Christian Campbell Discusses MAGNETIC NORTH
The nuns in parochial school were fond of saying that "the eyes are the windows of the soul." There may be some truth to that adage. After all, TV cameras zoom in on public figures in hopes of catching a glimpse of something in their eyes that will be a clue to their inner feelings.
Anyone who gives a close look to the eyes of Christian Campbell finds them reflecting excitement, energy, intelligence and sensitivity. They are they eyes of an actor who was prominently featured in the films Trick and Reefer Madness: The Musical. On television, Campbell was featured in the short-lived The Book of Danie l and All My Children. The actor's eyes are an intense almost-emerald green and are framed in dark lashes that almost make one think that "Irish eyes are smiling." Only Campbell isn't Irish: He's Scottish and Dutch. He's also the brother of actress Neve Campbell.
If his eyes weren't enough to "sell" this fiNe Young actor, he has one of the whitest set of teeth this side of a Pepsodent ad. In short, he's an extremely fine looking fellow.
Meeting Christian Campbell at a mid-town diner finds him to be friendly and articulate. He's just spent the day rehearsing a new play called MAGNETIC NORTH and is brimming over with excitement about it.
The Toronto native was born to parents and grandparents from the Theatre World. He got an introduction to theatre at an early age because his father was a teacher. He explains: "My sister and I found ourselves sitting beside our Dad in theatres all the time as he was directing productions. He would often lean over and ask us what we thought of a scene or the blocking or what we thought was going on between the actors. As children we had minds like sponges and picked up everything, so we pretty much became his assistants. I don't know if I was into it or whether I was reluctant but I became an actor. I wanted to go into the military for a while and was making a track towards that but the Theatre World kept pulling me, so here I am!"
Campbell's first on-stage appearance was in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. "My father directed a production of HMS PINAFORE and I was a boson's mate who got lowered to the stage on a rope. I think my only line in the show was, ‘Ship's company: Attention!' and I said it really well!" Looking further back, Campbell realizes that he had an even earlier experience on stage: "I played Jesus in a Christmas pageant in nursery school. It was a very itchy production because I was in a bale of hay and I remember scratching myself all day."
After sipping his coffee, Campbell reminisces about his first professional job as an actor. "I would say my first paying gig-living on my own-- was when I was sixteen. I'd moved out of the house and was paying the rent by being a waiter. My first professional stuff was in television; being in commercials. I had done a production of Herb Gardiners's A THOUSAND CLOWNS at my mother's dinner theater. That kind of felt like a professional production I played Nick, the kid. I was in eighth grade. The first big job I had was something with James Brolin when I was 19 years old. It was called CITY BOY. That was my big taste of something. I was doing lots of theatre. Always theatre. That's my first love."
When it was mentioned that he's done plenty of movies and television, Campbell agrees, saying: "Oh, yeah, but movies and television are my bread and butter! I love theatre, though. That's what I do in between TV and film jobs to keep myself lubricated. Television's always been part of my life ‘cause a fella's gotta eat!"
Okay, it's very interesting to learn HOW Campbell became an actor, but the question about WHY he remains an actor stumps him briefly. He fidgets with his napkin for a moment, repeats the question and takes a deep breath. "I ask myself that question almost every day, because I don't know why I'm staying. Sometimes this is a very frustrating career but if I think of myself outside of it I become sad. I can't see myself outside of it I just can't imagine myself doing anything other than what I do: working in the arts, whether it be acting or directing or creatively developing projects. That's what I do. I enjoy the people I work with-the creative staff and the actors. The rest are ‘civilians'. You know civilians are great, but that's the civilian life and we just don't seem to speak the same language. I mean people in the theatre have such an exuberance for life. They're very engaged and alive. Heck, we have to be sort of sponges and I enjoy being a part of them. Yes, they're tempestuous and that's something I'm impatient with. At the same time, there's something at least: they're characters. They're big! It makes my life interesting."
Although Campbell is heterosexual and his wedding band has the shine which indicates he's still a relative newlywed, he's played a few gay characters and snippets of those performances are readily viewed on YouTube. It makes some viewers think that he's actually gay. Does this bother him? "Somewhat. Yeah. But you must remember, I made my own bed. I chose these roles. When they were offered to me I accepted them but I did them because I enjoyed the projects and I enjoyed the writing and all that. It doesn't bother me that laymen assume I'm gay, but when professionals like casting directors or producers or directors think that way, then it become frustrating. What happens is that it becomes a pigeonhole thing without a doubt. The roles I usually get offered or my agents send me out on are gay roles and I'm constantly in rebuttal and turn them down. I'm now in what I call my ‘seven year itch'. I'll do a gay role every seven years. That's what I've turned it into now. I have to do that. I'd prefer not to, but a job's a job and I'd like to accept any role that's offered but it's difficult. You see, perception is everything. And I'd like to be open to the broad spectrum of roles out there. Some of my proudest work has been as gay characters but I have to move against that now. It just limits the field of what I'm allowed to do."
One of the most controversial projects that Christian Campbell has been involved in was the television series The Book of Daniel from creator Jack Kenny. While the forward thinking clergy liked its contemporary approach to religion, the more conservative pastors denounced it from the pulpit which resulted in a very short run for the series. "We only aired, I believe, seven episodes of the show but we shot ten. You can see all of them on the DVD that can be rented on Netflix." The series is something that the actor was proud to be part of. "We were pretty happy with it and were pleased as punch. All of us felt that there were good things to be done with the show and it was a good way to bind peoples' perceptions of religion with modern secularism, as well as poor modern perceptions of religion. It was a great opportunity to do a lot of healing in this country. It was lovely."
