Heads you win
Callum Keith Rennie argues the toss
It's fair to say that by any standards Callum Keith Rennie's audition for Due South was unconventional. "Paul Gross asked me whether I thought I could play Kowalski," recalls Rennie. "We were in a bar and we tossed a coin. I called right, but even then we had to do the best of three..."
But then Rennie has always thrived on being different from the crowd. As a kid, he listened to Canadian punk bands and sported a Mohawk haircut and admits that he spent most of his twenties drinking. At thirty-three, he finally quit. "I got a piece of glass in my eye in a bar fight. I thought: This has gone far enough."
Not a man for using a dozen words when one will do, he admits that television people sometimes find him "difficult", but maintains that this is due to his refreshingly honest attitude towards the acting profession.
He is very choosy about his roles and turned down the recurring part of "Ratboy" (Agent Alex Krycek in The X-Files) for fear of being tied down to something for too long. So his one-year contract on Due South suits him fine.
"I'd only seen a couple of episodes of Due South before landing the part and I'd never worked with Paul Gross before." says Rennie. "Although a lot of my previous roles have been bad guys, I didn't feel the need to do any research with the police. Anyway, I play a cop like I play a bad guy.”
"Kowalski's the sort of guy who acts before he thinks. Although he appears hard on the outside, he's really quite soft. It's pretty much a learning competition between him and Fraser, with each fulfilling a quality lacking in the other."
Paul Gross concurs: "At its core, the relationship is about trusting each other implicitly, but on the surface there is the friction that arises between two people whose backgrounds are poles apart. It's a different relationship from the one Fraser had with Ray. It's still city cop/Mountie, but Kowalski's just kind of crazy." Gross adds: "As for Callum, he's a very sexy guy on screen, an intriguing presence."
Ask Rennie what it was like being the new guy joining an established series, and his reply is: "Complicated yet simple!" He is more forthcoming when discussing scenes from "Mountie on the Bounty", the two-part finale to season three, wherein Fraser and Kowalski are saved from drowning by being blown sky high — literally.
Rennie explains the problems he encountered: "It was definitely my most uncomfortable experience on Due South to date. I was slung up in a harness 100ft up in the air, hanging from a crane, to simulate flying after being soaked in cold water. I had bruises on my back for two weeks."
Detective Stanley Kowalski
Named after the chief protagonist in A Streetcar Named Desire (his father was a Brando fan), Stanley Raymond Kowalski is a tough-talking American who consistently belies his oft-voiced vow that he won't risk his neck for anyone. His record includes three citations for bravery.
Never having liked his full name, Kowalski prefers to be called Ray. A happy coincidence, given the nature of his current assignment as stand-in for Ray Vecchio.
As an undercover cop, Kowalski understands that loneliness comes with the territory, but in this case he soon discovers unexpected and pleasant bonuses in the shape of Fraser, his 'sister' Francesca and her large Italian family.
Broody, secretive, invariably scruffy, and no respecter of authority, Kowalski tends not to share Fraser's ideology. To him, it's just a job. He's also short-sighted and, whilst a crack shot with his glasses on, without them he is a danger to low-flying aircraft.
He was a keen boxer until retiring from the ring when he married Stella. The pair are now divorced (Ray wanted children, Stella wasn't ready to give up her career) and she is the Assistant State's Attorney. But the passion is still there and he hopes to win her back some day.
Ever since 1974 Kowalski has been haunted by bank robber Marcus Ellery, who terrified and humiliated him during a robbery he witnessed as a teenager. That incident ultimately led to him becoming a cop, though not necessarily for all the right reasons.
Surprisingly, one of Kowalski's favourite forms of relaxation — a passion he and Stella shared since they were childhood sweethearts — is ballroom dancing.
Callum Keith Rennie was born in Sunderland, England, and raised in Alberta. He was a stage actor in Edmonton, where, working on the university's campus radio station, he first caught the acting bug. Moving to Vancouver, Rennie appeared in a number of series produced locally, including Lonesome Dove, Highlander and The X-Files. In 1993, he won a Genie Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his role as the nerdish boyfriend in the movie Double Happiness. Rennie has gone on to play a recovering Junkie in Curtis's Charm, laconic guitarist Johnny (sic!) Talent in Bruce McDonald's punk rockumentary Hard Core Logo and con man Jerry Bines in CBC's For Those Who Hunt The Wounded Down, a performance which led to critics comparing thirty-seven-year-old Rennie to James Dean.
As one scribe totes up: "He has the rugged cool of a bad boy who has been to hell and back, looks better for it, and now humours the camera with good behaviour."
From Due South Magazine scans found here.