Exclusive Interview with Wayward Pines’ Jaime M. Callica
Canadian actor Jaime M. Callica grew up with a love for Michael Jackson and a knack for impersonating him. With his MJ impersonation days behind him, Callica has grown into a well-established performer in his own right, most recently having landed the role of Simeon in the second season of Wayward Pines, a psychological, mind-bending thriller with M. Night Shyamalan bringing it to life. Callica has also appeared in such hits as The 100, The Bridge, Almost Human, and Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.
Wayward Pines is sort of this dark, psychological thriller with M. Night Shyamalan at the helm as EP, which must be pretty cool. What was your reaction when you got the part, and what’s it like to jump into a show like that?
Oh man, it’s crazy. I have to admit, I hadn’t even watched Season 1 when I got cast for my first episode. And I knew–Season 1, was shot quite some time before it aired, so I’ll admit, in that time, some of the hype around it was lost for me. But I knew that they were shooting it, and I love M. Night Shyamalan as a director and producer. So when I got cast in it, I was like, “You got to watch some of season 1 so you can have a feel of this show before you go into this audition.”
I watched a little bit of one particular episode, it kind of spooked me out, I’m not going to lie. (laughs). It definitely has that kind of Shyamalan creepiness to it and my mom can’t even watch. She’s like, “I’ll watch your scenes, but I’m not watching the whole season.” I’m like, “It’s alright, I don’t want you to have nightmares, Ma.” But yeah, it was really–it’s different from anything else I’ve ever been in, which is really cool.
So how does your character fit into that world, and what did you do to prepare for this?
Without any spoilers, my character was cast for one episode, with the possibility to recur. So obviously as an actor, you want to go there, you want to do the best, you want to hope that they like you cause if they like you, then ya know, you can come back. A lot of times if you–I have a couple of friends that their first episode of a show was when the show was already running, their episode airs, they explode on the internet, then the writers are like, “Wow, we got to bring this person back.”
That wasn’t really the case since we started shooting months ago. So, it’s 50/50 whether they’re going to bring me back or not, and when I went–it was really awesome. The director, David Petrarca, he knew exactly what he wanted and between him and Mark Friedman, who is one of the Executive Producers and writers of the show, they were very specific with what episode one needed to look and feel like to set the tone for the whole season.
It was kind of scary and daunting because I–you make your preparations and you learn your lines, you kind of mentally prepare for how you’re going to play the scene, and…yeah, he destroyed that immediately. (laughs). Everything that I had done, they basically said I had to throw it out and do it a completely different way, and it was a ton of takes, so at the end of the day I was like, “Yeah, I definitely need to look for a new career here, because I suck.” Petrarca’s just that director that knows exactly what it needs to look like, and it took me some time to get there, but it was a ton of fun. Jason Patric is the new lead of the show. No matter what, if he’s on set, he’s out killing himself. Working with him in scenes was really, really cool. It was a blessing.
You mentioned that you hadn’t seen season one at first, but the show’s based on the Pines trilogy by Blake Crouch, and you’ve done a few other projects that I’ve seen that were also based on books–you were in The 100 and Percy Jackson, right? So, do you ever read the books when you’re preparing for roles, or do you steer clear of them so that it’s fresh and you’re not spoiling anything…?
I was in a Hallmark movie, it’s called The Bridge–it’s based on one novel, but they split the movie up into two parts, and I played a character named Luther who was a soul food chef. And the author’s Karen Kingsbury, she’s a New York Times bestselling author. A lot of times, with most of these auditions when we get them, they don’t really give us anything. So when we get the sides, basically the couple of pages of the scene that they want you to see you do, you never really know. They almost never tell you it’s based on a novel, a short…they don’t tell you anything. You get these pages and you kind of want to learn your pages, and you want to go in the next day and do a good job.
So, embarrassingly enough, I didn’t know that The Bridge was based on a novel and on my first day on set, we were filming in Victoria, there was a lady that was sitting at a table and was just kind of–she was just writing in a little book, and was being overly attended to. And I thought, “Wow, this crew is amazing, treating the–,” I thought she was a background performer, “–treating the background performer so amazing.” (laughs). She said something to me, and I said something like, “Oh, have you been on the show a lot?” And she said, “No, I’m just here for the day.” And I was like, “Wonderful, thanks for being with us!” And she said, “My name is Karen, I’m the author of the book.”
I was so embarrassed. And I said to her, “Hey, I didn’t even know this was based on a book, they didn’t tell us that.” So she took the opportunity to–which, you never get–to sit down with the author. Which was also kind of scary, because now, again, everything that I had prepared mentally for this character, she could potentially throw away, too, because I was a dummy and said, “Hey, is there anything I should know about Luther that I don’t know because I didn’t even know this was a book?”
