Callum’s career has taken him from the ARC Stockton stage to the Greek isles and now homeward bound to glorious Yorkshire – the setting of his latest on-screen venture as Tristan Farnon in Channel 5’s remake of All Creatures Great and Small.
As the nation eagerly awaits the Christmas special (during our pre-festive break chat) and following the good news of a second season, Luxe takes to Zoom to chat to the Teesside lad who has been making quite the stir in a well-known Yorkshire village.
“I so hope you all enjoy the Christmas special,” smiles Callum.
“It’s a really amazing episode. It sort of ties up loose ends, but also leaves them absolutely not tied up at all, wide open for season two.
“There’s continuations of our stories; me with my exams, Mrs Hall with her son and Siegfried with Dorothy. Then there’s an incredible storyline with James and Helen – I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s just such an amazing plot.
“One thing I will say is that it has one of the cutest dogs in the storyline. Every time this dog appeared on camera, I just melted. So much so that we’ve actually just taken the plunge and got a little pooch for ourselves.”
New season and festive episodes aside, one of the most exciting aspects of shooting for All Creatures Great and Small was Callum’s love for the area. A hometown (ish) gig for a humble Teessider raised just up the road…
“It was great to be able to head back up north and be a 30/40 minute drive to my hometown. The idea that I could just jump in my trusty Renault Clio and pop to see the family was just lovely,” smiles Callum.
“Skipton was the town we were closest to when shooting, so not only was I pleased to be close to my family, but we were delighted to hear that it was home to over 20 pubs.
“Me and Nick, who plays James, set ourselves the challenge to try every single pub while we were filming. I don’t think we quite managed it, so hopefully when series two comes around, we can try again. We did give it a good go!”
As we settle in to chat about how the All Creatures gig came about, Callum notes that it’s ‘not a very glamorous story’.
“I’d love to have a big exciting story, but it was just another email in the inbox, which in this case, had a very exciting outcome.
“It was eight months after my last job, so I was just really pleased to get the audition. I read the script, loved it and went down to Manchester for the interview.
“I remember trying really hard to not get too attached to it, because it’s a nightmare when you do that and then you don’t end up getting the role.
“I got to meet the director, Brian Percival, which was a bit of a ‘pinch-me’ moment. I’m a big fan of his work – Downton Abbey, The Book Thief and so on – so a day out to meet him was exciting in itself.
“I got in there and it was Brian, the producer Richard Burrell and the casting director Beverley Keogh; we just ended up having the most amazing chat for around 30 minutes, and then Richard was like, ‘Gosh, we better do some scenes’.
“I remember thinking, this is a good sign, we’re getting on so well we forgot the reason we were here. The very next day I got a call saying that they wanted me to be involved. I was delighted.”
From that very moment, Tristan was to become a big part of Callum’s life. A part he would take on oh-so well – and a real pick-me-up for many during the pandemic. But Callum’s story doesn’t stop at Tristan. While we’re certain he’ll go on and achieve big things in TV, we’re taking a look back at his colourful career, which has taken him from Mr Crunchie to Corfu.
“I grew up in Stockton, where I used to be part of a theatre group at the ARC,” explains Callum.
“My mum would take me there and it was just something that I always enjoyed being a part of. One of my earliest memories is a show where we were all dressed as different chocolate bars. I was Mr Crunchie, the owner of a club. My aunty made me this amazing t-shirt that almost perfectly replicated the material of a Crunchie.
“As you can imagine, it was very loud – there was a rustling racket with every move I made. Whether the audience could hear my lines or not I will never know, but that feeling of being on stage and performing has always stayed with me. Long live Mr Crunchie!
“The first film I saw was Babe: Pig in the City, and I remember thinking, that’s what I want to do. My parents were always so supportive. I was very lucky to be able to join theatre groups, because not everybody has the opportunity to do that. “School was great, but there are only so many school plays you can do, so joining a great theatre group was key in my progression.”
Following his early education and years of after school theatre fun, Callum went on to study at Stockton Sixth Form College. “I got through the whole of school and then got halfway through my first year of college and one of my tutors said, ‘I’m pretty sure you’re dyslexic,” he recalls, laughing.
“Turns out I was really badly dyslexisc and should’ve been allowed more exam time and what have you throughout school. I only realised it at 17, but it made so much sense as I always struggled with the academic subjects, which I guess sparked my creativity in other areas.
“My dyslexia never set me back though, it just allowed me to focus on what I did well, so following college I managed to bag myself a place at LAMDA – the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art – which gave me three years of practical work. That’s exactly what I needed.”
Callum bagged his first big screen break before graduation, securing a spot on a plane to Greece for filming of The Durrells.
“Leslie is a character that will always be close to my heart,” says Callum.
“He was my first role after LAMDA. It was perfect timing – most people in my year were worried about what they were going to do for work, so I was incredibly lucky.
“The Durrells went on for four years, and I managed to do some really great stuff in between like appearances on Cold Feet and other really cool shows.
“We knew pretty much as series one came out that we were going to get the chance to do the other three series, so even when I was out of work between filming, I knew I was going to be heading back to Corfu in the summer to do another season.
“After series four, it was the first time I had no work in the pipeline and I was getting a lot of setbacks. I remember my girlfriend summing it up wonderfully by saying, ‘You’re graduating from LAMDA four years later – you didn’t have that initial worry about getting into work, you’re having that now.’
