Callan McAuliffe, the 19-year-old Australian actor from such films as the 2013 hit The Great Gatsby, Rob Reiner’s Flipped, and sci-fi flick I Am Number Four, has mapped an unconventional road to success, and it started in a definitively unglamorous way: “I wanted to buy a dog and I didn’t have any pocket money.” This led him to apply for work at a modeling agency in Sydney, and from there even he seems a bit surprised. “There are so many different factors that come together to give me these opportunities…it’s definitely difficult to predict how it’s all going to happen, but I’ve been very fortunate…a lot of things came together.”
2009 brought McAuliffe his first character role after extensive auditions and “grueling callbacks” during a visit to Los Angeles, which secured him a part in Reiner’s Flipped. It was here where he began to develop his passion for acting. Though he admits that initially it all seemed so easy, he misjudged the nature of the industry. “I figured ‘Oh, I’ve done this film; I’m a movie star, I’m set for life,’ but during that shoot I developed a real passion for it.” The grind of numerous unsuccessful auditions that followed, though, brought him down to earth with a more balanced understanding of the industry he’s involved in.
The actors he admires have been a major influence in defining his understanding of acting. “Robert Downey Jr. gives a fantastic performance, but you don’t think, ‘Well, this is pretentious!’ His end goal is to entertain people… I love what he does, because he does great performances in really entertaining movies.” McAuliffe knows it is a learning process, but believes he can improve his work without necessarily getting advice from other actors – just being around the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio or Sir Ben Kingsley is enough. “It’s like a subconscious education, because you watch people and something that you’ve seen may pop up in a performance later.”
He’s aware of his good fortune, but also the risks of being a relatively young actor, especially in today’s world of hypermedia, or, as he refers to it, the “age of permanent damage.” As he sees it, “being an immature person is a lot more dangerous these days just because of how much power your words have with the internet. When something goes wrong, it’s on the internet forever.” This mindset keeps him in thoughtful control of his performances and their impact. The Standford Prison Experiment, one of the 2015 Sundance selections, and the soon-to-be released feature film Hackers both showcase his immense talent. Going back to dogs, where it all started, McAuliffe also serves as youth ambassador for California NPO Wolf Connection.
Callan has been busy working on numerous films such as Robot Overlords, Hacker, the indie film Kite, released last year, and a 2015 Sundance selection, The Stanford Prison Experiment. Robot Overlords and Hacker are slated to hit theaters this year. His career is taking off, but he remains humble and motivated: “You know, there’s always somebody who is doing more work than you.” Check out our Q&A with the actor below and pick up a copy of the “Legendary” Issue 7 for more or download the free “Legendary” Issue App on iTunes now!
The Untitled Magazine: Where are you at the moment?
Callan McAuliffe: I am currently in Los Angeles.
UM: Oh nice, nicer than it is here. We’re in New York. We have about three feet of snow, and it’s rainy and cold right now.
CM: No, that’s my kind of place; I feel like LA is too normal.
UM: Too sunny.
CM: Yeah, too sunny.
UM: Well you’re from Australia, so you should be used to it!
CM: That’s the problem; I’m sick of it. I need some snow!
UM: How did you get started with acting; what got you into the industry?
CM: Well, I’d always wanted to do something involving wildlife, like conservation, or anything of that sort; something with the suffix ‘ology’ at the end of it. So I was hoping to go into something of that sort, and then I wanted to buy a dog, but I didn’t have any pocket money. My family, naturally, found a type of modeling/advertising agency, and I did that as a co-curricular activity, I suppose. Then I injured myself, and I couldn’t do sports on the weekends, so I devoted more time to [modeling], and after a time, I got very very lucky and it took off.
UM: So it was just by chance, it sounds like?
CM: I mean, I feel like it always is! There are so many different factors that have come together to give me these opportunities, and to give other people these opportunities. It’s definitely difficult to predict how it’s all going to happen, but I’ve been very fortunate.
UM: So did you get the dog?
CM: We did get the dog, and after a few years when we eventually decided to move here, we actually had to put her up for adoption just because it wasn’t fair to bring her over or to keep putting her in a pound every time we left so, she’s with a much more responsible family now! She was getting a bit fat with us.
