by Jen Johnston
My editors are fantastic. They encourage me, they give me helpful suggestions, AND they do not hesitate to stand up for me when an angry Richard Gere fan e-mails to make critical comments on something I have written. “We don’t know her,” they say. They do however, enjoy it when I tell stories about terribly embarrassing moments. Here goes....
We were at the theatre. Two scary movie veterans (Sean and John) and myself. It was their turn to pick the film. They, having absolutely no respect for my wussiness factor decided to pick the most frightening looking thing available; a new David Cronenberg film called Existenz. As I sat in the darkening theatre, Sean (horror vet #1) turned and asked “Scared Jen?” “SCARED? ME?” I replied in a voice you might expect to emanate from an aerobics instructor on 26 cups of coffee. “Of course not. It’s only a movie.” As I had a carefully planned out technique for surviving scary movies, ( a. closing my eyes when the ominous music starts; and b. leaving the theatre for 15 or 20 Mountain Dew refills) I was not too concerned. Until the movie started that is, and I found that I didn’t want to shut my eyes as there was this incredible actor on screen named Callum Keith Rennie who was so handsome he was obviously some sort of special effect, and that I couldn’t leave the theatre without leaving my shoes behind as they had become permanently bonded to the floor in one of the most permanent adhesives known to man: Movie Floor Crud. These factors led to 90 of the most terrifying minutes of my life. (Not to mention leading me to one of the most irritating cinema-goers habits: attempting to LOUDLY assist the characters on screen. I think at one point I yelled out “DON’T TRUST HIM!!” at the top of my lungs managing to embarrass the two uber-cool people I was with. This was quite a feat considering that these two people think nothing of performing Klingon mating rituals in public places.) After the movie was over John (horror vet #2) leaned over and said “How’d you like the movie Jen?” “Whurg,” I replied as my brain was not concerned with pesky tasks like forming complete sentences at that time. It seemed to be busy with trying to get my heart beating again. “You weren’t SCARED were you?” asked John. “NO,” I answered demonstrating the brain’s amazing ability to tap dance around the truth of a situation in order to preserve one’s dignity.
I jittered my way home, and once inside, while maintaining a 50 foot distance from my computer games, (Existenz joke) began to look up the lovely Callum and his career.
This man, despite being a fairly independent actor has an absolutely HUGE fan base, headed up by a devoted webmaster named Sarah. (Her wealth of information on Callum can be found at http://www.fortunecity.com/lavender/gilliams/559/ ) “What attracts me to Callum’s acting?” she said. “Well, that’s a hard one to answer. I think it’s because he’s played roles all over the spectrum and has been convincing in every single one. He’s just a damn fine actor.” Rennie has built his own personal legion of admirers with his slow, smouldering roles. Every single time the scrapper has appeared, (with the possible exception of roles where he has obviously been attempting to frighten me to death) he has a rather unique capability of causing women to stop breathing, forming coherent sentences etc.....The best example of this would be his role in Last Night. Rennie plays Craig in this tale of apocalypse nearing. Craig’s particular method of preparing for the end of the earth is to ensure that he leaves with no fantasy unfulfilled. When I found that I was going to be able to speak with Callum, this was the first movie I rented for *ahem* research purposes. I watched it with a roomful of (excepting myself) very married women. All of whom were gossiping non stop until Callum appeared. Then, all of a sudden, the chatting stopped, and the estrogen level in the room mounted to suffocating proportions.
You know how they say it takes twice as much energy to swing and miss as it does to swing and hit? The same can be said for the amount of nerve necessary to phone someone and have them answer, and phone someone and getting their machine.( “This is Callum. I’m not....ummm...Call me Back”) I did finally get him on the phone, only to discover that he is just as magnetic as he appears to be on film. It comes naturally to this deadpan actor.
We talked about Due South, and I asked how he landed the role of Ray Kowalski. “I didn’t actually have to audition,” Callum said. “I just had to meet with Paul Haggis* (series creator). I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to do the show, so we did a coin toss to see if I’d join the cast. I lost, so I asked if we could do it again ‘cause I realized just how badly I wanted to do it.” Callum says on the onset environment that “it was great fun. It’s one of the best television environments I’ve ever worked on. It was a real hands on type of atmosphere. There was total hilarity and retardedness every day.” He then explained the effect that the role had taken on his career. “It affected it positively. My profile suddenly became much higher. I went from no one knowing me, to walking through a Belgian airport, or playing tennis in South Africa, and having people know my name.” Unlike his Due South counterparts, Callum doesn’t have a particular favourite episode. “I watch any of them, and critique my performance. Like the first one I did, I think ‘ooo, I’m a little bit tight there.’ Then I watch a later one and think ‘I’m starting to find my legs.’ Each one brings back memories of the day for me, what we had for lunch, what the weather was like...”
When I put the word out in my little village that I would be speaking with Callum, mounds of videotapes showed up on my doorstep. In amongst the hours and hours of DaVinci’s Inquest, Twitch City, and movies that arrived I found an early interview where he stated that Due South was a good experience for his personal growth. I asked him to clarify. “I never had to be a team player before,” he said. “I was used to showing up, doing my thing, and leaving. I couldn’t do that here. The atmosphere, and the bond I formed with everyone was intense.”
