On The Verge… Playing the young version of Jay Gatsby in the blockbuster The Great Gatsby later this year, Australian actor Callan McAuliffe is on the verge of great things, indeed. By M. Berlian
Born and raised in a Northern Beaches suburb of Sydney, Australia, Callan McAulliffe is making his mark as a star actor-to-be in Hollywood after an athletic injury in school sent him to the performing arts full-time.
DA MAN: You were quite an accomplished singer as a youth at school in Australia, how or why did you move over to acting?
Callan McAuliffe: My career in the performing arts both singing and acting began during a year a large sports injury took me off the track as a young teenager. My school recommended I continue studying Musical Theater (singing and theater) and an agent picked me up after I played “Oliver” in the musical. The acting opportunities became frequent from that time on. Singing has really always felt like an asset I’m lucky to have, but acting has taken over as the main focus as my career has evolved.
DA MAN: You’ll soon be featured in The Great Gatsby; how did you get the role of the young Jay Gatsby?
Callan McAuliffe: My agent recommended I audition and I attended the USA casting in Los Angeles. I, visually, on a regular day, don’t think I look like Leo DiCaprio, so for the audition I just did my best to become him using facial and body movements and, of course, with a USA accent. I am extremely grateful to Baz Luhrmann for picking me and to the makeup and wardrobe for their talent—from changing my hair color and eyes (contact lenses), thus the physical changes are me—but with a bit of help to ensure I do, in fact, resemble him on screen as a young man.
DA MAN: Your co-star Carey Mulligan cried in public when she was chose to play in The Great Gatsby; what was your reaction when you found out that you got the part as the young Gatsby?
Callan McAuliffe: Carey scored the lead of Daisy, alongside Leo as Jay Gatsby. I think all of us feel so fortunate to be in The Great Gatsby with such enormously talented people—I can understand why Cary would have been emotional. In the scheme of things my role is much smaller, however, it’s a close-to-overwhelming feeling when a brilliant director like Baz Luhrmann picks you to play the young Jay Gatsby with Leo as the older Jay and lead in this awesome film. The opportunity to work with him and workshop at the start in preproduction with all the key leads—was an extraordinary experience.
DA MAN: How was it working Baz Luhrmann, and how does he compare to other great directors you’ve worked such as Spielberg, Reiner, et al.?
Callan McAuliffe: Although my shoot was much smaller, of course, compared to the adult leads, my time in both preproduction with everyone and, then later on, the days of working and liaising with Baz Luhrmann, were one of the best of my career. To even imagine I could work with such gifted directors over the last few years is a long stretch from the kid running on the track who, thanks to a sports injury, embarked on a journey into the performing arts. I realize I have been very lucky and, if anything, this makes me work harder as I would like to try to work with icons and also work with the directors and crew who are our future icons. The best part of filming to me is the director, crew and cast. It’s just been an honor from start to finish with the roles I have enjoyed, so far.
DA MAN: You had to play a boy who disguised himself as a bikini-clad girl in a short movie you did, Franswa Sharl. What other kind of eyebrow-raising characters would you like to play?
Callan McAuliffe: As any actor will tell you, sometimes the roles can be challenging or, in the case of Franswa, not normally something I would consider doing in real life. But I like to become someone different in each role. Thus, Franswa and Director Hannah Hilliard gave me my first shot to just step out of my own personal comfort zone and just go for it. With my favorite actor being Johnny Depp—I would have to say my goal in this career is to always play someone other than a regular teenager. The sky is the limit as to what eyebrow-raising characters I would like to play. I look forward to being someone entirely new in each production I do. It makes it a whole lot of fun to just invent or create a character in sync with the director’s vision.
DA MAN: Do you feel your role as Sam in I Am Number Four was your breakout role?
Callan McAuliffe: I think my break came when I almost broke my kneecap during a sports lesson and my life changed course to a new career I would not have considered. My real break came thanks to the Director Rob Reiner, who picked me to be his lead in a romantic comedy (Flipped) when I was 14 years of age. While the film didn’t receive a large distribution—it was Rob and the cast (John Mahoney Anthony Edwards, Rebecca De Mornay, Penelope Ann Miller) and crew that confirmed to me this was the direction I should follow. To score a lead role in I Am Number Four as my next film—and playing the role of the nerd after I had just been the young romantic lead—was an incredible feeling as well as a bit of fun, given both roles were so totally different.
DA MAN: I Am Number Four was a success at the box office, but not a critical success. Which is more important to you as an actor; in other words, do you prefer that ‘the people’ like your movie or ‘the critics’?
Callan McAuliffe: I just enjoy acting. It is the director, cast and crew which I enjoy working with the most. The critics have a job to do. So whatever they feel—is A-OK by me, too. I Am Number Four was so much fun to work on. The Director D. J. Caruso (Eagle Eye), and co-stars, Alex Pettyfer, Dianna Agron (Glee) and Teresa Palmer (Sorcerer’s Apprentice) made it fun to film and work together to create a movie for a young teen audience. I still receive great feedback on the film. Some films are appreciated after the release as ‘people’ find it for themselves—after the hype, or lack of hype, have let it begin its own journey. This I like, because their opinion and feedback keeps it ‘real’.
DA MAN: You have mentioned an aversion to taking acting classes. What is it about them that you dislike?
