Under the spell of outsider status
SIR COLIN Callender said he was “a combination of honoured and humbled” after receiving a knighthood and a Golden Globe in the space of a fortnight.
The Wolf Hall producer, who was knighted for services to the British creative industries, joked: “It has been a good start to the year, but it’s going to be downhill from here. I don’t know how it can get better.”
Sir Colin’s mother died days before he found out about his knighthood, and just a few weeks before he won a Golden Globe for the BBC series Wolf Hall.
“In one sense I’m doing this interview for her,” he said, “because it’s the interview she would’ve loved to have read if she were alive.
“Somewhere up there she’s looking down, and this would make her smile. The JC was her bible, and she was very proud of me.”
Lydia Callender died aged 91 on October 28, the same day that tickets for Sir Colin’s new record-breaking West End play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child went on sale.
“It was the very definition of bittersweet,” said the US-based British producer. “The passing of a parent has a profound impact on you but I’m not sure it’s one that you know in the immediate shadow of their passing.”
He said his mother was a link to his siblings’ Jewish heritage. “She was a link to a sort of mythic world of European Jews, part of that diaspora journey. “There is a line in Tony Kushner’s play, Angels In America, where a rabbi is giving a eulogy, and he says: ‘You can never make that crossing that she made, for such great voyages in Golden moment for Callender this world do not any more exist. But every day of your lives, the miles — that voyage between that place to this one — you cross.’ “And I think it is, just as she carried the journey of her parents before her. That’s what she represented.”
Sir Colin’s new theatrical endeavour, the sequel to the Harry Potter literary and cinematic series which he is co-producing with Sonia Friedman, sold 175,000 tickets in just eight hours.
And he said his childhood, as an Orthodox Jew in post-war London, shared many of the themes in Harry Potter.
“R i g h t at the heart of the play and all the stories there’s a thematic about pure-bloods versus muggles, a whole metaphor about bigotry and racism and them versus us, which is embedded deeply in Harry Potter.
“Growing up as a British Jew, there was always this duality one was trying to navigate between. I went to a school which had a Jewish quota, and I was always aware of being Jewish. It defined the everyday.”
This outsider status influenced him professionally, with Sir Colin explaining that “it has given me a perspective of being inside moments while also looking at them from the outside, and I think that’s helped me in my work.
“I remember my father going to work in the City in his very elegant suit and looking at how he navigated his strong sense of being Jewish and the way in which he dealt with the outside world.”
He added that this was particularly relevant in the modern climate, “which is not just multicultural but also one where you’re moving between coun- tries, time zones, and cultural contexts very quickly.
“The ability to understand other people’s points of view and have empathy with them is vital, and my childhood helpedtoinformthewayIthoughtabout stories and which ones were relevant.”
This understanding was vital in creating Wolf Hall, which audiences saw through the eyes of royal advisor Thomas Cromwell.
“At its centre, it’s about a man confronting the moral complexities of the exercise of power, a man who is caught between his desire to do the right thing and the need to survive.
Sir Colin admitted he was “taken aback” by the way audiences responded and that he “hadn’t expected” to win a Golden Globe — but revealed that he did “have an instinct about the story.
“What Hilary Mantel had done was to reinvigorate the historical novel, and I felt that there was the same opportunity to reinvigorate the historical period drama on television, making the story resonant to a contemporary audience.”
BBC series Wolf Hall Harry Potter: a theatrical sell-out production for Sir Colin Callender