Continuing on the topic of The Book of Daniel, Campbell explains, "The only reason it got shut down was that the advertisers pulled out thanks to the Christian Coalition and the Family Rights people threatened to boycott anyone who advertised on the show. Moderate religious people liked it a lot because it finally gave them a voice. Extremism, on the other hand, was the squeaky wheel who got all the notice. It was all too bad."
While on the topic of religious extremism, Campbell mentions that he has completed the film CASINO JACK which stars Kevin Spacey as the currently jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff. "I play Ralph Reed, the head of the Christian Coalition." When it was remarked that there is quite a physical resemblance between Campbell and Reed, the actor explains" "I was pretty much cast on sight alone." Reed is a man for whom Campbell holds considerable contempt. "I've always despised him as a Right Wing Ultra who's a real snake in the grass. I just love the fact that I got to play him. He's a guy who's very television-friendly, voice-friendly and he understands how to measure the timbre of his politics based on who is interviewing him in the media. He'll make himself seem more progressive with someone who is progressive and conservative with someone who is more conservative. That's what makes him mercurial in a dangerous way." The film was directed by George Hickenlooper, written by Norman Snider and is slated for release this autumn.
Campbell appeared on stage in the musical TICK...TICK...BOOM, as well as in both the stage and film versions of REEFER MADNESS: THE MUSICAL, bringing singing into the spectrum of his talents. "It surprised me to find I have a singing career." He says with a touch of amazement in his voice. "It came out of REEFER MADNESS, really. I trained as a singer and I sang in the Mendelssohn Youth Choir in Toronto, but that was when I was a kid. I've always enjoyed singing but then I had this teacher in my college who was an ex-nun. She was an angry woman. Angry, angry, angry. She was a tough teacher and scared me away from singing. At the age of nineteen I decided to screw singing and just concentrate on being solely an actor. For the next ten years of my life all I was an actor until I was cast in that little musical called REEFER MADNESS and suddenly I was perceived as a singer." Campbell has a legit voice, "Sort of a ‘bari-tenor' if there is such a thing," he adds with a hearty laugh. "One thing I tend to do, though is act first before I sing. I just act as much as I can in hopes that they don't notice the singing!" Based on various snippets that have been viewed, Campbell doesn't have to worry about using smoke and mirrors to cover his vocal skills. He's really quite good in that department and it would be a pleasure to see him headlining a production of, say, THE MUSIC MAN or even COMPANY.
There's a not-so-well-known secret that Christian Campbell did a kid's show on television. An animated one, no less! It was called MAX STEELE and was a CGI series. "It started up in 1999 and I was the voice of Max Steele. It's gone on to be very popular with kids throughout the world and has been translated into several languages," Campbell states. He even claims it helped him tie the knot with his wife. "After we had met, she found out that I had been the voice of Max Steele and told me on the spot that we were definitely getting married!" He and America Olivo have been wed since 2009.
However, the project that Campbell is currently involved in is the play MAGNETIC NORTH. "I'd worked with director Jeremy Dobrish before in a musical called DRIFT for the New York Music Theatre Festival. It was a Jeremy Scoenfeld production. That was in 2006. I enjoyed that production and I did another production of it with Lauren Kennedy directing it. Basically Greg Schaffert thought I was right for this role but Jeremy thought I wouldn't do it because it's just a showcase. However, Greg has great gumption and gave me a call. He sent me the script, which I read and loved it. I thought it was a wonderfully written piece. I think William Donnelly is a fantastic new voice in American Theatre. Of course I worked with Jeremy before and I enjoy maintaining relationships with people. I accepted their offer with its commitment of only one month. As it turns out I'll be shooting a movie with Michael C. Hall out here anyway. In a sense, the theatre gets to benefit from the movies!"
MAGNETIC NORTH is play that examines a rift in a marriage that happens when an ex-girlfriend enters the picture. "It examines the lines of trust that are involved in a relationship," explains the actor. "It asks the question, ‘Where is too far?' and it's wonderfully touching. It's very human and has some wonderfully chunky, underwritten scenes. I play James, a man who has a wife at home and has just lost a child during pregnancy. He happens to meet an ‘ex' and they go for drinks and in the course of the conversation James becomes torn between the love of his wife and the inevitable ‘what if?' concerning what might have happened in a different relationship and whether his conversation has gone too far. It's wonderfully human." Campbell continues by saying, "Nothing traumatic happens but it makes important points and that's what's wonderful about it!" In addition to Christian Campbell, the cast of MAGNETIC NORTH includes Scott Richard Foster, Heather Lee Harper and Sara Shahinian.
Campbell's enthusiasm for MAGNETIC NORTH is apparent in his green eyes. They light up as he discusses the project and -just as those nuns had told us way back ‘when--truly indicate the immense inner feelings he has about the play and the production its being given. Yup, they're a dead give away about the soul of this youthfully mature man. There's no doubt that Christian Campbell loves what he's doing and indicate that he'll be continually acting and enriching our lives in the process.
The performance schedule for Magnetic North is as follows: May 6 at 7pm, May 7 at 8pm, May 8 at 8pm, May 9 at 3pm, May 10 at 7pm, May 12 at 7pm, May 13 at 7pm, May 14 at 8pm, May 15 at 8pm,May 16 at 3pm. Performances will be held at The Workshop Theater, 312 West 36th Street. Tickets are $18 ($15 for students) and can be purchased by logging onto TheActiveTheater.com.