Callan McAuliffe: I had a great time when working on the musicals (like live acting classes), I also enjoyed acting lessons and improv at my school with friends. I prefer (at this early time in my career) to create what I can with the character and then always work with the director’s vision. From here, I am at peace with what I can bring to the casting or film. If I needed a special skill or more fine-tuning in an area, I would not hesitate to take this advice or direction from the director. So far, I have not needed acting lessons. However, who knows what a future role may bring?
DA MAN: We’ve read that you learned acting by watching movies. Which films do you feel taught you the most and why those?
Callan McAuliffe: I watch a wide, wide range movies, TV, people in the street and in my life. Without meaning to, mannerisms and character traits seem to make their way into my head. Thus an uncle or a friend’s mannerism or a character from any movie or even a news item on TV, could well become part of a character I may play years from now.
Outfit by Emporio Armani
DA MAN: There are a lot of successful Australian actors in Hollywood right now. Have you asked or have any of them offered any advice for young Aussies like you to make it in Hollywood?
Callan McAuliffe: Currently, none of us have heaps of time to pause for advice—but, then again, if we were sitting and relaxing on a set together, or I feel I need to ask someone I know for help, I know they would be there for me. Australians are very supportive of each other in this industry.
DA MAN: What were you like growing up?
Callan McAuliffe: Typical Aussie kid. On the soccer field, at the beach, hanging out with friends. The first change (so I am told) is when I asked my mum to do singing lessons. I ended up in a terrific kids’ choir with a bunch of girls and guys where we sang modern songs—we even performed live on TV for the opening of the Olympic Games [in the year 2000]. I guess that was the beginning of the change from a regular kid … the opportunities began to change with doors opening in other areas.
DA MAN: How similar are you and your heartthrob teenage character in Flipped?
Callan McAuliffe: Nothing like him, so he was fun to play. I am told I am thoughtful and older than my years. Bryce was on a normal journey for a young boy of that timeline. More control from his parents and less choices, and more confusion! Today, I find my parents are supportive of my journey; they let me throw myself in the deep end and learn as I go, rather than control me.
DA MAN: We’ve heard that Flipped was your first-ever USA audition and you nailed it, how did that feel?
Callan McAuliffe: Awesome, probably no way to even describe that feeling. Definitely a once- in-a-lifetime experience! It’s worth mentioning that there were about five more callbacks in the USA and tapes sent from Australia before I was given the role, so it wasn’t an audition followed by, ‘Great, you have the role.’
DA MAN: What’s your plan after finishing school?
Callan McAuliffe: To continue working as an actor, because I really enjoy it, but to also begin to take units at college in the USA. I am taking what we call a ‘gap’ year this year to just not overload my plate with both study and work. I have just turned 17, thus intend on looking into college units in 2013/2014 and beyond. I will also continue with my ongoing interest in animals and upskill in my knowledge in that area. College subjects are the opposite to acting: ancient history, psychology, science, etc., I am not lacking for choice for the future.
DA MAN: Can you tell us more about your work with Wolf Connection animal rescue charity?
Callan McAuliffe: When I am in L.A., I work at the compound with the wolves learning about them as well as taking them on walks with the public, when I can. The wolves are both rescued wolves and wolf dogs, whose real role is to be part of programs that work with at-risk teenagers whose lives are challenged. Some of these kids are my age and younger. They have had bad luck or bad parenting and thus a bad start in life. Wolf Connection provides a sanctuary and counselors who help them across a day or weekend course working with the animals. That primal connection while looking after and caring for an animal [can be helpful]. It also plays a role within the program to help try to turn these kids’ lives around. I have done all my training and love spending time with the animals and the people who donate their time to make this charity work. My role is, of course, to also help raise funds. I was recently auctioned with a photographer who is an Oscar winner to take a family to the Wolf Connection for a private walk. The fundraising side is important for this charity—it allows it to help kids who just aren’t getting a good start in life.
DA MAN: Why is this charity project so important to you?
Callan McAuliffe: I guess anyone reading this interview has figured out I am into animals. This started my interest and I was introduced to Wolf Connection by an Aussie actor, Vernon Wells, who was in Mad Max. From that time on, I decided, with the support of my family, to get more involved. To find myself in a position where I can make a difference even if just making more awareness or helping to raise funds makes it a very worthwhile part to my life.
DA MAN: What natural gift would you like to possess?
Callan McAuliffe: To fly. I know this is a superpower, but after it is the special power I would like.
DA MAN: What foreign language would you like to be fluent in?
Callan McAuliffe: I am currently playing with learning French (given I have Aussie/French friends) but also for fun, Mandarin. In the past, I have learned both Japanese and Indonesian.
DA MAN: Any projects planned for 2013?
Callan McAuliffe: Yes. I am flying back to Australia. When Paradise Lost (starring Bradley Cooper) pulled the start date in Sydney, I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to score a role on a film called Underground. I auditioned for the director in Australia and scored a fantastic role. The film is based on a true story where teenagers hacked into the highest levels of security in the USA and found out information withheld from the public. This is based on a historic and true event. After that, I fly back to the USA as there are, at this moment, a couple of summer projects I would love to do—but that’s for my next interview!
Outfit by Prada
Photographs: Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
Styling: Lisette Mora