Interview: Callum Woodhouse

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Best known for portraying the role of Leslie Durrell in ITV’s acclaimed comedy-drama series The Durrells, Callum Woodhouse is a British actor from Stockton, County Durham. Continuing to flourish in the television industry, the 27 year-old is currently up in the Yorkshire Dales until the middle of July, filming the second series of the hit Channel 5 reboot of All Creatures Great and Small. I spoke to him to find out more about what it’s like working in television, his journey, and his favourite programmes to watch over lockdown.

When did your journey into the world of acting start?

My earliest memories go back to when I started at a theatre group called Arc, back in my home town in Stockton. I remember the first show I did was this Mafia drama, but we were all named after chocolate bars. I was Mr Crunchie and my auntie made me a gold T-shirt with the word Crunchie written down it. But my mum always says she took me to see the film Babe: Pig in the City in the cinema when I was three or four, and apparently I was in awe and just sort of pointed as if that’s what I want to do. So I think the start of my journey was down to Babe: Pig in the City!

Did you have any particular actors that you looked up to growing up?

I think the first actor that I became obsessed with was probably Tom Hardy. I discovered him around when he’d started working on bigger films with directors like Christopher Nolan. So I sort of went through his back-catalogue of work as I was waiting for his new films. I remember watching Stuart: A Life Backwards, he plays a character who has muscular dystrophy… before that I’d only really seen him play huge, menacing roles; it couldn’t be any more different. I remember being in awe, to be that diverse and have that level of versatility is something that was definitely an inspiration for me.

When did you realise it was the career path you wanted to follow?

It was quite early really. I left school, auditioned for drama school and received a place at LAMDA. But if I’m being honest, from very early on I decided it was what I wanted to do. My mum and dad were really supportive, but I remember my dad kept saying “make sure you get your GCSEs and A-Levels because what if it doesn’t work out.” I did get them, but I remember thinking at the time… it sounds sort of silly really, but I thought if I have anything to fall back on then it’s sort of okay if the acting thing doesn’t work. Whereas if there’s literally nothing for me to fall back on then it needs to work out. Probably quite a silly thing to do, but it seems to have worked out so far. It’s happening.

What was your first TV experience as an actor?

My first gig was The Durrells; I got that while I was still training at LAMDA. There were people in my year who were worried about what they were going to do, what part-time jobs they were going to get to pay their bills living in London, and I’d just been told I was going to film in Corfu for two and a half months with actors like Keeley Hawes. I mean, it was really surreal. It was the best first job for me to possibly have, the loveliest bunch of people. 

Have you faced any hurdles so far in your career?

I was lucky enough be part of The Durrells all the way through for four years. But I had nine months after series four of just solid no’s and not a single recall. I honestly got to the point where I thought I might have to throw-in the towel because I can’t deal with this anymore. Then literally a week later I landed All Creatures Great and Small and it’s been amazing. Almost like The Durrells 2.0. In a way, I’ve got a new family with this lot and it’s like The Durrells, but in the Yorkshire Dales. Looking back, it was actually very beneficial to have that break, it kept me grounded and appreciative when I landed my next job.

What would you say is the hardest part of the job?

Having to deal with a lot of rejection is tough, but you sort of learn to grow a thick skin and know that it’s not personal. I remember speaking to a friend of mine, he’s a director now, but he worked for years as a casting assistant. He said being on that side of the camera, if you’ve even been thought of by them to send an audition or to come in then you’re on the right track. You’re doing something right to even be in their mind, then the rest will honestly come down to something like “We’ve cast the mum and she’s blonde, they look alike so… him.” Once you’ve shared your part it really is out of your hands, so there’s no point in getting stressed about it. Another challenging thing is the time you can spend waiting on set—if you’re there for a twelve-hour day, four hours might be filming and the other eight you’re sat waiting for them to set the cameras up, and do this, that, the other. Andrew Brooke says the best way of looking at it is that the acting is for free. What they’re paying him for is the sitting and waiting for hours on end. It’s a really good way of looking at it. 

What are you best memories whilst working on a TV set?

The early days of The Durrells, I probably shouldn’t say really, but there was lots of finishing up on set and heading to the pub. I spent a lot of time hanging out with Josh (O’Connor) and Daisy (Waterstone) which was great fun. Being out in Corfu with that group of people was a really special time in my life. I’m still in touch with them and still see them, but it’s a very different feeling when you’re all together in Corfu creating something together. It’s a real cherished memory. Knowing how much I cherished that job helps me stay present and really cherish the next, rather than always worrying or wondering what I’ll do next. 