It was the perfect analogy for it really, and it allowed me to give myself a bit of a break, to ease the pressure and to stop worrying about my next move.”
Back to his first gig, going from an education setting to a real set was quite the culture shock for Callum, and while it took a bit of getting used to, sometimes being thrown in at the deep end is the best way to succeed, he tells me.
“The first week on set with The Durrells was pretty scary. We had some really amazing screen training at LAMDA, so I was comfortable in front of a camera, but you can never be fully prepared for what is going to hit you in the real world. It’s incredibly fast paced, and I learned that very quickly.
“Some stuff was completely new to me like following markers on the floor. The first week of filming was just me mooching around with my head down dragging my feet along the floor, then looking up candidly. It’s safe to say I didn’t ‘nail it’ right away – I knew I had a bit of work to do, but we had a laugh with it. Thankfully, I think I’ve mastered the markers and you won’t see me with my eyes to the ground too much in All Creatures.
“The best thing about the whole Durrells experience was that I felt like I was on set with my long lost family. It was an incredible job by the casting directors. I felt like I had a connection with every single member of the cast and we just hit it off within the first week, so by the time we were filming we were already a really tight unit.”
As viewers, we don’t necessarily think about off-screen relationships and how they can impact how we see the characters play out on screen. Some big name stars have fooled us in the past – we’ve all trailed through feeds that remind us that Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey weren’t the best of friends in the filming of Dirty Dancing. Regardless of what is going on behind-the-scenes, having a genuine relationship with a co-star can only add to the success, something that rings true for Callum.
“With The Durrells, the characters all sort of got on each other’s nerves a lot of the time – they were very rarely getting on with each other on the show, they were always at each other’s throats. And that type of thing is so much easier to play when you absolutely adore the person you’re in the scene with because you can just really go for it. There’s no awkwardness there. It would’ve been a total nightmare if we didn’t get on.”
From Leslie to Tristan, Callum has become a regular fixture on our screens when it comes to proper British drama, but looking back on his route to ‘the now’, he feels his characters don’t define his nature, and he reminds us that he’s got plenty up his sleeve when it comes to adapting. “Even when I started drama school, I remember thinking the types of characters I like to play tend to be bad guys or villains, I never thought I’d be playing comedic idiots, if you like,” Callum laughs.
“I shouldn’t be too surprised should I? That being said, it’s been amazing playing those types of characters, but it’s definitely not what I envisaged. Now that I’m here, it’s incredible, but these aren’t roles I ever thought I would or could play – especially someone like Tristan who is continually upbeat and optimistic.”
But how very apt? In times like these, we should all take a leaf out of Tristan’s book. He’s a character that gave All Creatures Great and Small that cheery pick-me-up we all needed during such an uncertain and turbulent year, and we can’t wait to see more of him.
“Tristan is an absolute pleasure to play,” says Callum.
“And I do feel like he’s become a part of me, for all the right reasons. But I must admit, I did spend a lot of time researching the character before shooting.
“I watched a bit of the original show – and it was incredible – but I didn’t want too much of the amazing Peter Davison’s performance to rub off on me. It had to be my own rather than any hint of an impersonation. So I really devoured the books to begin with; then when we got the scripts, it was incredible to envisage the characters coming to life.
“The children of the real James Herriot, Alf Wight, came to the read-through before we started filming. Following that, we went for a coffee with his son, James Wight, who has written a book about his dad called ‘The Real James Herriot: A Memoir of My Father’. He had a personalised copy for each of us. In it, he had marked exactly where our character pops up. On the final page, he had written, in his own handwriting, a little blurb about what our character was really like. It was so unbelievably helpful and really brought the whole thing to life for me.”
You may have spotted another familiar face in the series – going way back to our spring 2014 Luxe cover star – the lovely Maimie McCoy.
“Maimie is great,” says Callum.
“I loved filming with her. I didn’t actually know that she was a Teessider until the second time we filmed together and she’d seen something on my Instagram. She said, ‘Are you from Stockton?’… then we started listing all of these places that we both knew – and of course, the topic of parmos came into conversation very quickly. Every Teessider can share a parmo story together, of course.
“The rest of the cast – Nick, Rach, Anna and Sam – are all great. It was similar to The Durrells in that we all just instantly got on. It made the whole experience really fun and enjoyable from start to finish.”
As 2020 closes with snowy scenes of Yorkshire in the All Creatures Great and Small Christmas Special, Callum looks forward to starting filming for season two in the months to come.
“It’s always great to head back up north, and I’m delighted to be returning for season two. You’ll be seeing more of the Skeldale gang in 2021 and I’m excited about what’s in store.
“With that, hopefully, will come a few trips back home to see the family. The North East will always have a part to play in my life and career moving forward. There’s so much to love about the region, I just can’t get enough of it!
“Whether it’s a parmo at The Masham in Hartburn, a hike up Roseberry Topping in Great Ayton, or a night out in Yarm when time allows, it will always be home to me.”
But for now, as we finalise these Luxe pages and hunker down for the remainder of lockdown, it’s all about spending time with his pup, enjoying a coffee from his new espresso machine and getting through a long list of films.
“People always call me the human IMDb. I’ve got freakishly good knowledge when it comes to movies and theatre – I can pull actors and films out of nowhere. Test me next time you see me!
“But until then, I’ll see you later this year as I return to Darrowby in my best tweed suit!”