UM: You got into the work by accident, it sounds like, and then you discovered that you really loved it?
CM: I suppose we got into the work deliberately. I’m sure somehow we were referred to it by a friend of a friend, and I’m still not certain on how we actually first began in this industry. But I wouldn’t really have called it acting until about 2009, when I did my first film, which is when I had to actually play a character. But I suppose I learned to love it by accident, but I wouldn’t say that we started by accident, we just had a lot of things come together.
UM: Would you say that your first real film role was your break-through moment, where you knew that you’re going to do this for your career and that it’s going somewhere?
CM: This film I’m talking about is Flipped, which I did with Rob Reiner in 2009, and because it was a Rob Reiner film, and it was a studio release and had quite a big budget for what it was, I was very lucky to have that as my first U.S. audition. We’d come over almost as a vacation, and my manager had said “Here, go up for this audition, just give it a shot, and see how you like it.’ We went for it, and after some grueling callbacks and long phone calls, we eventually got it. During that shoot is when I developed a passion for [acting]. It was also when I had a false idea of how the industry worked. I figured ‘Oh, I’ve done this film; I’m a movie star, I’m set for life.’ That’s what I thought. Fortunately, I got some sense back from going to a bunch of auditions and not getting any of them.
UM: Kind of a reality check.
CM: Yeah, you get a bit of a reality check. And then, of course, I’ve also been very lucky in that I’ve been able to nail other auditions. I’ve been in the right place at the right time and had the right look, so I’ve been given quite an incredible journey. A lot of people and a lot of cumulative effort has come together and made this happen, so I’m very happy. But on the set of Flipped was the first time that I developed a passion for it and actually decided I wanted to stick with it.
UM: Does it feel overwhelming to be so young in the film industry?
CM: I feel like there are so many young people in the industry now, that if I were to say that it’s too much pressure, or that it’s difficult or anything like that, then there would be somebody out there who’s working far harder than I am who is probably younger than I am! You know, so there’s always somebody who is doing more work than you, who is working harder. I’d say no; I feel like all of the people who are successful and well-respected in this industry, of course with the exception of quite a few, all started out quite young, at least the ones I could name as my favorites. I feel like it’s beneficial to start that early and to have that much experience. I guess the issue these days is that because of the nature of technology and the internet and everything like that, being a young person—an immature person, in an industry where you need to be very mature, is a lot more dangerous just because of how much power your words have on the internet and with the fan-bases that you can generate. So I feel like it’s a lot more dangerous to be a young person in the industry now than perhaps it was before. It’s a lot easier to do yourself harm unwittingly. Then you’re stuck with it for the rest of your life. We’re in that age of permanent damage now. When something goes wrong, it’s on the internet forever.
UM: Who are some people in the industry that you look up to and could count as role models?
CM: Definitely people like Leonardo DiCaprio, and Robert Downey Jr. Those guys are the people I want to model my career after, because they do movies that are so much fun to watch, particularly Robert Downey Jr. Lately, he’s done films where he gives a fantastic performance, but you don’t go into it and think ‘Well this is pretentious, these people are just trying to get accolades and they’re trying to win awards.’ No, they’re just making movies because they want to entertain people, and I think that’s the end goal. So people like Robert Downey Jr. have become my favorites.
UM: Have you ever been given advice by seasoned actors while you’ve been on set?
CM: No, I’ve never had any actors give me advice. I think if someone were to sit you down and give you one-on-one acting advice, it would be seen as a little bit…I don’t know quite how to say it, but I don’t think people would think highly of that. It’s really a learning process, a personal learning process, and you learn more through osmosis. It’s like a subconscious education, because you watch people, and then something that you’ve seen may pop up in a performance of yours later, but you won’t know who to credit it to, and you won’t know where it came from; you will have picked it up just by watching someone else perform. So I’d say I’ve definitely learned things from working with people like Sir Ben Kingsley and Samuel L. Jackson, but I don’t know what it is yet.
Photography by Jeff Forney for The Untitled Magazine
Stylist: Kelly Brown
Grooming by Thea @ Exclusive Artists Management
This article originally appeared in The Legendary Issue of The Untitled Magazine (2014).