Ione Skye on Finding Carleen

By Fiona Gibb

The actor shares the inspiration for her offbeat character, and explains why there’s more to Carleen than you think.


HBO: Tell us about Carleen, her partner Joe and their experience on the most emotionally intense camping trip ever.

Ione Skye: I’m just this nutty hospice worker, living in Arizona. And my husband, he’s sort of the odd man out. He clearly has rage issues, he should be in rehab — all of these things. We’re not at all aligned in our interests or how we’re living. Every relationship is basically at a breaking point — and so, conveniently, for the sake of drama, it all comes spilling out.

HBO: What inspiration did you draw on for Carleen’s character, and what resonated with you most about her?

Ione Skye: Being in your own world, not reading the room necessarily, but having a good heart anyway. Sort of like Jennifer Coolidge or Julie Hagerty, the actress from the Airplane! movies, and even actresses from screwball comedies, like Carole Lombard. They’re a little ditzy and hippieish, but it’s not that clear-cut — and I just love that. It resonated in a way, because my nickname as a kid was “Space Cadet.” I’m just personally a bit in my own world.

HBO: Is it fair to say Carleen is stuck in some way?

Ione Skye: For sure — stuck in the role of helping people and being there for them, and not really listening to what she wants. It’s all under this guise of, “I’m just here to be easygoing,” but it’s funny because there are times when she seems almost passive-aggressive. That’s when you know she’s not tapped into how she feels about her sister or her husband. It’s not clear to her — or anyone else — what she really needs and wants for a while.

HBO: It looks like there was tremendous chemistry on set. In particular, it seems like you, Jennifer and Juliette bonded.

Ione Skye: I knew Juliette a little bit, but going in, you just don’t know what people are going to be like personally — how private, how guarded. Are they secretly a nightmare? Will they come in one morning in a dark mood? You just don’t know.

I was closer to this cast than I have been with any for a long time, and sometimes that just happens. Everyone’s in their 40s, we all have our families and it was a short job — why would we bond so closely? It’s mysterious, but we all did, and you just don’t know if it’s ever going to happen again.

HBO: Part of Camping’s appeal is how relatable the characters and story are. Many adults in their 40s have longtime friends who they tolerate, quirks and all. Other times, people change, the friendship evolves and it no longer is what it was.

Ione Skye: All the characters were so funny, but as it goes on, it becomes more sad, and not just like, “What a character my friend is!” More like, “Oh boy I was hoping they would grow up.” Take Miguel: He’s been broken up with, and now he’s in this lusty, escapist, yucky sex-romance. And he’s too old to be in that. He and Jandice are just high on sex, and it’s kind of gross.

It was nice to see — after Girls, which focused on much younger issues — that Lena and Jenni went to relationships that I could relate to. Not that I didn’t love and relate to Girls.

HBO: Your husband Ben Lee composed the music for the show. What was that experience like?

Ione Skye: I had a song to do, and so Lena asked if he would he work on it. So he and Lena wrote this song — she wrote the lyrics and he did the music — and they had such a nice time working together.

He had never scored anything before, but Lena recognized the type of person she likes to work with, and knew that he was going to deliver. And that was great because I got to see a lot of the show before everybody else.

HBO: You’re best known for your lead role in Say Anything. Diane Court will always have a place in our hearts, but we loved seeing you in this unconventional (and funny!) role. What’s next for you?

Ione Skye: I do have this leading lady in my past. Historically, I’ve mainly played the romantic lead, but there’s been a new thing, having been in Arrested Development and a couple of other things, where this comedy world has opened up. This sort of great new world of all these comedies — and so I’m hoping to do more.

New episodes of Camping premiere Sundays at 10 PM.

The Mapping of Camping

Kathryn may be running the show, but there is more than meets the eye with this group of “friends.” Jennifer Garner and the cast break down the trip's group dynamics.