So in that particular instance, the second that we wrapped up “The Bridge 1” which is almost like–not a prologue, but if you look at a book chronologically, despite the fact that “The Bridge” does go kind of back and forth between the past and present, if you look at it chronologically, it would’ve been only the first three months of the story. And then “The Bridge Part 2” was all the meat of the story, so when we wrapped on “The Bridge 1” I went and got that book and read it right away.
But a lot of times like I said, you don’t even know. So even with The 100, I didn’t know that it was a book until I’d already shot a couple of episodes.
Well, that one specifically is the only one I can speak to knowingly–it’s pretty different from the books, so maybe that was to your benefit!
Right, yes. And Percy was a cool one, too, I had–again, it’s almost like I’m doing it in reverse, which is kind of silly. When I got cast in Percy, I hadn’t read any of them, and then before the second Percy came around, I read the three books. And it was actually really cool, the other day I was in Vegas–this is like a side story–but I was in Vegas, and this little girl was at the pool with her dad, and she was probably eight or nine and they were both just comfortably on a beach chair at the pool reading, and she was reading Percy Jackson. And–I don’t even know why, for no reason, I was like, “Oh, Percy Jackson!” And she was like, “Dad, what do I do, why is this stranger talking to me?” (laughs). I saw the fear in both of their eyes, so I was like, “Oh, don’t be scared! I was in that movie.”
Then they sat up, and they were like, “Really?!” and I was like, “Yeah.” And they asked me a couple of questions–once their heart rate came down they were like, “What’s Logan (Lerman) like as Percy Jackson?” and I chatted with them for a couple of minutes and then was on my merry way. That was just the other day…
When did you know that you wanted to be an actor? And who would you say inspired you the most?
Ever since I was really small, I’ve always been entertaining, I was always a performer. My first love was dance. Dancing and singing are definitely my first loves. And that inspiration came at two2 years old with Michael Jackson. Despite the fact that the world knows him predominantly as a singer/dancer/writer, he’s actually a phenomenal actor. He was just supernaturally blessed in all departments, he was better at singing and dancing universally, but if anything, from 17, 16…he wanted to act. And I would say my overall, number one inspiration as a performer would be Michael Jackson, no matter what.
I also love watching Meryl Streep, she’s just so transformative. She’s so believably believable in everything that she does, between her, Denzel Washington, and obviously Daniel Day-Lewis, I’m inspired. They’re legends. But even some of those new and up and coming guys that are doing really, really well like Chris Pine… there’s something in the eyes or Benedict Cumberbatch he’s such a monster, who else do I really love? Idris Elba, I love him, as well. I would say between Meryl Streep, Denzel, and Idris, those are probably my three favorites right now.
That’s a good list. That actually tied into my next question, cause I did read that you were a big Michael Jackson fan as a kid. And I also saw that you used to DJ, right? Do you still do that?
Yeah, I used to DJ. I used to impersonate Michael Jackson. Growing up, I would get hired to perform at weddings and graduations and community events. My whole get-up was crazy, I would enter competitions, I grew up in Toronto, and there’s this big–it’s called Rising Star competition at the C&E. It’s at a fair. It’s a national exhibition and it lasts for like two weeks, and they have this big competition, and I performed there and…yeah, Michael is my guy. I’m a grown man and I have one or two Michael posters in my house. (laughs).
I paid my way through school DJing. When I was getting my first degree in Criminology, it helped me be able to afford the luxury of living at home for free. I was going to go to school by day and do something by night so that I wasn’t killing myself with student loans. It was fun. I loved DJing. I was one of the youngest DJs in Toronto. My mom would have to come into the club. (laughs). I was underage, which was really crazy, and I’d walk into the club on the weekends and they’d be looking at me like, “Where is this kid going with these records?” And my mom would be like, “No, you have to check with the promoter or whomever, they’re expecting him, DJ Jay Wicked.” And they’d check and then come back and they’d walk us to the DJ booth, and my mom had to stay in the club with me cause I was underage, I wasn’t supposed to be in the club.
I was 12 or 13 and I did that until I was done with school, and then it was time to hang up the headphones and focus on other things.
And you went to school for criminology?
Yeah, originally I went to school for criminology. I wanted to get into law, and I was going to use that undergrad as a means to get into law school, and that was–academically, that’s always what I wanted to do, I loved law. I was in a very bad car accident where I was hit by a drunk driver, my buddy and I we were hit head on by a drunk driver. She got off. There were like a slew of charges that were brought against her, driving under the influence, causing bodily harm, etc. etc. etc., and on a really bogus technicality, she got off on all the charges. When that happened, I lost all faith in the criminal justice system. Someone can be clearly intoxicated, in the wrong, and still not see a day of jail time. And I lost faith.
