by ADAM BAIDAWI
This story appeared in GQ.
Stalk-out-your-house-tweeters! Next-level Hollywood agents! One-on-one mentoring from Leo! GQ goes into the
wild with Australia’s next wunderkind.
Finally, Callan McAuliffe looks his own age.
Descending Mount Hollywood on a precariously steep slope, wearing precariously shitty shoes, the young film star has veered off the dirt path and started shimmying down what looks like a natural gas line. It’s a 20 metre drop, easy.
“This is some Indiana Jones shit!”
The dusty pipe creaks and flexes and groans, even under his featherweight build. Macabre as it seems, you wonder how good the kid’s health insurance is.
Sun setting rapidly, we have to improvise footholds and edge across a gap, chest-to-rock, less Indi heroics than McConaughey douchebaggery. We’ve come here, to Griffith Park—the money shot of LA hiking porn—ostensibly to conduct an interview. But really, this is about escaping the noise.
In this iteration of the Next Big Thing, the seeds of stardom are simple: Callan McAuliffe wanted to save money for a dog. So, harnessing classic good looks, he spruiked salad dressing and toothpaste on TV. McAuliffe got his break after a visit to LA, winning a lead role in Rob Reiner’s Flipped. It was no Stand By Me but McAuliffe emerged from the tween romantic drama, dignity in tact. (The New York Times lauded the then-14-year-old’s ability to weave “charm, sincerity and introspection” into his character.)
Last summer, he co-starred in sci-fi-cum-Abercrombie blockbuster I Am Number Four, and he played a key role in Channel Ten’s telemovie, Underground: The Julian Assange Story. McAuliffe’s mother, Claudia Keech, will proudly tell you that in 2012, he filmed three projects in three countries in three different accents. (She’ll tell you this at least three times.)
Mum aside, plenty of stakeholders are betting on the 17-year-old. Call them early adopters; venture capitalists of the silver screen. It’s the managers, the smarmy, three-buttons-undone agents, the PRs and the increasingly-ailing studios.
Some stakeholders, though, are more wide-eyed than others, like the tween masses who breathlessly tweet—literally picture her going blue as she tap-tap-taps: “omg I love you”, “He’s MINE ♥ ♥ ♥ ”, or as one bright young belle put it, “I would legitimately die if Callan McAuliffe acknowledged my existence.” Oof.
“I’ve replied to a couple of those. ‘I’m sorry. Tell your parents I never meant for this to happen.’” he grins through a Victorian-era accent he shouldn’t be able to pull off.
Another stakeholder? Baz Luhrmann. After casting Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby in his upcoming reimagining of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s jazz-era classic, he green-lit McAuliffe to play young Gatsby. Casting the young, blond-maned McAuliffe as the Boy Who Would Become Leo — Luhrmann never was wanting for symbolism.
When we met at a photo shoot a few days ago, he could’ve been 25. But tonight, at twilight, Callan McAuliffe is a kid again. He emerges from a car in lo-style zip-up cargos (days earlier: spray-on Burberry pants), fluffy boy-hair (days earlier: sleek grown-man part), and a vaguely Buddhist tee (days earlier: vaguely futuristic jacket).
Griffith Park, where Mount Hollywood sits, is a sprawling, arid playground to get lost in. It’s a patently alien place, all magnetic red dirt and bright violet scrubs. From up here, LA’s vastness is clearer. Even the smog is clearer.
“I’d hate to say it, but the smog actually improves the aesthetics. It kind of looks like an Asian mountainside,” says McAuliffe, bounding ahead.
It’s his first time hiking here but McAuliffe has been living in LA for a while. Putting his HSC aside to pursue acting as a career, he moved across with his mother, leaving most of his life behind.
“I’m not particularly emotional and I’m not particularly social. I like certain people when I’ve talked to them—like yourself—but I don’t usually like people very much,” he says. “Even my friends, who I’ve known all my life. I can see them once in a year and I’m satisfied.”
McAuliffe says this with such breezy disaffection that it’d be a little jarring if you were into sentimentality. As for McAuliffe’s dog—that raison d’etre? “We had to put her up for adoption. The ultimate irony.”
He stops for a moment, forming a rectangle with his hands. “If you made
a frame there: the sun in the top right corner, block out the Hollywood sign,
it’d look like you’re in the mountains of China. It’s gorgeous.”
McAuliffe really livens up—almost resembling a real-life 17-year-old—when he talks about wolves (he’s an ambassador for rescue organisation Wolf Connection), Halo, and the film composer Hans Zimmer (an Oscar-winner whose scores include The Lion King and Inception).
“That’s one of the things that gives me my personality these days. That’s the kind of music that I like. Sometimes you’ll be sitting in a car, listening to music and you look out the window and it’s really dramatic. Like imagining yourself in a movie.”
The sun ducks behind the could-be-Mongolian hills and the muggy LA skyline comes to life, tower-by-tower, light-by-light.
What about girls, then?
“I can’t really be bothered, to be honest,” he says matter-of-fact. “And also, I feel like I wouldn’t be particularly faithful at this stage.”
This isn’t a surprise. McAuliffe, bright and charming, but always on guard, is an unmistakable introvert. He’s happiest on his own. But how can he maintain stamina in an industry where access is prerequisite?
“If all you had to do as an actor was act, there’d be a lot more people doing it,” he says. “The public image thing…it’s tiring. I certainly don’t think it’s something I’ll be able to tolerate for my entire life.”
These realities come into sharp focus in key moments. Like doing a read-through with Leonardo DiCaprio. “He was so calm. He didn’t interject—he just listened to everything. He just thought about everything,” McAuliffe remembers. "He’s contributed a lot to my personality, to the mentality I’ve found over this year."
“A lot of people strive to achieve what I’m doing,” he says. “I was like, ‘Don’t be a dickhead about it. Let’s not half-ass this.’”
Maybe the strangest thing is that, despite the tweeters and the parties, the LA and the Leo, McAuliffe is happier daydreaming himself into a film than actually making one. Not that any of this matters.
In a few days time, McAuliffe will secure the lead in The House Jack Built, a middle-America baseball drama directed by Robert Redford’s daughter, Amy. It will be one of three projects he’ll already have secured for 2013.
Our walk back to Hollywood is a rapidly-developing polaroid. Houses get bigger, foot traffic intensifies, non-descript limousines crawl past. It’s dark. He’s hungry.
McAuliffe looks up, fading.
“We’re back in the smog now.”