What you know about the religious separatist and the New World is about to change. Yes, people left Europe for religious freedom, and from the Church of England, but that’s just part of the saga. National Geographic’s four-hour epic television movie “Saints & Strangers" explores the dynamics, of the 101 passengers, Native Americans, and the journey of strangers seeking financial fortune, not religious freedom. Anna Camp sits poised, lovely and articulate after long hours of shooting in Cape Town, South Africa the night before. She feels very strongly about the movie, and its potential impact on the audience. Camp believes the pages of the story are for everyone.
“I feel it’s something for everyone. It’s following any belief that is yours and feeling stifled no matter where you are, or creating your own path in trying to live freely, and whether that’s religion or sexism—whatever it is. Everyone can relate to this.” We await our coffees served with butter cookies, to discuss her role as Dorothy May Bradford, wife of William Bradford (Vincent Kartheiser). Of course, life was very different for the settlers. They were lucky to have access to lukewarm meals and diluted tea, if they survived consumption or other illnesses.
Dorothy May Bradford came to the New World from Cambridge, England, and she left their three-year-old son, John, behind with the intention of collecting him once the colony was established. She never made it and drowned after falling off the Mayflower. This was just one of the many tragedies.The first day of shooting was set on the Mayflower--the scene was a funeral.
“You really don’t have to act. You put yourself in that place and it becomes very easy to act. When you got three cameras going at once you can sort of forget about finding the lens—you really get to live, and breathe with that other person. I remember we were at the beach and the ocean was behind him [Kartheiser], and the wind is blowing and you’re wearing these amazing costumes—you time travel and it’s quite magical.”
With rehearsal time limited, Camp and Kartheiser raced against the clock to collaborate and rehearse. Kartheiser, who played Peter Campbell on AMC’s Mad Men, entered rehearsal with hair extensions, a beard, and walked with a limp from a blister on the back of his toe and Camp laughed, “I almost didn’t recognize him,” when they first met. After coming from the show Mad Men Kartheiser was looking for something different far removed from Campbell. He found it in “Saints and Strangers.”
Playing the moral compass and governor of Plymouth Colony hit the mark. Kartheiser is colorful, personable and energetic during the interview as we gather under a tent for lunch. His costume is soiled, white cuffs, collar marked with soot-- beard tangled, and we feel closer to 1620, especially having to wear the same costume for 30 days, he laughed.
“I really was blown away how they [writers] managed to bring drama without stepping over that line to melodrama,” pausing. “They showed both the pilgrims and the natives in a light that is totally human. I really felt I was reading a story of people. It could’ve been fictional—it could’ve been just a character story and showing that the Native Americans had a lot of different things going on at once.”
It wasn’t just about Squanto who is this great guy who helps the pilgrims when they came to America. Squanto was the slave of the English explorers, and crossed the Atlantic four times and would act as the translator between the leaders of the Pokanoket tribe, and the settlers.
“The pilgrims were not these super hearted and loving people. They also were not these terrible demons that came with the desire to massacre a people. It was just human beings put into extraordinary circumstances.” Bradford was a godly man, and Kartheiser expressed an interest in the Bible, and reconnecting spiritually, himself. He was hoping that he could explore more of his spirituality while studying more on his character while on location in Cape Town. He last read the Bible when he was 18-year-old.
Kartheiser, 36, believes he can gain a clearer perspective on his journey as “It’s a life long journey. It’s about reconnecting to those things because you get so busy and carried away with other stuff in your life.”
What Camp and Kartheiser experienced something magical on the set of "Saints & Strangers" by living through their characters. It opened their eyes to what sacrifice is and what fighting for freedom means no matter if it’s seeking religious freedom or finding your path. No matter what really happened on the Mayflower, we can be assured that freedom has different meanings to all of us.
"Saints & Strangers" will premier on November, 22nd 9/8c on the National Geographic Channel.