Callum Turner Is Jumping in the Deep End
Callum turner is well equipped to breach the walls around Hollywood. The 28-year-old Londoner’s humble beginnings have embedded him with an undeniable grit, which has proved to be useful as he challenges the status quo of the industry, pursuing his own unique path.
Turner grew up in one of the few working-class areas in London’s Chelsea neighborhood. As an only child who was raised solely by his mother, Turner looked to the neighboring families and his football teammates to find a sense of community. To this day, family, friends and football mean a great deal to him. “I’m going home soon for my friend’s birthday party and to go watch Chelsea—I got season tickets,” he tells me in his thick Cockney accent, beaming a boastful smile.
Turner speaks of his childhood and hometown fondly, but it’s clear that by the time he finished high school he was looking for a way out of Chelsea. He longed for real world experiences. “Being at school wasn’t exciting for me, but I was desperate to learn.” When some modeling agents beckoned him to fly across Europe for a shoot, he didn’t hesitate to leave his old life behind. He rose in the ranks quickly and began modeling for top-tier clients like Burberry. His tousled hair, mischievous smile and muscular physique lent itself well to the endeavor, but there was no real passion for fashion, he confesses.
When an opportunity to try acting presented itself, he once again jumped in wholeheartedly, without even stopping to check where he would land. With no formal training or experience, Turner was forced to learn on the fly. “I learned by jumping in the deep end. There’s a pressure there. That helped me learn quicker.” This sink or swim mentality helped him stay afloat through many challenging roles, spanning eras, genres, and motivations. He’s played everything from a Neo-Nazi punk rocker to a smitten 1940s soldier to a villainous 19th century aristocrat, always with his signature blend of disarming frankness masking deeper, more inscrutable machinations propelling his character forward.
As we discuss his past roles, he lists off nearly every single director he’s worked with, along with many of his notable costars, explaining how they were instrumental to his development as an actor. He’s quick to credit the team, and charmingly humble as he recounts his rapid ascent. “Everyone that you come into contact with, you take something from them,” he says. He contends that his ten days on set, with Jeff Bridges for 2017’s The Only Living Boy in New York were far more valuable to him than any acting course could ever be. “I’m hungry for information. Whether that’s reading Jane Eyre or a book on spirituality or space. I’m just hungry for as much culture as possible. Acting allows that to happen quickly,” he tells me. This desire for knowledge may not have flourished during his time in school, but on set it is at its peak.
That’s why he looks for exciting directors to work with, rather than handpicking roles based on the character, genre, or budget. He opts to collaborate with risk-takers that he feels will push his boundaries, like Jeremy Saulnier (Green Room), Justin Kurzel (Assassin’s Creed), and Adam Leon (Tramps). “If x director was to say, ‘Let’s do a musical,’ I would be like, ‘Are you sure?’ And then I’d probably do it. I just want to work with good directors.” It’s not about awards or name recognition for Turner; it’s about the willingness to go out on a limb in order to share a unique point of view.
Turner is doing just that on his own upcoming short film, Shift the Plane. He eagerly reads me his logline, explaining how the film works on two levels. “It’s about someone who can’t afford, even though they have a full time job, to move out of their family home. It shows what happens when a man or woman stays somewhere too long.” On a small scale the film operates as an exploration into family dynamics and personal stagnation. But on top of that lies an indictment of gentrification and the lack of opportunities afforded to those in the “lower classes.” For Turner, who grew up in public housing, this comes from a personal place.
Now things are coming full circle for the actor. In November, he will be featured on millions of screens across the continent as Theseus Scamander, in the latest installation of the Harry Potter franchise: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Taking the coveted role was a no- brainer for Turner, who accepted the role without even reading the script. “It was great as an actor to be with people who are at the top of their game. I pretended it was a small independent film that no one would see, because I wanted to remove all the pressure. But as an actor and as a person it was a gift to be on that set.”
After eight years in the industry, Turner feels more confident than ever. “I’m getting to a stage where I understand more of the craft.” This ultimately came from hindsight, he explains. Paradoxically, through playing other people, he has found himself. “My feet are more on the ground, whereas before I was really running...I didn’t really understand myself yet.” He assures me that there is still plenty more room for innovation and evolution as a performer. He has a hearty “appetite for films,” and a “hunger to progress as an actor.”
When it comes to life outside of work, though, fans are left to their imagination. Turner steers clear of social media, inadvertently casting himself as an enigmatic figure. However, through our conversation, it becomes clear to me that even when he isn’t busy on set, movies still consume his life. For starters, he’s rumored to be dating Vanessa Kirby, who plays Princess Margaret on The Crown. In addition, he spends his free time watching movies—he idolizes anything Daniel Day Lewis does and appreciates classic films like Mean Streets, which he’s seen “about fifty times.” What strikes me most though, is how movies have made their way into his subconscious. When I contemplate the horror of picking the wrong fork to use, making a table etiquette faux pas, he advises, “Just think of Titanic! Work your way in!” As for what’s to come? He flashes that smile again, clearly unworried: “The universe guides you and brings you what’s right for you. You never miss out.”