I asked him what sort of roles he’d like to be playing. “I’d like smaller roles where I get paid more.” (He was kidding. I think. Sometimes he is so buried in his sarcasm it’s hard to tell.) He went on to tell me about his newest project Flower and Garnet. “I’m very proud of it,” said Callum. “ I play a dad who is really detached from his kids. I love roles like that, I can do them simply and honestly.”
If he wasn’t acting, Callum says he would be “A cat burglar. A good one. A sneaky one. Hmmmm....Maybe a golfer? I think I would just have to be doing whatever I developed a passion for.”
When I asked him about his biggest influences, it seemed to throw him. He paused, then answered “My brothers. My brothers are my family. My manager is a great friend. Professionally, Marlon Brando is fantastic. Billy Crudup is great. There was a certain sweetness to “Jesus’ Son” that I loved.”
When I wondered about what kept him in Canada he said that “it’s a self limitation. I really like the idea of supporting my roots.” Fans are eagerly awaiting Rennie’s next collaboration with Canadian director/actor/writer Don McKellar. “We’re hitting around ideas,” said Callum “but nothing’s set yet.”
I asked him what his fans generally say when they first meet him. “Asshole,” Callum replied. (Again, only kidding.) “Generally they just seem to be able to place my face but not my name. Sort of the ‘haven’t I seen you someplace before?’ thing. Although, I did go in to pick up my golf clubs the other day and the guy behind the counter said ‘I saw you having sex on TV last night. I can’t remember what I was watching though.’ I asked him if there were a lot of sex scenes, and he said ‘I don’t know. I fell asleep after half an hour.’”
What makes Callum so intriguing though is his contradictory public and private persona. In all of his roles, he is a ball of soft light, not overt, but fiery enough that you can’t take your eyes off him. As Ray (Due South), or Craig (Last Night), or even his beaten-down Jerry (For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down) there is an all encompassing bravery that leads his audience to believe that he fears absolutely nothing. Yet, in person he seems almost shy. And, much to my surprise, this fiercely gentle actor gets star struck. “I’ve only been star struck twice,” said Callum. “Once on a plane, I asked Bobby Hull for his autograph. And the other on one of Christopher Walken’s film sets. The director brought me over to meet him, and I mumbled something, and it all ended very quickly.”
My time speaking with Callum left me with an inescapable conclusion. This gentleman is much more 3-D than your average performer. He adores golfing. (For some incomprehensible reason. My particular style of golfing is to grab a club of some sort, stride directly to the ball, take a hearty swing, and then check to see if the ball has moved from it’s original location. If no, I take another swing. If yes, I go find another ball because there is absolutely no way that I will ever find the first one. This would be an ideal spectator version of golf, save for the fact that everyone watching would be killed within minutes.) He loves Basquiat’s paintings, calling them “both beautiful and political.” He was so open with every topic we touched on that I hung up the phone feeling as though I’d known him for years.
The Atlantic Film Festival is coming up fast down here in my neck of the woods. I am hoping that we will manage to get a chance to screen Callum’s Flower and Garnet, so that I will be able to cement my status as an admirer of this man by being first in line. I am volunteering at the fest though, so I’m hoping that if any fellow theatre goers out there make it to the show before me they will do me two favours:
1) Save me a seat for the next screening. I missed Last Night on the big screen, I’m NOT missing this.
2) Please keep your eyes open for a pair of black Converse sneakers. They are probably still welded to the floor.
Questions from the Fans
How do you approach your roles?
“I dig in the corners, I go shift to shift. No, really I just do my best.”
What was the first album you ever owned?
“The Beatles. Revolver.”
What are you reading?
“In the bathtub....”David Peltz’ Putting Bible, for fiction Night Train by Martin Amis.
Who are you listening to?
“I listen to all kinds of different stuff. Elvis Costello, Eminem, The Replacements, The Headstones....”
What’s been your favourite movie role?
“Billy Tallent. (Hard Core Logo) That movie was so close to me. I grew up in it.”
How’s Alberta? (His dog)
“She’s good. She’s lying here on the bed next to me with her head on her paws. Are you good Alberta? Yeah, she’s good.”
What did you think when you read the script for “Memento?”
“Wow.....What?.....I don’t get this.....I think I need to read it again.” (Again, joking.)
What’s been your toughest role so far?
“The role of me. No....probably Flower and Garnet.
Were you nervous about appearing on The X-Files?
“No, not at all. It was a local thing when I was on. There were a lot of friends there.”
* Is this correct? I know that fanon (and I seem to remember a PG interview as well) says that this happened with Paul Gross, not Paul Haggis, who - as far as I know - wasn't even around at that time anymore.**
**ETA: Okay, according to several Paul Gross interviews (like this one scriggle posted in the comments) it was Paul Gross with the coin flip, not Paul Haggis.
(Since Flower and Garnet (released 2002) is mentioned I am assuming this interview took place in 2002 and will tag it accordingly.)