Anna Camp plays it nice in “Saints & Strangers”

Anna Camp may have played her share of mean girls, but she couldn’t be any farther from the tightly-wound characters she’s often portraying on film and TV. The antithesis of True Blood‘s religious zealot Sarah Newlin and more easygoing than Pitch Perfect‘s perfection-seeking acapella guru Aubrey, Anna is Netflix and chill personified; the kind of person who is so likable that she appeals to just about everyone, even if she’s playing a character viewers are supposed to loathe. (See: Sarah Newlin.)

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - NOVEMBER 09:  Actress Anna Camp arrives at the premiere of National Geographic Channel's "Saints And Strangers" at the Saban Theatre on November 9, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage)

In her new role on Nat Geo’s two-night special mini-series event about the true story of Thanksgiving, Saints & Strangers, Anna goes against her usual type and plays someone a little more like herself, had she lived in pre-Colonial times. As Dorothy Bradford, the wife to Vincent Kartheiser‘s William Bradford, the second governor of the Plymouth Colony, Anna tried a lot of things for the first time.

“I get to be British and I get to be a very nice woman, which definitely attracted me to it because I’m always playing these crazy, uptight, tightly-wound…”

“Bitches?” I offer. 

“You said it!” she said with a laugh. “And it shot in Cape Town, South Africa and I’ve never been and I was a huge fan of Mad Men, one of my favorite shows of all time. Pete Campbell, my favorite character of all time.” Working with the actor who played Pete Campbell was part of the appeal.

But what’s great about Dorothy is she’s not a quiet, complacent wife to the leader of the 66-day journey on the Mayflower.

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“What I really liked about Dorothy was that she questioned her husband; she questioned her faith,” Anna said. “She wasn’t just blindly doing whatever she was told to do, and that’s why I feel she’s such a strong character because I don’t think at that time you would question your husband, especially one of the leaders of the voyage. So she’s definitely voicing her own thoughts and fears and I feel like it might be the first time she’s ever done that.”

Dorothy and William leave their son behind in Holland to help start a new life in America where their people can practice their religion freely. But the long days and nights spent on board of a cargo ship not made for human occupants was rough, even for Anna as an actor.

“I knew we were going to be on the Mayflower; I knew we were going to be on a big boat, and I didn’t think it was actually gonna move,” she said. “So the first time we’re sitting there, filming and everything and they’re like ‘Let’s gimbal. Put the boat on the gimbal.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh my god!’ The thing starts to move. I’m trying to act and I turn green. My eyes went yellow. I wasn’t acting, I felt like I was gonna puke. It was wild. And then the rainstorm—the rain machines pelting you in the face, like you can’t fake rain. That was really cold and really wet and those skirts get really heavy. It was worth it. And also you don’t have to act at that time because the cameras are on and you’re like ‘I’m really cold and I really want to get off this boat!’”
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Anna also had a lot of downtime to explore Cape Town, which she found “culturally artistic and vibrant and beautiful.” (“I ate a lot of ostrich!”) And what is even more unique about the experience of Saints & Strangers is, unlike most of her work, Anna actually watched it.

“I never watch anything I do. Ever! It’s definitely weird—it’s weird because I’m always very nervous when I watch myself so I think there were times—I mean, people behind me said they saw me slowly sinking down in my seat,” Anna said. “I usually don’t watch because I can’t separate the experience the day of shooting from the actual product. When I did ADR stuff for it, it looked so beautiful and the production value is so wonderful that I thought, ‘I think I might be able to separate myself from this movie.’ I did and I was glad I could do that and I could watch it.”