With the release of the Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s ‘The Young and Prodigious TS Spivet, I had the opportunity to chat to Mr Callum Keith Rennie, the charismatic character actor cast as archetypal old school cowboy and tight-lipped Spivet senior.
He was in Canada, I was in Ham (south-west London), the phone line was rubbish and we were cut off before the finalé, but none the less it can be said that Callum Keith Rennie gives good chat.
How did you get the part as Mr Spivet? Was it a role you actively pitched for?
Some material was sent to Jean-Pierre when my agent heard he was shooting in Canada and one of the producers Suzanne (Girard) was a big promoter of me being in the movie, so it was really just a slow process of presenting Jean-Pierre some material and then knowing where and when he was shooting the film. And then there was a meeting while I was filming in Toronto with Jean-Pierre and we had a sit down and that was it.
You have worked with some iconic directors, Christopher Nolan, David Cronenberg and of course Jeunet on TS. Who would be your number one director to work with?
I don’t really look at it that way, I look at projects and see what is well written and interesting but for me to work with JP is a career highlight. As somebody whose work I appreciated and was interested in, to watch him do his thing and be a part of it was fantastic.
It was great for me, because I loved Amelie and all his other films, and you rarely get a chance to watch a master at work and I loved that. But I really don’t put it into a place of ‘there is this or that director I want to work with.’ It’s always about whatever projects come around and interest me.
Jeunet creates a very distinctive and stylistic look for his movies. Are you aware of this during the production or does it only become apparent once you see the footage?
Because he is creating tableaus it took me a second to remind myself OK, we won’t be shooting in a conventional way. So a lot of the shots were wider and bigger and not moving into close-up, because he is creating a visual world which is not going to be broken up with the same sort of coverage you would get from another style of movie.
He is trying to have a huge expanse and create a living 3D version of life, having things move out towards the audience etc. so it’s a different shooting style.
I also liked how we would get the schedule laying out what we would be doing each day but this was very different from what we actually did. Which would be based on the wind, light, impulse and so it became shooting from the hip and it was fun to watch him changing course two or three times through the day so he get what he needed.
TS, played by a nine year old Kyle Catlett gave a very thoughtful and mature performance. Are young children aware of what they doing or is it more instinctive?
Casting the right people is key; kids at certain times are completely open and kind of unaware of the process that is going on around, them so it makes for honest interesting stuff. If you become too self-conscious about anything you start to stumble around a bit. Kyle in particular is very aware but Jean-Pierre, who to me is very childlike himself, can always find ways to relax the children and keep things honest, easy and non-stressful to He was good with all the children.
Do you find working with kids instructive in anyway?
It’s good to watch and with the two films I have done with kids it helps to keep me honest as some of the things they are doing are completely unscripted and can be quite wonderful.
Yours is a laconic character, an almost mythical persona whose presence, though often absent, is all over the film; do you put much preparation into a role like that or does it rely more on charisma?
It’s sort of about understanding the essence of the role, also went to Bose and Montana and spent a couple of weeks down there with cowboys and watched as they did their thing saw how their lives work and also their sense of mannerism and how little they give away (emotionally).
So you eliminate ideas from your mind, as to how they are. You think, OK that’s how they do that so I took a bunch of notes of how they behave as I didn’t want to be off track with how they are.
My character, the Father, is also a created image from the ideas of TS, where he is seeing his father as this guy who carries quite a bit of sadness but is also just a cowboy doing his thing, taking care of his family and working but quite quiet and somewhat distant.
Doing interviews must be pretty dull. Is there any question you yearn to be asked but never are?
I don’t want to be asked anything (laughs). No, you do work and people are interested but sometimes you are answering things from a few years back and its tricky…(more laughter and thinking noises), but there is no preferred question or style I hope to just have a nice conversation with somebody and that I don’t get caught in giving stock answers
Finally, as he son of two Scots, do you have an opinion on the referendum on Thursday?
Well I don’t know enough about the economics etcetera, but I think it’s interesting. I have lived my life here (Canada) since ‘64 and Quebec has tried to separate from Canada a number of times, they have referendums and maybe just that they are having these discussions means that the UK needs to take better care of the system there. I watched the debates and I am very curious about what is going to happen and…
It was then at the point of solving the UK’s many problems, I got cut off. Thanks Mr Rennie, I hope you had a nice conversation.
The Young and Prodigious T.S Spivet is available now on DVD and download from eOne.