Mad about the boy

McAuliffe starred as the young Gatsby in Baz Luhrman’s film

Callan McAuliffe talks to Shelley Marsden about Leonardo di Caprio, filming in Belfast and acting by osmosis…

Right now, most 18 year olds are getting ready for university, playing football with their mates, and chatting up girls. Not so for Callan McAuliffe, who today was on set in Belfast with Sir Ben Kingsley and Gillian Anderson, shooting a scene for the upcoming sci-fi movie Our Robot Overlords in which he plays the lead role of Sean Flynn.

“We’re just switching to night shoots”, says the disarmingly mature and eloquent Irish-Australian on a break from filming. “We just had the pre-wrap party last night, just a little celebration to remind everyone we’re about to wrap on the film because when we do everyone flies out the next day. So my working day begins at 5.30pm and finishes at 5.30am. It’s full-on! But we get Sundays off, that’s something.”

The teenager, who began his US career when Rob Reiner handpicked him for his first lead role in Flipped, says it’s been a great experience so far, and, somewhat surprisingly as he’s not the most glitzy member of the cast, was particularly impressed with Croydon actor Roy Hudd. “ Roy is definitely one of those guys you know you’ll learn from. I’ll probably do something later in my career that’ll have come from him.”

It’s also McAuliffe’s first visit to Ireland (the film is being shot in the North of Ireland, Wales and the Isle of Mann), and it’s exactly as he imagined it. “I have Irish roots, so it’s been good to make it over here. We were in Belfast for most of the time. My impression of cities is pretty similar a lot of the time, but we’ve taken a couple of drives out to the countryside an hour or so away for some of the sets and… it’s just how I thought it would be. Those rolling hills and dramatic clouds… gorgeous place.”

Before our chat descends into talk of how green the grass is, I ask the actor about one of his most recent jobs, playing the young version of Gatsby in Baz Lurhman’s screen adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, set in prosperous Long Island during one decadent summer in 1922. His on-screen appearance lasts all of a minute, but he says it was fascinating to be involved in such a huge Hollywood production.

“I felt very lucky to be involved even with a very small role”, says McAuliffe. “It was a pretty long-haul thing for me though, because I’m based in LA but we were in Australia for the entire shoot. It was a hell of a lot of work for very little screen-time but of course, I was honored to be a part of it all.”

Playing the younger Gatsby to Di Caprio’s lead, McAuliffe would bump into the bigger star on set but had no scenes with him, so the chance to discuss Gatsby – or anything else for the matter – didn’t come up. He did do some script read-throughs with Di Caprio and co-star Carey Mulligan, and did have a good long conversation with Di Caprio at the film’s official after-party: “I wouldn’t go as far as to say we ‘hung out’, but we had a very cool chat.”

Did Di Caprio have any good advice for a young upstart?! “If you mean about acting, no!” says McAuliffe. “I feel like actors in reality don’t really talk to each other or ‘instruct’ other actors on the acting game; it comes across as quite pretentious when you do that. With Leo, he just wanted to have a bit of a chat about this and that. I greatly respect that he was willing to spend a bit of time with me because everyone wants a piece of somebody like that. But no, I’ve never spoken to an actor that has tried to give me advice.”

He may not have received pearls of wisdom directly, but for someone that’s at the beginning of his career, McAuliffe has shared screen space with some of the biggest names in cinema. There must be a great deal of learning going on by just by sitting on the sidelines and watching them in action, is there? “You take in a lot through osmosis, simply watching great actors do their thing. Leo I didn’t get to see ‘acting’ that much, but Samuel L. Jackson I got to see on set quite a lot. You don’t know you’ve learned anything from these guys at the time – it just happens, and it’s a very subconscious experience. You don’t quite know when, but you might reuse a technique you’ve seen them use. It’s not a conscious education.”

McAuliffe joins Jackson in action movie ‘Kite’, the live-action film remake of Japanese Yasuomi Umetsu’s Kite anime, due for release next year. It focuses on a young woman called Sawa who, when her cop father is killed, tries to track down the killer with the apparent help of his ex-partner. McAuliffe plays Oburi, a childhood friend of Sawa’s, and the two later meet again in their teens to “battle a changed world together.” He describes him as “a protector; he has seen a lot more death than anyone should see in the world that changed from his childhood. He comes back into Sawa’s life to see the journey through with her.”

Apart from loving the action scenes involved (and the experience of acting alongside someone close to his own age – lead actress India Eisley is 19), McAuliffe admits he enjoyed the South African shoot because it allowed him to indulge in another passion – wildlife.  “We shot in Johannesburg, and I had always, always wanted to go to South Africa. It was gorgeous. Johannesburg is similar to other cities, but it’s also got a very different culture, so you know you’re in South Africa at the same time. I did get to do a bit of travelling, so as soon as I could, I headed to Kruger National Park, and got to see a bit of wildlife close up. These are the perks of the job, you know?!”

For the full article, see this week’s Irish World newspaper (issue 10 August 2013).

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