Rush: articles

Mulvey with Les Hill in Underbelly

Mad, bad and dangerous

Callan Mulvey brings an edge to his role as a cop in Rush. By Debi Enker.

CALLAN Mulvey is not what you might expect. People who have seen him playing Sergeant Brendan "Josh" Joshua in Ten's police drama Rush — scaling buildings, charging down alleyways, studying the world with a ferocious intensity — might expect the actor to come across off-screen as some kind of action hero. Rugged, assured, with maybe a bit of a swagger. A man smoothly confident of his skills.

But Mulvey is humble. Softly spoken, fragile and given to sweet, sunny grins, he projects an uncertainty that would be anathema to Josh and to most of the characters he's played. Critical of his own work, he reveals the kind of relentless dissatisfaction that plagues many actors.

From his first acting role on Heartbreak High in the mid-'90s as skateboarding rebel Drazic, the charismatic Mulvey, 34, has been cast as a brooding, sometimes dangerous type — a bloke more comfortable with action than words; a man who has trouble dealing with his emotions; a guy with anger-management issues who looks like he'll explode if someone pisses him off. He's played the kind of wounded bad boy that girls long to heal. Well, except for that stint as Johnny Cooper in Home and Away, where he was flat-out nasty. Which suited Mulvey just fine.

"I like baddies because they're so far from me as a person that it's just playing," he says. "I feel uncomfortable when I've got to play smiley, charming guys. Whereas a baddie, I find it easy and I enjoy it. But I still freak out at most gigs. I still have a lot of: 'Oh, I'm shithouse, I can't do this.' When I see my work, I cringe a lot. But even more so with good guys: the romantic, Hugh Grant-style stuff is beyond me."

On the basis of what people say about Mulvey, anything's possible, even if he sees rom-coms as unlikely. Rush co-producer John Edwards (The Secret Life of Us, Love My Way), a veteran with an impressive talent-spotting record, says when he approached Ten with the idea of reviving a pilot about a mobile police unit, he was looking for a couple of actors with star quality. He decided on Rodger Corser and Mulvey.

"Before we even wrote a word, we went after them," Edwards recalls. "We built the cast around them and we wrote the characters according to what we thought would get the best out of them: Rodger (who plays Lawson Blake) as the traditional leader type who's responsible and moral and Cal as an alpha male of a different kind, more of a loose cannon."

Getting the actors' and the producer's perspectives on their first meeting to discuss Rush is revealing. Edwards came away from the encounter convinced he had a suitably sexy male lead whereas Mulvey, after five months without any acting work following his stint as Mark Moran in Underbelly, was trying to play it cool. Edwards recalls: "He came into my office to meet and have a chat. He came past the receptionist and suddenly all these emails went flying around the building. Later I asked her: 'What's that about?' and she said: 'Oh, he's just a bit sexy.' So we thought we were on to something."

Mulvey says: "I got a call that John Edwards wanted to have a meeting. And I thought: 'Oh, he's a heavy hitter.' He had a 10th-floor office with this amazing view and I was playing it cool but I was a bit: 'Wow.' He told me that he'd decided to revive his police show and wanted me involved. I went: 'All right, yep, cool, no worries.' But inside I was going: 'Oh my god, this is f---ing amazing!' "

Trying to play it cool while churning on the inside is a recurrent theme in Mulvey's talk about his career. Edwards says that on-screen, Mulvey is "compelling, 110 per cent alive, a confident man". Off-screen, Edwards says he's "a very decent guy" — serious, with a sense of humour and a strong work ethic.

Despite the excitement that his arrival at Edwards' office created, there had been concerns about casting Mulvey in a lead role. To that point, he had impressed as a supporting player and, in addition, says Edwards, "there was a bit of talk going on about: 'Can we cope with the scars?' But we thought: 'What's the problem?' "

The actor who appears on screen today looks noticeably different from the novice of Heartbreak High. Late in 2003, after shooting Thunderstruck, his first film, Mulvey was involved in a car accident. He won't discuss it publicly but it was a serious crash and his injuries were extensive, requiring facial reconstructions and months of rehabilitation. He lost his sight in one eye and suffers from severe headaches.

