Watchmen Actress Jessica Camacho on Pirate Jenny and Puerto Ricans in Space
The actress explains Jenny's distinctive look and shares her thoughts about Watchmen's angriest critics.
Watchmen isn't Jessica Camacho's first go-round in the world of TV shows based on comic books — you may remember her as Gypsy from The Flash — but it's arguably her buzziest. HBO's take on the classic graphic novel has garnered a ton of critical acclaim since its premiere this fall and just keeps getting better, defying skeptics' expectations and adding new twists to a beloved story. Camacho plays Pirate Jenny, one of the masked cops working in the Tulsa Police Department alongside Sister Night (Regina King) and Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson), and though she hasn't logged quite as much screen time as some of the squad's other heroes, she's certainly got one of the best outfits.
If Watchmen‘s not your speed, then you can also catch Camacho in Another Life, a Netflix sci-fi show that premiered this summer, or All Rise, a new CBS legal drama. “It's been busy!” the actress tells People CHICA. “Which is great. I love to be busy. I love working. Aside from sleeping and hanging out in pajamas in bed watching Golden Girls with my dog, working is my favorite thing to do.” Here, the actress talks about what motivates Pirate Jenny and why she doesn't care what the haters think.
We haven't gotten to know Pirate Jenny that well just yet. What can you tell us about her?
She's an interesting one, that one! In the world of Watchmen, the characters that are wearing a mask are wearing a mask for different reasons, but they're all simultaneously hiding something and embracing something. When I saw Pirate Jenny come together in terms of her costume, it really informed me about what kind of a person would put this together as the way that they want to present themselves to the world. What messages are being sent here through this? She's a person who's understood a great deal of darkness in her life, but she embraces that and uses that as her strength. She's not afraid to look different … she does not want to be uniform. I think she likes to disturb people. She likes for the way that she looks to put people off or make them go, “Oh God.” … [And] I think she loves her job. She diligently believes in fighting against the wrong in our world and setting things right. I don't want to reveal too much because I hope that we get to learn more bit by bit, but her position on the force allows her to combat in her own way the injustices that she knows are so prevalent in the world. She throws herself into that.
What's it like to have to shoot with that mask on all the time?
I actually really loved it. The only thing that was irritating is I'm constantly hungry. It was such a pain to lift that thing up and eat! However, acting was pretty cool because I'd never had something concealing my face. I'm a very expressive actor, I guess, so my facial expressions are a big part of me. Only having your eyes and your voice — I found that very freeing as an actor because it took the vanity away, or rather the insecurity that comes from vanity. It allowed me to just feel free in the moment and focus in on the intention of Pirate Jenny or the circumstances of the situation.
How much do you get to find out in advance, plot-wise?
They were like, “You will know nothing.” They were really careful to only share the necessary information, which is kind of awesome. So when I got to see the finished project [at] the premiere and I was sitting down with everybody that had worked on it, we all got to see it come together and it was so cool to see all of the different parts finally gel and be like, “Ohhh, my God. That's why this, and this is this!” It kind of blew me away. I liked having the mystery shrouded around it.
A noisy contingent of the internet has been complaining about the way the show incorporates political elements that supposedly weren't there when the comic debuted in 1986. What's your response to that?
I don't even pay it any mind. There are always going to be haters in any venture. We're living in a different time than we were when the book came out. The fear at that time was the threat of the end of the world through war. The bubbling underbelly of ugliness in this country in recent years is the rise of a stifled yet brewing, angry subculture of people who are still clinging to hate and racism. That is very much a part of the fabric of this country, unfortunately, and that's what we're dealing with to this day. If you want to make a relevant story, then we need to talk about what we're actually dealing with. What are we scared of? I love that [the show] was made relevant through that, and I love that [creator] Damon [Lindelof] didn't shy away from that, because it is relevant and we need to talk about it. It's beautiful that we get to exorcise those demons and in doing so hopefully continue to eradicate the idiocy behind it. I don't focus on the hate. I just focus on the beauty and the magic of the show.
How do you incorporate your own experience as a Latina into characters you've played?
You always pull from your experiences, your understanding, research. In Another Life, there were two Puerto Rican actors on the cast. It was me and A.J. Rivera. We loved that. I love my culture. I love my people. They are just loud — not all of them! But it's boisterous, it's a high-energy, loving culture. I love when I get to work with other Puerto Ricans. So A.J. and I had a great time on set, and we would bust out the Puerto Rican slang from time to time because it just made us happy to be around each other. We were like, “Hey, let's throw some Puerto Rican slang words into our characters and make them Puerto Rican.” We asked the writers if we could do that and they were like, “Oh yeah, we love it!” So there's one scene where I threw some Puerto Rican slang in there and that made it into the cut, and that made me so happy. Unless you're Puerto Rican, you're not really going to catch that, but it was important to me to put that in there. I want my fellow boricuas that watch this show to see two Puerto Ricans in space, man!
A recent study on Latinx representation in Hollywood movies found that it was, unsurprisingly, awful. Have you noticed that in TV as well, or do you think TV is pushing the needle forward a bit more?
I mean, it's pushing the needle forward a little bit more. But I'm there, and I'm representing. I have to focus on that. That's why it's important to me to keep working, and to play in these diverse roles and in such varied settings. I love that I'm playing — in the same year — in the world of a graphic novel, in sci-fi, and then a grounded-in-reality legal dramedy. I want to keep being challenged to play in different worlds and to represent different characters, because there's no reason that Latinos should not be widely seen in all of those things. They will be and they are and they are starting to, and I believe that. So I focus on the positive. I'm there. I want other people to see themselves in me and to keep going for it and to keep creating projects and to keep showing up in those rooms and becoming the obvious choice for that character. When I was auditioning heavily and just trying to get on a show, I [didn't] focus on, “Oh, they need a Latina character for the show.” No. What is the storyline? What is the character? Let me go tell that story. My team would push me for roles that didn't specify Latina. Just find a great part and get me in that room. I'm going to tell the human story. I just happen to be Latina. It's unfortunate that progress is being made slowly, but progress is being made and it's going to continue to be, and I'm excited to be a part of that. I can't wait to see all the diversity that's about to blow up in our industry, because it is and I'm here for it.