Actor Callum Keith Rennie would blend almost anywhere in his black hoodie, jean jacket and black pants -- well, maybe not so much in the posh downtown hotel where we meet during a break in shooting Shattered, a TV cop-drama pilot in which he stars, but certainly on the street outside.
But there's something memorable about Rennie's on-screen blending over a 15-year career -- it seems longer because he's been such an essential piece of every creative puzzle. He was the romantic foil to Sandra Oh in 1994's Double Happiness, and then a key part of the ensemble two years later in the punk-rock road movie Hard Core Logo. He's bounced between Canada (Last Night, eXistenZ) and the U.S. (Memento) ever since, most recently doing the Vancouver-L.A. one-two this year with David Duchovny in the feature X-Files: I Want to Believe and in TV's Californication.
"You don't want to steal focus, you want to participate in the whole of it," Rennie says of his supporting style. "Maybe that's the Canadian in me. I don't want to step on toes."
He had filmed a couple of X-Files TV episodes back in the mid-1990s, small roles for Rennie, but creator Chris Carter brought Rennie back for a major role in the X-Files feature released this summer.
"He brings a rare quality," Carter told me last spring. "He plays a villain but I think he approaches it with a humanity, actually, that makes the character more than it could have been."
Duchovny and Rennie bonded over several late nights filming a chase-and-fight sequence in downtown Vancouver alleys last winter.
Duchovny told Rennie about his series Californication, about a self-loathing, sex-addicted novelist in Hollywood. Duchovny gave him the first season DVDs and asked Rennie if he wanted in on the second season. Rennie agreed to play a volatile record producer who hires the novelist to do his biography. Originally there for just a couple of episodes, Rennie stayed for the whole season, currently airing in Canada on the Movie Network.
"[The writers] had a vague idea of what they were going for, they were writing as we went along, so that was exciting," Rennie says. "It was adult themes, people's dilemmas about art and selling out. What was great was to come up with ideas, say: 'David, you know what might be funny?' Then an episode or two later it's there."
Rennie, a four-rounds-a-week golfer in his days off, came up with a sequence with the two characters smacking balls over the mansions into L.A.'s Laurel Canyon.
"I thought we needed more scenes where we weren't at each other, or that weren't woman-related, just doing something mindless."
Rennie was impressed at how the star set the tone on Californication's set. The two would goof off between scenes by throwing stuff into trash cans, keeping a daily score.
"David runs the show in a great way -- a cohesive, fast-moving thing. Good ideas won the day."
While Rennie was in L.A. working this summer, he was offered the lead role in Shattered, a pilot for Canwest Global about a Vancouver ex-cop traumatized by the murder of his family. The trauma has left the character with dissociative identity disorder, wherein the victim manifests multiple personalities. Writer Rick Crew's rendering is a sort of Beautiful Mind meets CSI, as Rennie's character shares an apartment with those personalities -- a tough guy (Colin Cunningham) a small boy (Quinn Lord) and a teen computer whiz (Chad Krowchuk).
Rennie's character assumes those personalities outside the apartment, as he helps a cop (Toronto's Laura Jordan) solve crimes.
"We kept on seeing everybody all across Canada. We weren't really convinced that anybody could pull it off, changing into the other characters," says Debra Beard, who with her husband, Hugh, is one of the show's four executive producers. "Somebody said what about Callum, and it just hit us. We didn't even test him."
They find out early next year whether the show will be picked up as a series. For Rennie, the two weeks that wrapped Friday marked his debut as a show's anchor.
"I haven't done it before -- you don't have to take the heat when you're No. 2 or No. 3," he says. The first day's filming involved a complicated shoot-out scene next to Coal Harbour. "As we shot, I kind of went, OK, I thought it would be weirder, more uncomfortable. It seems that with the amount of work I've done I can take on that responsibility."
And Rennie kept in touch with Duchovny for advice on how to handle the main role.
"When you're No. 1 on a show there's more questions to be answered -- the tone, things to figure out," Rennie says. "I've been e-mailing him as I go, a couple of times I just had questions."
"The lead leads. That was the short and sweet David Duchovny kind of answer."
© (c) CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc.
From November 2008, found here.
ETA: Shattered has been green-lit for Showcase. The 13 ordered one-hour episodes are by now in pre-production (planned airdate is 2009/2010). From here. And here is the preview website from E1 Television.