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Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Dominic Corry: Callan Mulvey on 300: Rise of an Empire

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Callan Mulvey stars as Scyllias in 300: Rise of an Empire. Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures.
Callan Mulvey stars as Scyllias in 300: Rise of an Empire. Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures.

Like an alarmingly high number of fellow former Home & Away stars, New Zealand-born Australian actor Callan Mulvey is making something of a splash in Hollywood.

Following well-received turns in a variety of Australian TV projects, including the first season of Underbelly in 2008 and the more recent Bikie Wars: Brothers In Arms mini-series, Mulvey was thrust into the Hollywood sphere by a small but prominently featured role as one of the Navy Seals in Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty. He in fact plays the Seal who shoots Bin Laden.

He can currently be seen in the trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier (he's the one asking about the parachute) and is on New Zealand cinema screens from today as Greek warrior/spy Scyllias in 300: Rise of an Empire, the sequel to Zack Snyder's influential swords-and-sandals-and-shiny-abdominals historical action fantasy from 2006.

I recently had the chance to talk to Mulvey, who came across as a thoroughly decent bloke:

Dominic Corry: I recently saw Tim Winton's The Turning - your section of that film is one of the most powerful in it.

Callan Mulvey: It was so much fun doing that. I haven't seen the rest of them, I've only seen mine. I think it comes out here [Mulvey is in Los Angeles] soon. I've heard such amazing things about it, I'm looking forward to seeing everybody else's work.

DC: You've been turning up in a whole lot of kick-ass movies lately, and now you're one of the most bad-ass characters in 300: Rise of an Empire. How did your role in the film come about?

CM: I just got put in the mix and went in for the director in Australia. I went in for Hans Matheson's role, Aesyklos, and it didn't go my way. Then a little while later I was in LA - I'd just gotten an agent and was getting some meetings - and they asked me to come in for Scyllias. So I went back in with the director and thankfully it went my way.

DC: These films are famously stylised, mostly with CGI. Were there any actual sets involved?

CM: It's basically just a big shed with green curtains and the ground you're walking on up to a few tents and things in the immediate foreground. The sets maybe go up to your waist on the wall. Then we're up on a scaffolding, kind of on a raised platform. And then everything else is CGI'ed in during post-production. But we're lucky because we were interacting with other actors and real humans as opposed to, y'know, tennis balls on sticks who are meant to represent some imaginary beast.

DC: Did they send you to abdominal boot camp?

CM: Oooooh yeah. We got hammered six days a week for weeks and weeks on end in the lead up to the shoot and then that continued throughout shooting. We were in the masterful hands of Mark Twight from Gym Jones for body training. And Damon Caro who's an extremely experienced and talented fight co-ordinator who turned us from pompous actors into looking like we could be handy with a sword.

DC: There was so much attention focused on the six-packs when the first one came out, did you feel the pressure to glisten up?

CM: Absolutely. I was massive fan of the first one, it was so ground-breaking and incredible. When got the role I was filled simultaneously with joy and dread. I thought, 'Oh s***. I've got my work cut out for me if I'm gonna get this sucked-in one-pack into anything resembling a six-pack by the time we shoot!'. But yeah it's daunting, and you wanna do a good job, and you wanna do justice to the first film. Luckily we had incredible people around us to whip us into shape.

DC: With fellow Aussie Sullivan Stapleton (Animal Kingdom; Strike Back) in the lead role of Themistokles, was there a nice antipodean camaraderie on set?

CM: Absolutely. I've worked with Sullivan before and he's such an awesome guy. He's very generous, he's just a big softy with a big heart, and he's like that all the time. It was great to have him on this and there was a real sense of camaraderie and support amongst all the actors because we all wanted each other to do the best we could. Sullivan really set that example and lead both on screen and on the set in a very graceful and piss-funny way. He's a very funny man.

DC: It's interesting how there's barely any Americans in these films.

CM: I know! I've been asked a few times about why Aussies and Kiwis are doing so well over here and I just, I can't begin to answer why.

DC: I have a theory about this - it's because American masculinity has been homogenised into something resembling a 'Ken' doll, and Hollywood is looking for a bit of rough trade. You were born in New Zealand right?

CM: Yeah I left there when I was six. I grew up in Auckland and I had a lot of family up in Hokianga. So the first few years of my life was pretty much like Whale Rider really. I'm really fond of those days and my memories of my younger years in New Zealand. New Zealand still has a big place in my heart although I haven't got back there as much I'd like to. But I have a lot of family there.

DC: There is something of a New Zealand thing happening in Hollywood right now.

CM: Yeah Karl Urban's a really great actor. And I'm about to work with [former Go Girls star] Jay Ryan on a film later this year.

DC: You have a great scene in the film with Eva Green where she reveals you to be a spy. What was it like working with her?

CM: She's a big softie and just a total sweetheart and then you roll cameras and she becomes just this absolute maniac who's completely owning everything around her including people's heads. She's a phenomenal actress who was a pleasure to work with and a pleasure to watch and she absolutely nailed it. It's rare to have not only these kinds of strong female roles, but a role where the woman is an absolutely formidable foe. She's manning up in some cases more than a man could.

DC: You're suddenly in a bunch of high profile movies, the perception is that you're kind of 'hot' right now. Does it feel that way to you? Does your agent put it that way? Or is it just taking each job as it comes as usual?

CM: It's sort of taking each job as it comes, but it's certainly all about hype and perception here. And you probably make it out as more than it is to generate that demand in the marketplace. I've worked my bum of for long time and it's starting to pay off here. It's quite a difficult market to crack over here and I've been fortunate to have an outstanding team around me and my agents have been able to get me into some pretty serious rooms and then it's just a matter of hard work and delivering.

DC: Does it feel like you need to strike while the iron's hot?

CM: Yeah absolutely because I guess any shot that you do get, big or small, you have to deliver. You have to show that you carry the film and that they're gonna get a return on their investment. When I'm not working I'm constantly doing voice stuff and body stuff and trying to improve my skill set and make the portrayals more authentic and get better at what I do. Because there's always more to learn and I love that about this job. It beats digging holes for a living and I've done plenty of that.

DC: What's next up for you?

CM: I'm just about to start shooting a thriller with Topher Grace called Home. It's a great script and a fantastic character and a really good team and I'm really excited about that. I have another project that I'm even more excited about but completely frustrated that I can't speak about it yet. There's a few things in the pipeline and I'm just happy to be fortunate enough to be working and have an incredible wife who's 80 percent of the reason I'm here.

I'd love to send a big hug and love to all of my family back in NZ. I love you guys and I hope to see you soon.

Gonna go see 300: Rise of an Empire? Look out for my Eva Green interview in this Saturday's Weekend Herald.

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