by Valerie Fortney, Calgary Herald, October 4, 2002
It's not easy being shy when you're one of Canada's hottest actors.
But Callum Keith Rennie is getting used to it. The Gemini award-wining actor, who's appeared on such TV shows as Due South, The X-Files and Da Vinci's Inquest, as well as in films such as Memento, Time Cop and Hard Core Logo, has spent the last seven years under an increasingly glaring spotlight.
There are still some things he'll never quite understand about the whole fame game, though.
For instance, why some in the media have coined him Canada's answer to Brad Pitt.
"I don't know who says stuff like that," the slow-talking actor says over the phone from his Vancouver home. "I don't know what that means. What does that mean?"
Or why, when you become successful for pretending to be somebody else all the time, everyone wants to know every juicy detail about the real you.
"It brings you a lot of attention," he says, "and some of it's bad."
Rennie won't elaborate, but it's clear some of the unwanted attention he's referring to revolves around his early, before-stardom life.
The facts of the matter have been well documented in the media, fuelling comparisons to other rebel actors such as Marlon Brando, James Dean and Pitt. Born in England and raised in Edmonton, Rennie dropped out of school twice (Mount Royal College and the University of Victoria), both times after only two weeks of enrolment. He then worked at a variety of jobs that included laying railroad tracks, bartending and tree planting.
In 1993, he nearly lost an eye in a bar fight, an experience that finally prompted him to halt years of heavy drinking. He has a tattoo on his right bicep of the Champion spark plug logo, inspired by American Painter Stuart Davis. He has a dog named Alberta, in homage to his home town, and a cat named Cleek, a kind of golf club and a nod to his favourite new sport.
The most important fact of all: It took the ruggedly handsome drifter until the age of 25 to uncover his natural-born ability.
It's a discovery that he believes saved his life.
"At a certain point in my life, I thought I was beyond repair," says the 41-year-old Rennie. "To come from where I came from to where I am today... It's great to be doing what I'm doing."
Those who know him saw this potential long before Rennie did.
"He was born with an actor gene," says Calgary poet Sheri-D Wilson, who became friends with the then-struggling actor in the early 1990s when he lived with her friend Babz Chula, another Gemini award-winning actor (These Arms of Mine).
"He has an instinct on stage and on camera that is unbelievable. Not just charisma, which he has in spades, but he also seems to understand something innate about performance and text. He knows it. He just knows it."
Such ability has allowed Rennie to play a wide variety of roles, from Hard Core Logo's rock'n'roll rebel Johnny Gallant1 to a hired thug in Bruce McDonald's Picture Claire and a malevolent lover in Lynne Stopkewich's Suspicious River.
But it's his most recent role, as that of Ed, a widowed father of two, that offered him his biggest acting challenge yet.
"I didn't understand him at all," Rennie says of his character in Flower and Garnet, which will be screened today at the Globe 2 at 9 p.m. as part of the Calgary International Film Festival.
"Not having kids, there was stuff that I thought would be simple, but ended up being much harder to do."
Rennie credits the film's writer and director, Keith Behrman, with helping him bring Ed to life. "Keith had the balls to see that maybe I hadn't played that type of character before, but he could see it in me. It was nice to be pushed and pulled around by him."
In the film, Ed, whose wife died giving birth to their son Garnet (played by the adorable Colin Roberts) is left to raise the boy with the help of his six-year-old daughter Flower (Jane McGregor).
After a brief introduction to the main characters, the story fast-forwards eight years, showing Ed as a dispassionate, aloof father, Flower as a lost teenager and Garnet as a lonely, socially impaired young boy.
Shooting the film in black and white2, and locating it in the barren British Columbia town of Ashcroft adds to the feeling of isolation. Yet life isn't always so predictable and the film reflects that, as it follows the trio on their winding journey to reclaiming a sense of family.
Rennie loves the film for many reasons, not the least of which is its Canadian content and setting.
"I keep doing Canadian films because they'll have me," he says with a laugh. "Seriously, I love to do them because I'm from here, and it's our stories."
The actor continues to resist the pull to move full time to Los Angeles, despite having no trouble snagging choice roles in Hollywood film and TV productions.
He's so passionate about his "Canadian-ness," in fact, that he's spent the past week in a tizzy over the possible departure of Ron MacLean from Hockey Night in Canada.
"Don (Cherry) without Ron just wouldn't work; it's like Martin without Lewis," Rennie says, getting audibly agitated. "I'll boycott it - CBC is our national network and if I pay tax dollars, I should be allowed to vote."
Ask him about his career plans, though, and he gets downright Zen-like.
"I live a bit too much on my nerves, lots of stuff just happens; I don't really have a plan," says the actor, whose other favourite downtime activity is painting. "I wouldn't say I'm ambitious, I just do what feels right for me."
Ambitious or not, Rennie's ability to choose interesting characters and bring them to life in his own inimitable way has given him the kind of fame and fortune other actors would kill for. He'd better get used to that spotlight glare, because it's only going to get brighter.
1 Yeah, I don't know either.
2 Wrong as well; I don't know if the film was planned in black & white at some point though. Possible.