Pericles actor Christian Camargo talks cars
Camargo Currently Starring in TFANA’s Brooklyn Production
Several minutes after wrapping up another performance last week as the main character in Shakespeare’s “Pericles” at the Theater for a New Audience’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center, Christian Camargo had shed his princely robes and was on his way out the door. He had also divested himself of the dramatic English accent that so well suited the king in an Elizabethan drama, slipping into an easy conversation about his passion for American muscle cars from the 1970s.
What could Shakespeare and Detroit iron possibly have in common?
“I was thinking about it on the drive over here,” Camargo said in an interview last week at Brooklyn Motor Works in Red Hook. “There’s a mechanics to acting just like there is with cars. You enjoy it more when you understand how it works.”
He admitted to being unable to get through one of Shakespeare’s works simply by reading through it, comparing the process of learning the meaning below the surface with getting to know both the history and inner workings of a car.
“In a Shakespeare play, when you get into the meter, break things down and get into the meaning of the words, it begins to make sense,” he said. “With cars, it’s my connection to the story behind the car; the fact that it was designed and built by humans for humans gives it a life of its own.”
His automotive hobby took on a life of its own, too, in the late ’90s in Williamsburg. Camargo and a friend were known for driving around in old cars and parking them on the street, not a common sight even then. They ended up opening an automotive restoration shop — around the corner from Indian Larry’s — and importing un-oxidized American cars from small towns in the West back to the rust afflicted East.
As far as epoch, their focus was nice daily driver cars from the 1969-75 model years (although he said a ’59 Chevy Impala made the cut at one point). They didn’t do frame-off restorations, he said, but serviced the cars and got them looking and running nice before selling them. All of the cars had eight-track tape players, and every one they sold came with 10 eight-track tapes.
But what really attracted them to the cars they picked were the stories. Camargo said he wanted cars that were built by the people for the people; things that were meant to be bought by everyday people and kept in service for many years.
“We picked up a ’74 Ford Torino that a guy had bought and had been saving for his first-born,” Camargo recounted. “It had been sitting in the garage for years, waiting, but his first-born, a girl, hated it and wanted a Miata. He was heart-broken, but what a great story and a great car.”
Sounds like a Shakespearean tragedy. Believe it or not, Camargo said, there’s also a conservation aspect to his automotive interests. He’s always been inspired by stories of people who kept the same car for decades.
“Take a car that’s been around for 40 years,” he said. “Yeah, it gets worse mileage than the new ones, but the amount of waste you create building a new car is crazy.”
Camargo grew up on a small horse farm in Katonah, in northern Westchester County, and learned early how to tinker with old tractors. His first car was a ’79 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham d’Elegance with a hulking big block V8 engine under the hood. When he came of driving age in the late ’80s, the cool, cheap cars to have were aging relics of the muscle car era, and the sensibility his formative years created lingers today.
Now, he spends most of his time in the desert near Joshua Tree, California, where there’s more space for his ’89 Toyota Land Cruiser, 30- and 40-year-old Chevy pickups, ’71 Oldsmobile Cutlass drag racer and a Chevrolet-based skeletal off-road buggy — called the Bronco Eater — that he shares with a friend. He and his business partner sold off the shop in Williamsburg in the early aughts, and Camargo has since worked on several car-related TV shows, including a car-hunting one for MTV called “Fast Inc.”
Living in the desert, in what could, perhaps, be construed as a sort of Shakespearean self-exile, has morphed his automotive tastes toward the dusty and rugged. Anything that will romp in the dirt is OK with him, Camargo says.
“I guess I’m turning into sort of a redneck desert guy, but with an appreciation for the finer things.”
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Camargo will be performing the lead role in Pericles at the Theater for a New Audience’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center through April 10. For more information, visit http://www.tfana.org/season-2016/pericles/overview.
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