Callum Keith Rennie makes up for lost time
Maclean's Magazine, October 13, 1997
Outside the industrial ruins that house the Due South studios in mid-town Toronto, Callum Keith Rennie can be found in his trailer, assiduously stuffing carrots into an electronic juicer. He used to prefer a stronger kind of juice, and spent so much time under its influence that there are several years of his life that he cannot quite account for. But Rennie has not had a drink since catching a shard of glass in his eye during a barroom fight four years ago back home in Vancouver. The eye survived, and the story has become a signature scar in the career of an actor who likes to deal in sharp edges.
On CTV's Due South , Rennie is the new guy. Replacing David Marciano as the sidekick, he plays Chicago detective Stanley Raymond Kowalski, the street-smart foil to Paul Gross' Mountie-with-a-heart-of-gold. "The basic dynamic remains intact," says Gross. "I'm naive and from the wilderness, and he's cynical and from the street. But I think our relationship is more combustible. David had an easier charm. Callum is spikier."
As he sips his carrot juice, a picture of studied casualness in a V-neck pullover, navy sweat pants and tan biker boots, the 37-year-old Rennie does have a rugged intensity about him. And he seems as cagey as Gross is forthright. Bit by bit, he offers up threads of his past. Born in England, raised in Alberta. Did not start acting until he was 25. His parents are middle-class, separated. Wanted to be a mountaineer and supported his climbing habit with "crummy jobs--cooking, laying railroad track, digging ditches"--before discovering theatre in Edmonton.
Relocating to Vancouver, Rennie burned through a variety of TV roles, criminals mostly, in The X-Files, The Commish, Highlander: The Series , and Lonesome Dove . But he began to attract serious notice with a volley of small Canadian features--as a nerdy boyfriend in Double Happiness (1994), as a recovering junkie in Curtis's Charm (1995) and, most notably, as a charismatic punk guitarist in Bruce McDonald's mock rockumentary, Hard Core Logo (1996). He also starts in McDonald's offbeat CBC series Twitch City , set to debut next January. And as a cocaine-addled nut in Kari Skogland's recent Men With Guns , he steals the movie. "Everything has happened pretty quickly," says the soft-spoken actor. "I've had a great run in the last little while."
With his film career heating up, Rennie had qualms about locking into the weekly grind of Due South . "I'm by nature better suited to flashing quickly on roles and getting out of them without having to expose myself too much," he says. Gross, meanwhile, had reservations about hiring him. "Paul was worried I wouldn't have the endurance or the ability to take direction," says Rennie. "He thought I was really raw and didn't have any technique--it actually just looked like I had none, which is maybe a good thing." Finally, the two actors went to a bar (beer for Gross, soda water for Rennie) and ended up flipping a coin. When it turned up tails, they made it the best out of three.
"It was the most potentially disastrous decision I had to make," says Gross, who doubles as the show's executive producer. "It's like a marriage. I spend more time with Callum than I do with my wife." But the partnership has clicked. "It has, on balance, been a riot," says Gross. "Callum's also very daring physically, and that really benefits the style of the show. David didn't like to do stunts, which becomes very limiting. Whereas if you chucked Callum out of a plane, it would be fine."
Replacing a character on "an established show that has a huge fan base," says Rennie, "means you're gonna be judged as, 'Well-you're-not-the-other-guy.' " And it took him a few episodes to feel secure in the role. But there was instant chemistry with Gross. "I understand him as a good ol' Alberta boy," Rennie explains. "I know how whacked he is. People go, 'Jeez, you guys are so different.' But we're so much the same. We both have that outside-looking-in-at-the-ridiculousness-o
Still, Rennie does not expect to stick around. he insisted on a rare one-year contract--and it is doubtful Gross would risk type-casting myself as a Mountie for another season. When this one ends, Rennie plans to head straight for Los Angeles. "I just want to up the ante," he says. "In this country, I seem to work with a lot of first-time directors. And at this point, I can't risk being fucked with by people who are too neurotic with their material to allow me to do what I want." And, like Gross, Rennie is unhappy with the kinds of roles available in Canada. "Things have to change in the way we make movies," he says. "We don't write for heroic characters." Rennie seems to have his mind set on leaving Canadian the archetype in the dust. In Vancouver, he owns what he calls "a racing truck--a 1964 Mercury shortbox with a 390 El Camino engine." And he is looking forward to a long drive--due south.