The level of fitness required from the regulars on Rush makes big demands on the cast. Given the focus on a mobile tactical-response team, there's a lot of running, climbing and wrestling people to the ground. For the cast playing the on-the-road crew, it's a physically demanding production. Edwards will say only that Mulvey's "in pain a lot of the time". Mulvey says simply: "They are very big days. I certainly sleep well — at the end of the day, I'm knackered. But I could be digging holes for a living. I love what I do and I'm very fortunate that I get to do it."

In addition to seeing leading-man potential in Mulvey, Edwards saw other advantages in casting him. "It's a bit like putting together a football team: you need to know who your pillars are. Cal's a really solid worker. There's no goof-off about him. Lots of people do goof off — it's one of the ways some people cope when they're doing a long series — but he's not one of them. He prepares meticulously and there isn't a beat of any scene that he doesn't really work to get."

Part of Mulvey's approach can be attributed to the training he received on Heartbreak High. "I was so blessed to start there," he says of his three years on the show. Raised on Sydney's northern beaches and keen on surfing and skateboarding, Mulvey couldn't wait to finish school. "I just wasn't academic."

He arrived at Heartbreak High as a professional skateboarder who'd parlayed his athletic ability and good looks into work as an extra and stunt double. He'd appeared in an ad for a fast-food chain as a skateboarding nun and run naked through a beer ad. He'd done a police training video but had no acting experience.

On the high school drama, he found himself in a unique set-up initiated by producers Ben Gannon and Michael Jenkins. They employed Nico Lathouris to work as a dramaturg with the cast of young actors. When they weren't filming, they'd be rehearsing with the drama coach, who taught a style of acting called Practical Aesthetics.

"It has a lot to do with understanding what your character wants in a situation," Jenkins explains. "Many established screen actors in the States who haven't gone through formal theatre training use it. On Heartbreak, it produced some remarkable results but the ones who excelled were the ones who had a natural ability and an intelligence, and I think they are two things that Callan certainly had, apart from being a good-looking guy, which doesn't hurt."

Mulvey embraced this education. "I was absolutely clueless about how to do it, truthfully," he says. "But when we weren't shooting we were in the rehearsal rooms with Nico and he was just kicking your arse every day. We were taught when you cry, you cry for real, you don't do the drops: you find a way to connect with that inside yourself. It was the most amazing school and such a nurturing place."

When the series finished, he confronted different challenges associated with an acting career. "I didn't quite know how to cope with the celebrity side of it," says the man who was Dolly magazine's 1997 Prince of TV. "People really liked that character and I was flattered that they did. You're in their lounge rooms and they have a sense that they know you. But from my side, I've never seen them before in my life before and suddenly they're in my face. I'm not introverted but I like my own space and I found it quite strange to deal with. So I got out of the game for a bit and got into DJ-ing and music and kind of withdrew to let it calm down. I moved to Byron Bay and had a little farm out in the hills with a music studio."

Mulvey loved the life but income proved a problem and when the opportunity came to audition for Thunderstruck, he eventually agreed. A stint at Summer Bay stalking and stabbing Sally Fletcher followed, along with the breakout role in Underbelly. Mulvey says: "Something just clicked for me on that project. I felt more comfortable in my own skin than I had ever been."

The move from Underbelly crim to Rush cop didn't seem a great stretch. "I thought, OK, I'm jumping the fence now to the other side now but it's only an arrangement of cotton that defines crim or policeman. Essentially they're just two human beings who are dealing with the same emotions of fear, or insecurity. It's only on the exterior that things are different."

When he finishes the 22-episode second season of Rush, Mulvey aims to try his luck in the US, although his dreams involve Australia. "My ultimate goal, if I can crack it in this game, is to live on a property where I can't see any other houses and to do a film or two a year. I love the idea of immersing myself in something, to learn as much as I can, then do the publicity and walk away. I want very little to do with the business unless I'm working or promoting a gig. I know it's part of the process and I have an obligation to promote the show but I don't care for that side of things."

Edwards reckons Mulvey's international prospects are bright. "One of the things that makes Australian actors succeed in Hollywood is that there's a brazen masculinity about them. Cal presents a really unabashed, clear-cut masculinity."

Rush returns next Thursday at 8.30pm on Channel Ten.

By Debi Enker
July 09, 2009
The Age