Emerging as one of Hollywood most sought-after young actors, 16-year-old Aussie Callan McAuliffe is currently preparing to start his work as Young Jay Gatsby in Baz Luhrmann’s 3D telling of the classic American story The Great Gatsby, due out in theaters on Christmas Day 2012, amidst sword fighting training, martial arts and ballet work for his role as archangel Uriel in Paradise Lost, adapted from the epic Biblical poem and shooting in January 2012 for a scheduled 2013 release.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, from Australia where he is going to shoot both films, Callan McAuliffe talked about what appealed to him about both projects, some changes in The Great Gatsby that could surprise audiences but that he thinks they will appreciate, that even though he’s playing a younger version of Leonardo DiCaprio he doesn’t think he looks like him at all, and what he thinks the 3D will add to the experience for audiences. He also talked about how he’s relying on director Alex Proyas’ vision for Paradise Lost when it comes to playing an archangel, that he’s looking forward to his scenes with Djimon Hounsou, and how he’d like to model his character after Johnny Depp, playing more alternative types of characters. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: What’s it like to take on such a classic American story that’s as iconic as The Great Gatsby is? Was it a novel that you had read and were familiar with, or did you read it because of this role?
CALLAN McAULIFFE: At least for me, whenever I read something in school that a teacher tells me to read for a school assignment, I absolutely hate it. I loathe it. Amongst other books, Gatsby was one of the ones that teachers would tell us to read for a school assignment, and I hated it. I ended up reading it, of my own accord, outside of school, and I absolutely loved it. I guess, whenever a teacher tells you to do something, you automatically dislike it. I’ve read it a couple of times since then, and I’ve enjoyed it.
Is this version of it still the classic story that people know and love, or does it also have some changes that you think will surprise people?
McAULIFFE: I think there are going to be some changes that surprise people. There’s a fairly essential change that I think people will appreciate, compared to some of the other Gatsby films that have been made. But, overall, it’s the classic Gatsby.
With something like this, do you think it’s important to stay relatively true to the source material?
McAULIFFE: I think it’s important to stay true to the material, but at the same time, there’s no point in making another one, if you’re not going to change things up a little bit.
How did you come to be a part of this film?
McAULIFFE: It was just an audition for me. I did a couple of auditions for it, and then they told me that they liked me. Then, I just had to fly down [to Australia], and we’re here now. But, it was a fairly standard audition process. I can’t remember anything out of the ordinary or unorthodox happening.
What can you say about your role in the film?
McAULIFFE: I play the young Jay Gatsby, so I’m not on camera as much as everyone else. They’re quite a ways through the principal photography, and I do my shooting in the next couple of weeks. So, it’s a relatively small part, in the scheme of things, but it’s a fantastic part for me to have and I’m looking forward to it. I play the young Gatsby, and it’s about the guy who helps Gatsby come from an impoverished little kid and become the rich bastard that he is, in the end. It’s the first time he says, “Old sport,” as well. It introduces that catch phrase that Gatsby has.
Could you ever have imagined that you’d be playing a younger version of Leonardo DiCaprio? Have you ever thought that you look like him, at all?
McAULIFFE: No, I honestly don’t think I look like him at all, but to each their own. Baz [Luhrmann] can have that opinion, and I’m glad that he does. He’s a very talented man, so I’m going to trust his instincts. But, I can’t see him in me, at all.
Are you working with Leo at all, in developing this character, since you’re playing the same role, or are you doing it independently?
McAULIFFE: It’s all very spontaneous, at the moment. I’ve watched a couple of his films, but the only times we really talked were at the cast read-through. And, of course, actors never talk about acting with each other. They just have a relaxed, regular conversation, which is what we did. We just talked about life.
Baz Luhrmann is obviously a very visionary director. Is he someone that you were looking to work with, or wanting to work with?
McAULIFFE: There’s no director or actor that I want to work with more than anyone else, other then maybe Johnny Depp, who I really would love to work with. I don’t view any directors or actors above regular people, so I’m just happy to work with anyone, as long as they have talent.
