“Asuncion.” Camille portrays a Filipina who shares an apartment with two men, played by Jesse (who previously starred in “The Social Network”) and Justin Bartha (“The Hangover”).
In the production directed by Kip Fagan, the arrival of Camille’s ‘Asuncion’ (“assumption” in English) in the lives of Jesse’s Edgar, a liberal blogger, and Justin’s Vinny, a progressive academic, challenges the two American men’s open-minded attitude. The play, presented by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, begins performances October 12 and officially opens October 27 at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York.
Camille, who traces her roots to Manila and Pampanga, recalled how she was cast by Jesse and Kip—without an audition but on the strength of a tape (a compilation of clips of her TV and movie work). She was offered the role before the release of “The Social Network,” in which Jesse’s portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg earned him several best actor awards.
We’re so excited to see a young, Asian American actress rise up the ranks and land starring roles among Hollywood’s elite. Camille starred in Smart People with Sarah Jessica Parker and Dennis Quaid. To think we used to watch her as a young teen on ‘One on One’ on the UPN. We spoke to Camille about her recent gig and can’t wait to see her on stage!
ASIANCE: How did you come to audition? Tell us about the audition!
Camille: The role of Asuncion was actually offered to me directly by Jesse Eisenberg a little over a year ago, so it basically came in the form of an email to my reps asking if I would be interested in the piece, and of course I was thrilled to accept. Shortly thereafter, Jesse and the director met with me over lunch and so it began…
This is probably my favorite role to date — certainly the most well-rounded and multifaceted to explore — and it is entering into uncharted territory for me, so this bold move on Jesse’s part has truly been a gift, and one I have not taken lightly.
ASIANCE: Tell us about your character? Do you identify with her at all? She’s Filipina.
Camille: Asuncion is a very lively, confident, and warm young woman. She is fun and uninhibited and has immigrated to the US some time before her appearance in Edgar (Eisenberg) and Vinny’s (Bartha’s) apartment. In contrast to the two male characters, she is not necessarily well-read or intellectual, but she has seen a lot more life than perhaps Edgar and Vinny have, and the contrast between her experience and their knowledge is central to the play’s thrust.
She is the first character I have played who ends up being multidimensional as a woman, rather than two-dimensional as a girl – which is what I have spent the past some years playing — so that is very refreshing in a new way. I’ve been growing into my sense of womanhood off-screen for a time now, so it is really gratifying to get to explore that in my work, now, for the first time. I definitely can identify with her energetic nature, and she has a sense of playfulness that is really great to explore. I wish I could say I was playful 24 hours a day, as she seems to be — but anyone who knows me in real life would probably say I am a lot more serious and intense than Asuncion on a given day. And I identify a lot more with Edgar’s anxious insecurities than I’d like to.
I have never before played an immigrant, and I had never played a woman — only teens and college aged girls, so naturally my insecurities came out.
ASIANCE: Did you always want to do theater?
Camille: It’s always been one of my career goals to get to do a great play in New York, so it is pretty amazing that it has come to fruition in this way. New York actors are usually cast in Los Angeles projects, but it is not so often the case that the reverse happens. The theater community in New York is a very tight-knit circle — I am learning — and one that is not so easy to be invited to participate in. So I am grateful to have been invited to the party, so to speak.
ASIANCE: What is the best part or theater and what is the worst?
Camille: It is electric. And it is frightening. All at once.
ASIANCE: When did you meet Jesse Eisenberg? Did you know him before or did you meet because of “Asuncion”?
Camille: I met him shortly after being offered the role. He lives in New York, so he came to meet me for lunch in Los Angeles — I remember being very nervous and feeling like some accident had occurred or that someone had made a mistake in giving me this role. I have never before played an immigrant, and I had never played a woman — only teens and college aged girls, so naturally my insecurities came out. It was all very surreal. Then over time, it became very, very real.
ASIANCE: Describe Jesse! He’s a heartthrob, no?
Camille: I know it sounds so trite, but I really do think he is brilliant. He is one of the wittiest people I’ve ever met, and has such a good heart. He is bright, and he talks as fast as his mind races. I feel indebted to him every single day for his faith in me in this project, and for being so generous and open to my collaboration. The part of Asuncion has grown immensely (in both size and scope) since I came on board over a year ago, and he continues to flatter me daily with compliments that I would feel too ridiculous to ever repeat. As far as the heartthrob thing, I will leave that assessment to your readers! I am really growing to see him more like a brother, so I don’t know about all that. I am sure he would say he wasn’t though…
ASIANCE: In addition to Asuncion opening this month, you also have a feature film, ‘Norman’, opening in theaters on October 21st?
Camille: Yes, ‘Norman’ is maybe my favorite film to have worked on to date. It stars Dan Byrd (Easy A, Cougar Town), Emily VanCamp (Everwood, Brothers and Sisters, Revenge), Adam Goldberg (Dazed and Confused, Saving Private Ryan) and yet another Academy Award Nominee Richard Jenkins. I play Helen Black, the only kid in the entire school who is more of an outcast than Norman — and he being an outcast is kind of the whole point of the movie. While I am playing yet another teenager in this film (with more classroom scenes to boot), my character is so awkwardly nutty and repressed and insecure — she is the complete opposite of Asuncion. And the movie is awesome. I have seen it three times now at festivals, and I love it more and more each time. (Bonus points for Andrew Bird doing the original score! Now available as a soundtrack!).
It opens theatrically in select US cities on Friday, October 21st and you can read more at www.normanthemovie.com!
ASIANCE: Will you be staying in NYC? What do you like better? NYC or LA? Why?
Camille: Yes, I have been living here for about five weeks now. NYC has always been one of my favorite cities (LA and London being the others!) and I’ve had some of the most fun times of my life here. This trip, in particular, has been a little more taxing on me than past excursions, because it is an extended stay and because I am working harder than I have in years. There hasn’t been much time for sightseeing or lounging. I’m also missing my family, friends, and boyfriend immensely as my roots and home are definitely in LA.
ASIANCE: What have you been doing on your time off in NYC? Recommend something to readers who either live here or will travel here.
Camille: I’ve seen half a dozen plays so far. I’ve particularly enjoyed ‘War Horse’, Adam Rapp’s ‘Dreams of Falling’, ‘Dreams of Flying’, and ‘The Submission’ so far.
ASIANCE: Are you following any other Asian/Asian Americans career right now?
Camille: I definitely keep pretty aware of all the current burgeoning careers in the community, and am excited for each and every one of them — even if in some cases, I may be up for the same roles as a handful of them. I am particularly looking forward to the Harold and Kumar Christmas sequel, and I am glad to see Ken Jeong doing so well. I think I naturally gravitate towards comedic actors at times, though I support everyone across the board.
Photography by Natasha Lee www.bynatasha.net