First-rate supporting actor in US series, known as a Cylon in Battlestar Galactica, Canadian Callum Keith Rennie glorifies Californication second season as Lew Ashby, the hallucinated producer and new best friend of Hank Moody
by Pierre Langlais
PL- Lew Ashby looks like a perfect embodiment of Californication rock'n'roll spirit ...
CKR- He's mostly a pretty good contrast to Hank Moody. He propels him in a world new to him. Lew is a perfect embodiment of Los Angeles, the excesses, the decadence - what the series centers around...
PL- For all his excesses, he's also a poetic character...
CKR- Yeah, there's something of Gatsby in this lonely and broken guy whose life is even more depraved than Hank's, and who drags Hank to his dark side.
PL- Could it be that Lew is Hank's excessive counterpart?
CKR- Probably, seeing that none of the decisions that he makes seems to have any consequence ever, not like Hank. He never plans what he does, he never apologizes... though he also got to suffer in his past life from what we learn.
PL- How did this character grow in you?
CKR- I met David Duchovny on the X-Files, when I played a small part (editor's note: in 1994), then we met again for the movie (editor's note: in 2008), at the time when he received a Golden Globes nomination for Californication. He gave me the first season to watch and I watched it over one night. I loved it, I told him so and as he's a producer, he offered me a part! Tom Kapinos and David wanted a rock'n'roll character, and they have invented Lew Ashby for me but they left me free to imagine his personality. I grew up surrounded by musicians and rockers so I had my idea of what Ashby would be like...
PL- How did you give life to Ashby?
CKR- I had to work hard, do some research and sell my views to the producers. My idea was to create a rich guy, but a rich guy who doesn't look it, a guy who walks around dressed in old jeans, but cruising around in a limo. He means to be down-to-earth, a simple guy, rock'n'roll, he doesn't want to look like someone you can buy. Lew Ashby has everything, but he misses something, he misses a part of his life.
PL- Was it planned from the start that he would stay only for one season?
CKR- Originally, I was supposed to shoot only three episodes, which became five, then eight, then the whole season... but it's only at the end that I got to know which fate I'd been dealt with...
PL- You shot Californication right after the end of your part in Battlestar Galactica. Did it help to get rid of your Cylon's skin?
CKR- What I liked most in Californication is the humanity of the characters. I'd just been working in a fake setting and as an absolutely not human character. I'd come to a point where I nearly forgot how enjoyable, how refreshing a real discussion or a mindless scene could be.
PL- With your next two roles, in Flashforward and 24, you go back to your usual job as a villain. Why are you always cast as a bad guy?
CKR- I don't know! must be my face I guess! (laughs) Usually when you get a part in a series which has already started, it's as a bad guy, since the good guys come in at the beginning... I also played a villain in Harper's Island (editor's note: a psychotic serial killer). Usually I play the bad guy in US series and the good guy in Canadian movies or on Canadian TV... Right now, I'm working on Shattered, a new Canadian series, where I am the hero, and I have a hard time getting used to it. When you get a small part as a bad guy, you can let go, you can give everything you have, play it heavy, because you're not here to stay. When you play the main role, and even more as a good guy, you have to build it, keep some under the belt. It's harder.
PL- One word about your part in FlashForward. Your character, Jeff Slingerland, one of the people who had no vision, has made a brief appearance before the series entered into a hiatus. Will he come back?
CKR- All I can tell you is that I'm shooting at least two more episodes. I'm not quite sure about who Jeff is though, good or bad... or both.
PL- In 24, you play the part of a Russian mobster. Were you lucky enough to get killed by Jack Bauer?
CKR- Mmh, let's say things don't go very well for me. When my character comes in, things look pretty good for him, but then it goes downwards pretty fast... (laughs)
PL- About Shattered. Can you tell us more about the series and the reasons that led you to accept to star in it? Reading the pitch, it looks like a cross between United States of Tara and a police drama...
CKR- Yeah, in some way, but United States of Tara is far more funny and meant for a more general audience. Shattered is more subtle in the way it tackles multiple personalities. I play a detective who has a multiple personality disorder, he manages to use his personalities to investigate, while he has to deal with the problems it creates in his private life. I've always been afraid to get trapped playing the same character for years, I like change, and this series is perfect for that. You play a character, who turns into another one, who turns into another... It never gets boring, you have to adjust your acting all the time.
PL- For a professional supporting actor, it's the ideal combination, right? A stable job, but where you get different roles!
CKR- Sure. There are days when I'm no longer the main character in Shattered, I'm just playing a doppelganger... in a completely different scenario, with different relationships with the other characters, everything different. The big challenge is not to lose contact with reality. If he's too crazy, off-kilter, if he loses it, then how can you explain that he keeps his job as a detective? Right now, I'm not sure where Shattered is going to, but this kind of role requires a hell of work. The important thing for me is to take some risks. And also to learn something from each role, whether it works or not.
Translated from French Generique(s) magazine March-April 2010, n° 27.
Scans of the article can be found here.