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Callum Keith Rennie: The Buddy System (article)



CALLUM KEITH RENNIE: The Buddy System
TV ZONE magazine Issue #104 (July 1998)


The due SOUTH tale moves on, with a new partner pretending to be the original one - well, that's how the story goes...

Constable Benton Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police travels south of the border to Chicago, Illinois in search of his father's murderer and is befriended by Detective Ray Vecchio of the Chicago Police Department. He introduces the Mountie to big city life while helping him "get his man". Despite their cultural differences, Fraser and Ray come to respect each other and a close friendship develops as they continue to fight crime and injustice in the Windy City.

Such is the premise of Due South. Cancelled twice by America's CBS Television Network, the series recently finished filming its third season in Toronto thanks to the financial support of its creator, Alliance Communications, and international backers. David Marciano was only able to reprise his role of Ray Vecchio in two episodes so Canadian actor Callum Keith Rennie was hired to appear as Ray Vecchio in the remaining stories.

"I was living in Vancouver at the time and the DS people called my agent to see if I would be interested in the role," recalls CKR. "I'd seen a couple of episodes, but because they shot the series in Toronto they rarely flew people in from the West Coast to work on the programme. When something's not being filmed in your neck of the woods you tend not to have the same sort of awareness of it.

"I'd worked with George Bloomfield [DS director and third season creative producer] on a couple of episodes of La Femme Nikita, so he sort of knew me. They flew me out to Toronto for a week to go over the material and do a courtesy read for the BBC. I kept going back and forth with my agent trying to figure out if DS would be a cool thing but I still wasn't convinced. One night Paul Gross and I went out for a drink at a bar and he asked me, 'So, are you going to do the show or not?' I said, 'This is an important decision, so important, in fact, that we should flip a coin.' So we did and the show lost," he jokes. "I suggested that we go two out of three and I guess that convinced him that I wanted the job."

New 'Ray'

Rennie makes his first appearance in DS in the third season opener BDTH. Fraser returns to Chicago after a working vacation to discover someone impersonating Ray Vecchio. No one else appears to notice the difference but Fraser decides to play along with the charade long enough to help 'Ray' capture the arsonist. Fraser is eventually told that his 'new' partner, Detective Stanley Raymond Kowalski, is masquerading as Ray to protect the real Vecchio who has gone undercover. Despite his character's self-assured stance in the story, CKR was understandably concerned from the beginning about finding a comfort level with his performance.

"It's hard enough coming into a show that's already established but the fact that you're replacing someone means you're probably going to be judged even more severely," he explains. "You're apt to hear, 'Oh, he's not the old guy,' or 'The old guy would never have done that.' You sort of have to grit your teeth and say to yourself, 'Yeah, I'm not the old guy. If that were the case then the old guy would be here but he's not, so why not just watch and see what happens.'

"You never know right off the bat whether or not it's going to work out and if you're going to fit in," continues CKR. "You always start work on any new project with a certain amount of hesitancy and try to find the line that you can cross. Of course, once you find that line and cross it, the more you want to keep crossing it. There were some aspects of the show that I felt hadn't perhaps been as fully explored with the previous partner, so I tried to incorporate some of these new qualities into my character.

"There is an episode, I think it's Seeing Is Believing, where I began acting up between takes. Paul asked, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'Paul, this is what I do normally.' He just laughed and told me, 'Well, we'll just normally keep doing that.' I said, 'OK,' and he gave me the freedom to do what I do best in my mind, which is to loosen things up and be a little more eccentric. Naturally, there are acting compromises you have to make as you go along because you're not the one paying the bills. You think, 'OK, they already know what the series is all about, but what if I could show them where things *could* go? Maybe then they'll jump on it and we'll go there.' It took, I think, five episodes for me to really find my footing, but from that moment on DS became what I though it should be."

Brando Name

The cocky, quirky, broody Detective Kowalski is named after Marlon Brando's equally unsociable character in the 1951 film 'A Streetcar Named Desire'. Despite his sometimes abrasive attitude the detective is a sensitive and passionate man but a lonely one. A talented boxer, Kowalski retired from the ring when he married his childhood sweetheart Stella. The two have since divorced but Kowalski occasionally still sees Stella is her capacity as an assistant state's attorney and secretly hopes to win her back one day.

While Detectives Vecchio and Kowalski may share similar views in regard to the criminal element and have an equally unorthodox approach to their jobs they remain two very different individuals. It was not long before CKR made Stanley Raymond Kowalski completely his own. Even the relationship between Kowalski and Fraser changes as the two learn how to trust one another and come to terms with their unique backgrounds.

"I think when he first takes on this assignment Kowalski is thinking, 'This is going to be a lousy job.' He's obviously done something not so popular to be hitched up with a Mountie and pretending to be a guy who he doesn't even know. It's even insinuated a couple of times throughout the programme that he's not sure he even wants to be a cop. Kowalski's attitude towards himself and his work begins to change the more he gets to know the Mountie. Fraser has several qualities that Kowalski need but he's also aware that Fraser needs a bunch of his, so there's this sort of competition that takes place between the two. This gives their friendship a slight edge but deep down they know they can depend on each other."


Partial transcription found here

TV Zone Scans (click to enlarge)
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Tags: .genre: article, actor: paul gross, tv: due south, year: 1998
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