Cam, directed by Daniel Goldhaber and written by Isa Mazzei, is a psychological thriller/horror film starring Madeline Brewer as an ambitious cam girl called Alice whose camming account is hacked and her identity stolen by a mysterious doppelgänger. The film’s design is colourful and playful but the story soon turns dark. I met with Samantha Robinson (The Love Witch, 2016), who stars alongside Brewer as a fellow cam girl, at Chiltern Firehouse in London as Cam was recently screened at the 62nd BFI London Film Festival. We drank tea, talked about London, the power of attraction, and the film, obviously!
Diabolique: Hi Sam, thank you so much for coming.
Samantha Robinson: Thank you for having me.
Diabolique: Let’s talk about your new film, Cam. Firstly, how did you land the role?
SR: I actually just auditioned for it. I originally auditioned for the role of Lola, then I had a meeting with Danny [Daniel Goldhaber, director] and we started chatting about the role and stuff, but they ended up casting me as PrincessX, which now, after seeing the film, is just so much better. Madeline is just so phenomenal in this role [Alice/Lola]. I’ve talked to Danny about it and he said ‘you weren’t just right for us’ – and I know I wasn’t (laughing). But honestly, from inception when I read the script I was just blown away. I wanted to be a part of this film in any capacity, I really believed in it and I knew it was going places so now seeing it on the big screen here was just like ‘wow’ – this is so good and it’s getting such great reviews. People love it.
Diabolique: You’ve pretty much answered my next question – what was your first impression when you read the script? So, you loved it?
SR: I loved it! I just really related to the film too, because it wasn’t only just a sex-positive film about camming — it was really refreshing to see a film about camming not portrayed in the negative light. But also I was just like ‘this is scary’ because I know I’ve been guilty of being on social media a little bit too much, you know, indulging on the internet. All the issues the film is talking about are things we can all relate to. I really just related to the film immensely. It deals with really interesting themes, which is refreshing.
Diabolique: PrincessX – your character – is one of the cam girls. Tell us more about her and what drew you to her?
SR: So the thing is that when I read the script, I was like okay I understand the character, she’s pretty straightforward but I really wanted her to have an arc, you know. Even though it was a smaller role, I felt like there had to be an arc to her. In the beginning she feels threatened by Lola. Lola has something PrincessX doesn’t have – she’s authentic, she’s natural, she’s a kind of girl-next-door. And that’s not what PrincessX is at all. [Lola] doesn’t do any disguises; she just has this natural girl-next-door quality to her and PrincessX cannot be that way, it’s just not in her nature so she felt threatened by Lola, she was jealous of her. So I wanted to show that, but then there’s a shift when [PrincessX] sees that, you know, she’s a bit smarter than Lola – she already knows she has to wear a wig, she knows she has to protect her identity and then when Lola is being so careless, she’s like ‘she’s not a threat to me anymore’.
Diabolique: All the girls are very ambitious and determined to get all the way up to the top ranking but also, at the same time, there’s a huge focus on bodies, nudity, and sexuality. Did it take you much time to get into this role or it came naturally?
SR: I mean, it came naturally, I did a lot of improv on my own to figure out what kind of camming she would do like, you know, she was more like a dominatrix, and so I did little scenarios of how her cam shows would go. It came pretty naturally, I understood the character from the get-go. And what was great about working on this film was that – even though it’s about camming – I never felt it was ‘male-gazy’ at all, especially since it’s from Isa’s [Mazzei; scriptwriter and a former cam girl] and the female point of view so I just felt very comfortable on the set, almost everyone was a woman, working on the production.
Diabolique: Like you’ve just said, the hugely female cast of Cam dominate the screen. You can see rivalry but also friendship between the girls.
SR: Exactly, there’s this community, that cam community, which is also interesting because we don’t have that many films about that.
Diabolique: How was the atmosphere on the set like?
SR: It was great, it was so great. There’s my favourite scene where I kind of torment Lola a little bit before her show. I just feel like it really shows this world of their cam clubhouse. And the production design was so great – I’m the type of actor that production design really means a lot to me, makes me transform into the character even more, and so the light and the neon really set you in this kind of fun, cam clubhouse world. It was great, and just having all the other actors, working with them, it was like this is a camming community. Even though they’re competitive with each other, they still have each other backs.
Diabolique: CAM has many elements of a horror film, and it’s not your first time with this genre. What is it about horror that – if – draws you to it?
SR: For some reason I’m just drawn into genre films, it’s just so transporting. I would love to do a mumblecore film or something more serious. But it’s just more fun for me, you know, the sets are more elaborate, the story lines are not basic. And also my style of acting, maybe, meshes well with it.
Diabolique: Can you tell us more about working with director Daniel Goldhaber and writer Isa Mazzei?
SR: It was great, I just felt it was such a collaboration between the two of them, which is interesting as I’ve never worked with two people before, there’s always been one director I worked closely with. So on set I remember one day Danny just left and left me and Isa and we did a little improv and she was just directing me so that was cool and it was very relaxed. She has an idea of what she wants, you know you’re in good hands. You know that it’s going to be authentic and it’s from a female POV, and it’s just felt very comfortable and safe. And I didn’t feel exploited at all. Even though some of the scenes are a little sexual, I never felt like it was objectifying.
Diabolique: Cam provides a very realistic portrayal of sex workers – girls hide the occupation from their families but we also see harassment they receive on the internet. Would you agree?
SR: Definitely, even watching the film back I remember one moment that really struck me: when Alice is watching Lola [the doppelgänger] and she takes up the gun and blows her head off. That was one of the most disturbing moments where she completely lost control of her online identity and there’s nothing she can do to get it back and she’s completely helpless. The police don’t help, which is another thing – there’s not a lot of protection for sex workers from the police, they don’t really care. And also just online in general – how do you police it? It’s out of control; it’s becoming something bigger than us. It’s also very self-reflective, like, what would you do for likes?
Diabolique: Do you think this film can change people’s perception of sex/cam workers and stop them from stigmatising or sex-shaming?
SR: I hope so, I hope that people will draw attention to the fact that there’s not a lot of protection for sex workers and that they shouldn’t be looked down upon, it’s a form of employment and there needs to be better measures implemented. Even the site that Lola works with, they take 50% of her pay but there’s no protection there so you see in how desperate situation she’s in and you feel bad for her. And you’re rooting for her; you’re like, ‘no, get your cam back!’
Diabolique: So what’s next for you? I know you’ve been cast in the new Quentin Tarantino film [Once Upon a Time in Hollywood]?
SR: Yes, I’ve actually finished filming, just before I came [to London]. It’s been super fun, I play Abigail Folger and so I was working with Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch and Costa Ronin – we’re like the little gang, you know (laughing).
Diabolique: Sounds exciting! How was it?
SR: It was insane, it was so surreal. I’ve always loved all of Quentin Tarantino’s films, it’s been like a dream of mine to work with him, and that’s like the power of manifestation – I was thinking ‘I have to get on that film’ and somehow I did get on it so you just have to believe in yourself and anything is possible.
Diabolique: That’s brilliant! Thank you so much for your time and all the best in everything you do next.
SR: Thank you!
Cam premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival 2018 and was screened at the 62nd BFI London Film Festival. It arrives on Netlifx on 16 November.