So I finished that degree up and then I got into business. I went back to school to focus on a Bachelor of Commerce, and then that was the focus. Then I started a business, a company that basically bought real estate and businesses. For a number of years, my focus was business. And I guess I only bring that in because it segues nicely into acting, but I was in business for a number of years, where I would buy small or medium-sized convenience stores, tanning salons, etc. And one day I literally popped up out of bed and was looking in the mirror and said, “Today’s the day.”
The first call I made once I got downtown to one of my shops was to my realtor to list everything. List my stores for sale. And my next call was to a buddy, a prominent actor in Vancouver named Zak Santiago, I said, “Hey, what do I need to do?” And he said, “You have to train, this is who you’re going to train with, I’ll put in the call for you cause he doesn’t usually take brand new, never acted before guys. And then when he says you’re ready, you’ll get an agent. When you get an agent, then you’ll be in the pool with the rest of us.”
And I said, “Cool, make that call.” (laughs). It took about a year to sell everything, and I was in the classroom within about a week, and that was it. October 9th of 2012 was the day that my last business sold, I took my mom to Hawaii for her birthday, took a little time off, and then 2013 January was my first day of acting full-time.
That’s awesome. And the rest is history!
And that’s it, yeah.
So what advice would you give to someone else who is looking to break into the industry?
It’s going to sound almost morbid, but I tell people, when somebody asks me–cause my friends were looking at me like, “Dude, you’re selling your successful businesses to act? That’s crazy.” Cause there’s nothing sure about this game. So I tell people all the time, whether it’s friends, associates, up-and-comers in the audition room, anywhere–I always say, this acting thing is not for everyone. You have to want nothing else. At all.
I’ll tell people to their face: if you love anything else–if you love doing hair and acting? Do hair. If you love nursing and acting? Be a nurse. You can’t split your love or your attention away from acting, at all, otherwise, you’ll never succeed. You’ll see a lot of actors that try and fail, and they just chalk it up to, “Oh, it just wasn’t for me.” No, no, no, it’s for all of us. But this particular game requires like….the strongest will out of anything, because with any other career choice you go to school, whether it’s to be a plumber, a doctor, a technician, an engineer, a writer–you get out of school, and as long as you are relatively proficient enough as a plumber, you will work.
With acting, you could be the best actor at every single audition, but the amount of variables that are stacked against you could stop you from working, always. There’s been times that, I’ve gone into the room, and I got put on hold–so basically, you audition, you get a callback, the callback usually has the director and producer in the room, what they do is they short list you and put you on hold. They say, “Hey, we like you, we need to get network approval.” Whether it’s you by yourself, you don’t know if it’s you against another guy or another person, you don’t really know–but you’re on hold. You’re closest to booking that job. I’ve had jobs where I did not book it not because I wasn’t the best person for that particular role, but because the female they cast opposite me to play my girlfriend was too short, or too tall, or too dark, or too light, or some sort of variable that had nothing to do with me.
So, you have enough of those experiences in your life, and you want to jump off of a bridge. (laughs). So that’s why I tell people, you got to want this 117%, or just do that other thing that you love as well.
It’s a very monogamous relationship you have with acting, it sounds like.
Yes! You have a relationship with acting like you’re the last person on the planet. Yeah.
Alright, so I guess my last question for you is–since the name of our website is Talk Nerdy With Us, we usually like to ask people: what is one thing that you’re nerdy about, or that you nerd-out over?
(laughs) This is a cool one cause actually, my friends that know me the best know I’m quite nerdy. I am. I played sports and all that stuff in school, but I always felt more on the nerdy side even if I did other jockey type things. My two favorite movies are Superman and Beauty and the Beast. Those are my favorite, and I love Belle from Beauty and the Beast–like, if Belle was a real person, I would do whatever I had to do to get rid of Gaston. (laughs). Gaston doesn’t stand a chance. In the world that I live in? Gaston doesn’t have a chance.
I love her so much and I have this big shelving type unit that I have all my records in, and on top of that shelf, it has tons of Belle and Superman stuff. Yeah, I’m a grown man who has that. My friends, my adult friends for my birthday and Christmas and whatnot, will get me–like, I’m walking up to it right now to give you an example. They will buy me Belle stuff.
For example, what I’m looking at right now is I have one of these, it’s in a package, it’s like a magic towel. If you take it out and put it into water it like turns into a towel like one of those? And I have Belle socks, I have too many Belle figurines to count, I have a big Belle doll, I have Belle Pez, candles, Belle sticker books, and then all that stuff for Superman, Superman cups, Superman–two people actually gave me, one gave me a Superman tie clip and the other gave me Superman cuff links. I have the limited edition Canadian mint Superman coin….
Yeah, so on my nerdy side, my Belle and Superman collection are heavy.
You are not messing around.
I’m not playing. With Belle and Superman, I do not play.
Wayward Pines airs on FOX every Wednesday at 9/8c.