What’s your process once you’ve received a script and landed a role?

With the job I’m on, we’re surrounded by unbelievably talented people. I’m sharing scenes with actors like Sam West, who I’ve been a fan of for a very long time. I first saw him as Frankenstein in the Van Helsing movie—I was obsessed with that film when it came out and now I’m sharing the screen with him! Really I just learn the lines, make sure I know who the character is and then when I show up on set I just play off whatever the other actor gives me. Our director, Brian Percival, will obviously come in with some direction here and there. I think for me it’s getting my lines down perfectly and really knowing the character and how they would respond in certain situations, feeling it in the moment. There’s so many ways of approaching the work, all of which I learnt in training, but for me I like to not rehearse it too much so that it’s fresh. If I over-rehearse something it can become stale. It makes it sound like I’m really lazy, but I work on knowing the character and then play and be responsive on the day.

Do you have any goals or aspirations as an actor?

The jobs I’ve had, I’ve been incredibly lucky and had an amazing time. But with The Durrells and All Creatures, they are arguably very similar jobs, both set in the 1930s and typically RP-spoken, upper class roles. I think rather than having a specific part in mind, at this stage I’d like to do something as wildly different as I can. I’d love to play an American villain in space! It’s going back to what I said about Tom Hardy, being able to have the opportunity to display versatility and play any type of role. I’d love to get the chance to go out of my comfort zone. 

Where does your character Tristan stand in All Creatures? What do you want the audience to take away?

It’s a really lovely show. It revolves around veterinary surgeons working in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1930s. Siegfried Farnon owns the veterinary practice and I play his younger brother Tristan. They lost their father when they were young, and Siegfried has stepped into the role of my father, but because he’s not my dad it was a struggle. The series is about unpacking their relationship; it’s lovely to work that family dynamic. It’s very fun to get to play, especially with someone like Sam. With this series, nothing really bad is ever going to happen, you know? There’s no swearing, drugs or crime. Our writer Ben Vanstone has said before, the important thing about this show is that there’s no villain. There’s a nice through-line of people trying to find love, romantic and brotherly in my case, but there’s no villain. It’s a very pure and kind show. I think that’s the way of summing it up best. 

If you could go for a pint with any actor dead or alive, who would it be?

Honestly, there’s so many. If we’re going dead or alive I’d probably say Philip Seymour Hoffman, who passed away six or seven years ago now. I think he’s my ultimate, number one favourite actor in the world. When he passed, I was devastated. You hold onto that glimmer of hope that maybe one day you’ll be on set with him or meet him, although they do say never meet your idols. He will always be an inspiration of mine. Tom Hardy would be cool as well, I’ve heard a lot of stories of him giving time to young actors who are in awe of him, as I’m sure a lot of us are. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given from a fellow actor?

It sounds like the simplest and most obvious thing, but just to be kind. I know it goes without saying but it can be a stressful job at times and you’re working long hours, it’s important to remember to be nice and not to snap at people. It’s just always worth being aware of how you treat others and remembering to be kind. I wish I could come up with some philosophical piece of advice but that really is the best thing to remember. People like Keeley Hawes have said that to me, and actors who have really stood the test of time. It’s simple but it’s important.

What’s been your favourite lockdown TV watch?

Watching TV is all I’ve done. I watched WandaVision recently, the Marvel television series. It’s a really interesting direction for them to take after the big blockbuster of Avengers: Endgame, to go with this quirky show. I thought it was one of the strongest series I’ve ever watched. I just loved it and it really took my interest immediately. Nick and I, who plays James in All Creatures, we’ve just started watching ZeroZeroZero. It’s a crime drama based on a drug trade in Italy starring Andrea Riseborough, who I’m a really big fan of, I think she’s an amazing actress. I’ve always got a series on the go. 

Have any light-hearted shows or comedies got you through?

Oh absolutely, if I haven’t got a new series on the go, I’m always watching repeats of Brooklyn Nine-Nine or How I Met Your Mother. I think that’s also why the first series of All Creatures did as well as it did when it first aired. In England, it came out during our second lockdown. In America, it starting airing in the week of the capital riots. All of our reviews that we had from America mentioned that a show where there aren’t any villains is was just what they needed in a time where the entire country was having an awful experience. It’s just a lovely show full of lovely people. This is just a nice, easy going show that all three generations of your family can watch.

Interview conducted by Danielle Saunders

This article was published as part of The Indiependent‘s May 2021 magazine edition.


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