A Simple Man
When it comes to his acting career, TIFF Rising Star Charlie Carrick is nothing but himself.
“When I was 11 or 12, my first football team had this manager, a guy called Harry Harrison,” 26-year-old English actor Charlie Carrick tells me, “During practice, he used to smoke, like, 80 cigarettes, sitting on this overturned milk crate.” He continues, snickering, “He had this big poster on the dressing room wall that said ‘K.I.S.S.’ and underneath it, ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid.’” Charlie laughs at the imagery.
Carrick and I have been sitting on a park bench in a schoolyard near King and Niagara for the last half hour, talking acting and football when we get on the topic of simplicity. He finishes his story by adding, “It was so completely out of character for this guy.” “He doesn’t sound like a simple man,” I respond. “Definitely not,” Charlie says in his soft Newcastle accent.
It’s a fitting allegory for a former soccer player who gave up hope of playing competitively after suffering a serious injury, turning to acting instead. The handsome blue-eyed Newcastle-native may seem to have chosen the more difficult career path, venturing into an industry that can often be cruel and vapid, but Charlie’s path hasn’t been so tumultuous because he doesn’t allow it to be so.
First arriving in Canada eight years ago, Carrick was a fresh-faced 18-year-old Vancouver Film School student looking to break in to the Canadian film and television industry, a happy middle ground, he says, between England and the U.S. What Carrick quickly learned from his first few years in audition rooms, however, was that no amount of technique that he was being taught could help him. “I went on all these auditions for TV shows and I just wasn’t getting them. I tried to take classes where they taught you tricks but those are all just horseshit. The simpler you make it; the better it’s going to be.”
Living by this mantra is what kept Charlie in the acting game, even amongst the tight-knit and often closed-off theatre community in Vancouver. After a few years of small roles on television shows like Flashpoint, Supernatural, Psych and Sanctuary, and parts in Vancouver theatre productions like The History Boys, Carrick was building his resume with performances in strong series’ and theatre circles, but decided to make the move to Toronto to attend the Canadian Film Centre’s 2011-2012 Actors’ Conservatory. A professional program that develops young actors’ talents and connects them with business and creative mentors, the CFC’s Actors’ Conservatory allowed Charlie to focus on who he wanted to be as an actor, encouraging him to take creative license in his roles.
“The CFC was a good opportunity to hone my own specific onscreen presence, the qualities that make me a leading man. It wasn’t about me trying to squeeze into some role I wasn’t quite right for.”
In just one year, Carrick has departed from television roles that have squeezed him into commercial archetypes, and landed him roles in film and television projects that allow him to add nuances to his characters, a feat that has resulted in Charlie recently being named one of the Toronto International Film Festival’s 2012 Rising Stars. Carrick likens the experience to speed dating with casting directors and filmmakers like Jason Reitman and Ruba Nadda, one of his former mentors at the Actors Conservatory. “I’ve always wanted to go on a speed date with Ruba,” he quips.
Just signed to United Talent Agency in Los Angeles (“I have a team of 12 people. It’s crazy.”), Carrick has been doing a lot of these speed dates, taking meetings with casting directors in Los Angeles, Toronto and even during a trip home to London, where he was visiting family and making an attempt at getting his driver’s license. “I failed coming off a roundabout,” he laments, but adds that the meetings made the trip home worthwhile, as they were opportunities his actor friends in England would kill for.
“You can never just relax really because it’s so in your own hands, you know. You can get certain opportunities but it’s up to you to follow through with them,” he tells me thoughtfully during a quieter moment in our conversation.
As we continue to talk, Carrick leans forward, rubbing his knees; he reminds me of a little boy the way he fidgets. He’s somewhat more relaxed since the beginning of our conversation, but he’s actually quite shy, even a bit uncomfortable, when it comes to speaking about himself. It’s almost hard to believe this is the same individual who is about to take off to Budapest for three months to film a multi-episode role on Showtime’s The Borgias with Jeremy Irons. “Whenever cab drivers ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I’m studying business at Ryerson,” he says, almost blushing. The sun begins to set on the schoolyard but we have one last topic to cover.
“I hope I’m not coming off as a fan girl,” I tell Charlie, as I veer the conversation toward what I have been waiting to talk about. “But I saw Molly Maxwell and I loved it,” I tell him. Molly Maxwell is Charlie’s his first feature film in which he plays Ben Carter, a young high school teacher who falls in love with a brilliant 16-year-old student, played by actress Lola Tash. “You’ve seen it?” He seems surprised when I tell him more than once. Unsure if I am just paying lip service, Carrick quizzes me on my favourite scene. I give a detailed explanation of the moment Ben embraces Molly on a ferry, returning from Toronto Island.
As we delve deeper into conversation about Molly Maxwell, I use the term pedophile and Charlie cringes, understandably so. The film is ultimately a love story that can’t be trivialized or muted with such a blunt term. “It was important to [director Sara St. Onge] that he not be a creep,” he says as someone who is obviously largely invested in his character. “It would undermine the whole movie. I tried to think of it as when you meet someone great and you just connect. It happens so rarely in life.”
I use the dreaded term—onscreen chemistry—when asking about working with his co-star Lola Tash, someone who is 8 years his junior. “She’s really smart. Really smart,” he repeats about Tash, smiling, “She can tie you up in knots that way.” He adds that St. Onge kept the two apart prior to filming, after learning that Tash reached out to Carrick once he was cast. “We shot the film so that all of the getting-to-know-you scenes were done early so it was really genuine.”
It’s dark out when I begin to wrap up our conversation. Most of the photographer’s team has left for the evening but Charlie and I are still talking about storytelling, still sitting on that same park bench. We agree that the best kinds of films are the ones where nothing happens but everything is happening all at once. “There is nothing more than the actual story that the filmmaker is trying to tell,” he adds. “It’s a weird kind of film because it’s so simple. They’re hard to find but all actors want to be in those kinds of films.”
The conversation ends on the story of Harry Harrison, the milk crate and his simple changing room poster. I ask Carrick about his next steps once he returns from Hungary. He tells me he’s just living in the moment so he can’t look too far beyond his next project.
But Charlie can’t resist circling back to a football analogy: “If you’ve played soccer your whole life, you’re not thinking about how to kick the ball or where to run when you get out on the field. You just do it.”