AMC’s “The Killing” series has earned untold legions of ardent fans since its launch this month, much to the enjoyment of Billy Campbell. He was aware the show was getting good buzz ahead of its premiere, but the former “Once and Again” star admits, “By this point in my career, I try not to get too excited.” The series, the adaptation of a hit drama from Denmark, has to do with just one murder case, that of a young girl, as details and clues emerge from the perspectives of the cops working the case, the girl’s parents, the suspects, and a local politician — Campbell’s character.
Of course he’s not going to tell how his character is connected to the case.
But Campbell can say, “The genesis of my involvement is actually pretty funny. I auditioned for this thing ages before anything happened. I went on tape for the casting director and I didn’t get a good reception. They went right on by me and kept looking for their Darren Richmond. It was disappointing. The show was going to shoot in Vancouver, where I wanted to stay.”
But Campbell brushed off his dismay and turned back to the other great love of his life — sailing. He made the commitment to join the crew of the tall ship Picton Castle and circumnavigate the globe, something he’s actually done before. “I was a hair away from disappearing for 14 months. I was going to give up my apartment in Vancouver, when my agent called and said, ‘Remember that thing you really wanted that you didn’t get? The director was on your flight the other day. You got the job, and I’ve arranged for you to have dinner with her tonight.’”
It turned out that director Patty Jenkins (“Monster”) was on a plane with Campbell from L.A. to Vancouver. She watched him while aboard and decided he’d be perfect to play the character, called her “The Killing” team and said, “‘I think you guys are crazy. I think this is the guy.’ …I had no idea she was on the plane,” Campbell says. Jenkins turned out to be “this backpacking chick I saw at the airport. She and her husband — I was looking at them with envy,” Campbell recalls, because they looked like they were headed off on an adventure.
Which is where Campbell will be, once he wraps shooting of the first season of “The Killing.” (Yes, there could be a second season, he says.) “I did the pilot, then went and joined the Picton Castle on their current circumnavigation for five months in the South Pacific. When we’re done here, I’ll rejoin them for the last couple of months of their present voyage.”
He notes, “There was always a part of me pining away to get to the open sea, but I spent a lot of years wasting my life away in Los Angeles.” When his friend and one-time cast mate Stephen Lang got him started reading the Patrick O’Brien Master and Commander novels, Campbell says, “it peaked my appetite and I realized, ‘Wow, if I don’t start doing some of the things I want to do now, I might never do them.’” He started off spending “a few years on a ship in Norway, then the captain of that vessel told me about the Picton Castle” — and he took his first sail around the world.
Now, “I have this wonderful job, with people in front of and behind the camera that I really enjoy, doing it in the city of my dreams, and every day getting do to well-written, juicy scenes. I’m really soaking it all up. The toughest part is being away from my ship.”