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NFSA Presents: Inspired

NFSA Presents: Inspired - Callan McAuliffe

Callan McAuliffe Interview

NFSA Presents: Inspired is a collection of conversations that dive into the creativity, the inspiration and the success of Australian cinematic talent. Hosted by film journalist Jenny Cooney, the video series complements the exhibition Australians & Hollywood, which was on display at the NFSA from January 2022 to January 2024.

In this interview, Jenny Cooney talks to Callan McAuliffe (The Great Gatsby, The Walking Dead) about films, actors and filmmakers that have influenced and inspired him. Watch here:

NFSA Presents: Inspired – Callan McAuliffe in conversation with Jenny Cooney about Australians & Hollywood, 2022.


‘I’m a big fan of non-contemporary storytelling’

Jenny: Your first and most influential Australian cinema memories?

Callan: I'd be lying if I didn't say that the first cinema experience that I recall is seeing the Pokémon 2000 (Michael Haigney and Kunihiko Yuyama, US-Japan, 1999) movie in the cinema.

But insofar as Australian movies are concerned, I have a distinct and lingering memory of Rabbit-Proof Fence (Phillip Noyce, 2002) and a couple of the sequences from that that have really stayed with me for my whole life. So, I wanted to say Rabbit-Proof Fence, by Phillip Noyce. It's pretty remarkable. And I've never forgotten, especially the theft sequence in the car. That's lasting.

Jenny: So what films or music or stories do you keep returning to and why?

Callan: It’s a pretty-well documented fact about myself now, but I'm obsessed with The Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson, NZ-US, 2001–03). And that's what led me my whole life. And fortunately, The Lord of the Rings happened to have a couple of Aussies in that as well. So, it's not wholly irrelevant to the conversation. But yeah, I've always been a big fan of non-contemporary storytelling, things that are set in other worlds and other times and with kind of fascinating circumstances.

I suppose it’s because I live a contemporary life, I’m less interested to see stories about the modern world. I want to see stories set in silly places so that's kind of what I'm drawn to, I guess.


‘Reputation has been an important part of it’

Jenny: What's the secret sauce for Australian cinematic success?

Callan: Good lord, the secret sauce? I mean, I think for a long time it was just novelty. I think for a while, folks abroad were surprised by the Australian character. And the countenance. And I think I think that's done us a lot of favours. It's not often you meet someone overseas who doesn't have good things to say about Aussies that they've met and so I think that reputation has been an important part of it.

And, you know, I've at least made some effort to uphold that reputation but yeah, I think we're good people and I think we're travellers at heart too. I think we seek out experience and when we seek out other stories, I think that's a big part of it.

Jenny: So what element of film filmmaking craft fascinates you? Beyond the one that you're involved with.

Callan: The side of filmmaking that I find most fascinating, and the one with which I've had the least experience, is the pre-production side and all the different decisions and machinations that go into getting a film made. Because I've read so many amazing scripts and I've seen so many terrible movies, I always wonder what kind of dice they're playing back there when they're greenlighting this movie. And I've always wanted to be on that side of things.


‘A privilege and an honour’

Jenny: What does the National Film and Sound Archive mean to you?

Callan: Put simply, the celebration of Australians and the arts. I think it's very important.

Jenny: It must feel good to know that you've got work that will be in those archives forever for future generations.

Callan: Yeah, of course. I mean, it's a privilege and an honour. Of course. I mean, I didn't put in nearly as much work as the other people involved in those projects did, you know? I do feel like I'm reaping the rewards of other people's hard labour, but I'll take it.

Jenny: So what Aussie inspired you as you were coming up in your career?

Callan: There's been a few of them. Obviously, Heath Ledger was a big inspiration and his parents have been an enormous part of encouraging young actors in Hollywood as well, which has been beautiful to see. And then I remember looking up to Ryan Kwanten as well, a couple of other blokes. So there's been a lot of pretty outrageous Australian talent. There's no shortage of people to pick from.

Jenny: So now who currently inspires you? Who should we be celebrating? Who should be on the radar?

Callan: I recently saw Babyteeth (Shannon Murphy, Australia, 2019), which I know came out a couple years ago now, but time's a blur post-pandemic. And Toby Wallace, his performance in Babyteeth was fucking extraordinary. And, you know, I aspire to that level of acting craftsmanship.

So yeah, I could pick some more clichéd names I suppose, but Toby Wallace – shout out to him. I watched Babyteeth on a projector while I was filming a movie in Indiana last year and I remember just being blown away. So yeah, call me inspired.

Jenny: He was inspired in that. I love that movie.


‘Keep plugging away at it’

Jenny: So what's your advice now to Aussies dreaming of Hollywood?

Callan: I used to have a kind of a grim answer for this when people would ask, but I've tried to temper it with some with some positivity.

It was always have a backup plan, you know, because it's such that the ladder of success in this industry is so nebulous and it always has been. And so, it's very hard to give advice that isn't dangerously close to reckless because I don't know myself how I got where I am, really.

But I don't know... If they can make 20 Spider-Men, they can make your movie so keep plugging away at it. But have a backup plan because even if you're the best and even if you deserve it, it might not work out.

Jenny: Well on that note thank you very much Callan and thanks for watching and stay tuned for the next episode of NFSA Presents: Inspired.

Callan: See you guys.

Interview transcript edited for length and clarity. 


NFSA Presents: Inspired – All Interviews

Emily Browning

Damon Herriman

Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness

Nicole Kidman

Callan McAuliffe

Tony McNamara

George Miller

Chris Pang

Leah Purcell

Angourie Rice

Mia Wasikowska


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