A man of many faces
Veteran actor Callum Keith Rennie tackles the mystery of playing a cop with multiple personalities
From Monday's Globe and Mail Published on Sunday, Aug. 29, 2010
Callum Keith Rennie’s first big break came in 1996, when he was cast in the Mountie drama Due South, playing the intense, near-sighted detective Stanley Raymond Kowalski.
Fourteen years on, the Vancouver-based actor is once again back in the murky world of TV homicide. This time, as the unpredictable Detective Ben Sullivan on Global’s new drama, Shattered – where Rennie plays a cop who just happens to juggle multiple personalities.
“It’s not easy, this role,” says the 49-year-old actor, who has more than 100 TV and film credits to his name. “Because you’re trapped within a construct of not being discovered. That meant I couldn’t be too outrageous [when I switch personalities] and suddenly start spouting German.”
To prepare, Rennie teamed up with a coach in Los Angeles who helped him discern the individual characteristics of each personality as they pop up. (Sullivan, whose disease has been triggered by some unknown childhood trauma, never knows what will trigger the switch.)
“We worked on establishing the very basic setups for defining each of them so that each had a different MO, a different IQ, a different way of being in the world physically,” says Rennie. “To be honest, it was something of a discovery for all of us in terms of how you film that. It was quite a tricky path.”
Shot over seven months in Vancouver, Shattered also stars Camille Sullivan (as his partner Detective Amy Lynch) and Molly Parker (as his wife). The first episode, which premieres this Wednesday, was directed by Kari Skogland, whose films include Fifty Dead Men Walking and The Stone Angel.
“A lot of the things we did, we discovered as we were shooting,” adds Rennie, . “Kari is a genius at allowing things to play, and finding it as we go.”
Too often, Rennie says people with multiple personality disorder (also known as Dissociative Identity Disorder, or DID) spend their lives unsure what exactly is wrong with them.
“It’s misdiagnosed all the time,” asserts Rennie, who was recently seen on TV as record producer Lew Ashby in the Showtime series Californication. “They’re told they are bipolar. Or schizophrenic. But that’s often not the case. Or they might be all of the above. With DID, you speak in distinct and numerous voices. And you can’t remember what’s happening.
“There are no hard and fast rules. And some people go through their lives without anyone knowing. I was especially intrigued by that element of the script, because we’re all different people in different places. We can be bold and brash in one situation. Other times, quiet and reserved. It’s really an exploration of that side of human nature.”
Rennie also says he enjoyed reuniting with a bunch of familiar faces on Shattered, including Sullivan (who co-starred with him in Carl Bessai’s Normal) and Parker (with whom he’s appeared in a half dozen projects, including Lynne Stopkewich’s Suspicious River).
“This was a different, difficult project, and to have faces that I knew was helpful. There’s a shorthand if you’ve worked with someone a number of times,” he says. “You don’t have to work to get the relationship part. You can just work on the scenes and hopefully get them right.”
Rennie also had a reunion this summer with Don McKellar (who directed him in his Genie-winning role in Last Night) and director Bruce McDonald. One of Rennie’s most prominent early roles was that of guitar player Billy Tallent in McDonald’s 1996 Hard Core Logo; this year he and McKellar appeared in the sequel, Trigger, which premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The movie is a tribute to the recently deceased Tracy Wright, who was married to McKellar.
“I’m a producer on that film, and an actor with a very small part,” Rennie says of the indie feature, which features Wright and Parker as two rock and rollers who rediscover their shattered friendship. “But it was a labour of love. The moment Bruce found out Tracy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he pushed very quickly forward to have this movie made.
“Everyone threw in their time, their money and their energy to have this come together. We found out on a Sunday that Tracy was sick, and we started shooting the next Saturday,” adds Rennie. “It was great to come out and help. It was great to see Tracy.
“And it was an honourable thing for Bruce to have done – to have this wonderfully talented actress going out doing what she did best.”