Acting since the 1970’s on various TV series and movies such as The Rainbow Warrior, Goodbye Pork Pie and The Hobbit trilogy, work does not stop for English born Kiwi actor John Callen.
This year Callen is set to feature in the first ever Danish/NZ co-production Straight Forward produced by Screentime NZ alongside Denmark’s Mastiff and Viaplay in association with TVNZ, The NZ Film Commission, Acorn Media Enterprises and The Copenhagen Film Fund.
Straight Forward is an 8-part family crime drama which follows Silvia Petersen (Cecilie Stenspil) who finds herself locked in a story of revenge when notorious gangster Ravn (Mark Mitchinson) murders her father. Petersen escapes to Queenstown, New Zealand where she comes across affable Bruno played by John Callen.
Café owner Bruno meets Petersen while she is looking for a place to stay. She comes across “a bit of a creep” and Bruno steps in with his mild Italian accent and gentle nature, helping out a stranger. “Bruno has come from Italy and comes to NZ with memories with rather over bearing people from family. So there is a tiny hint he understands how close bad people can be. He knows them from Naples.”
Callen is English born and has lived in New Zealand since he was 16. “A lot of Kiwi’s say I have an English accent. I love doing accents. I can speak French and a little bit of Italian. My wife and I had a holiday planned in Sicily and the timing was that was happening AFTER we finished shooting.”
So, Callen took Italian classes in Titirangi prior to filming. “I had to learn some Italian and introduce an accent in to the character. Where it isn’t pure I can say he was only 6 when he came to New Zealand, 99% of the time. The same as what happened to me when I came to New Zealand at 16.”
Straight Forward was filmed in both Copenhagen and New Zealand with a Kiwi/Danish cast mix which was a productive collaboration for Callen. “The entire process was very positive… the whole thing was one of collaboration and cooperation, everybody was very friendly with each other. It was a sheer joy, the other actors were wonderful”
While the collaboration was positive for Callen, it wasn’t without a few hiccups. “Bruno decided he would get on the computer and find a little sentence in Danish. I got that in the script. The first time we went through it all the Danes on set fell about laughing. I said wait – you have an Englishman in New Zealand playing an Italian speaking Danish – give me a break!”
And after over 40 years of acting, it is still all go for Callen. Cast in numerous TV series and short films this year alongside voice work, Callen also has a gig at the university assisting a group of young people who are putting on a stage show of Beauty and the Beast. In between all of this Callen also does talking books for the Blind Foundation and the occasional Hobbit call up to talk to tourists.
Straight Forward is available online at TVNZ OnDemand now