Were you surprised that you would be shooting such a classic American story in Australia?
McAULIFFE: It’s a little bit ironic. We thought the two films I’d done previously warranted moving to the United States, and then the next two American films I’m doing are in Australia. It’s a little bit odd.
Since The Great Gatsby isn’t something you’d automatically think of being in 3D, but it’s being shot in 3D, what are your thoughts about filming it in 3D and what do you think that will add to the experience for audiences?
McAULIFFE: I haven’t seen a 3D film, to date, that has been more impressive then when it’s not in 3D. I remember seeing Avatar, and I preferred the non-3D version. In this case, Baz wheeled in a TV at the cast read-through and had us all put on some 3D glasses, and we all had a look at one of the mock-up scenes that they’d filmed, and it was actually quite nice. It really added this third dimension to it. It added some depth and some of the colors were more vibrant. It’s really interesting to see what will come of this. As far as I can tell, just by the movies that I’ve seen, it hasn’t made that much of a difference. But, I’m sure Baz has got something in mind and that it will turn out all right. In a movie like How to Train Your Dragon, it was fantastic because it was built, from the ground up, for 3D. What’s good about what Baz is doing is that, as opposed to just slapping on the 3D as an after-effect at the end, to make more money, he is shooting with 3D cameras, much like some of the films that shoot for 3D IMAX.
What is Paradise Lost about and how does the character that you’re playing fit into the story?
McAULIFFE: Paradise Lost is based on the [John] Milton classic about the war in Heaven, and it’s all about the creation of the world, and then Satan’s rise to evil and how he gets corrupted. There are all these huge, enormous battles and lots of things killing each other. I play archangel Uriel, who is the youngest of the seven original archangels. I’ve already started sword fighting, ballet and martial arts, but I don’t think I shoot that until January. We’re well into rehearsals now.
When you approach a role like that, do you do any research for it, or do you just go with what’s in the script and the original story?
McAULIFFE: I usually turn to the director and see what he wants from the role and the character. If I was looking up archangel Uriel on Wikipedia, and then decided to base my acting off that, it might turn out a bit too classic. I don’t think it would suit [director Alex Proyas’] vision. So, what I tend to do is research a little bit and figure out what the character is about, and the script usually provides that background and insight, and then I end up just talking to the director about it and seeing what he wants to do. It’s rather spontaneous on set.
With such a varied cast of actors in that film, is there anyone that you’re most looking forward to getting to work with on set?
McAULIFFE: I’ve actually been working with Djimon Hounsou, from Gladiator and Blood Diamond. He is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, and I’m really looking forward to working with him. He plays archangel Abdiel. He’s a really cool guy. We’ve been doing sword training, ballet and martial arts together.
Do you enjoy doing that kind of physical work?
McAULIFFE: Of course. As a teenage boy, part of the reason to be in an action movie is so that I could do explosions and wirework and sword fighting. It’s definitely going to be a fun experience for me. Already in the training, I can see it’s going to be great because we’re working with sword fighting masters and martial arts trainers.
After two big projects like these, with such talented people both in front of and behind the camera, does it make you more selective and cautious about where you go from there?
McAULIFFE: Of course. It really comes down to whether I think the script is good, and whether I think the character is good. If the script is absolutely terrible, I probably won’t do it. If you don’t connect with the role and with the script, there really isn’t much point in doing it. You’d be lying on the red carpet, when people ask you, “Oh, did you enjoy this project?,” and you’re like, “Oh, yeah, it was fantastic,” but you didn’t.
Is there a type of role or a genre that you really want to do, but haven’t had the chance to do yet?
McAULIFFE: I’m really into, not necessarily artsy roles, but the alternative characters, kind of like how Johnny Depp models his career. I want to do these different characters that are very different from myself. That’s what’s the most fun. Playing an American or even an Australian kid, over and over again, would get incredibly tedious and boring.