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Ross McCall interview: Crash course

Ross McCall is full of beans. There's a big Celtic game coming up in two days' time and even though he's based in Hollywood, the 33-year-old actor from Greenock is already hoping for a good result against Rangers.

McCall, who starred in Band of Brothers and the TV series based on the Oscar-winning 2004 film Crash, has been a Celtic fan ever since he can remember, thanks to his dad John, a retired fire chief.

"I'm a massive supporter. Huge! It's a sickness," he laughs. "It's one of the ways my dad will get me to go home. He'll call to tell me that he's got tickets and if I can, I'll be there. It's been that way since childhood."

So how does he manage to keep up with the action while he's in Los Angeles?

"I'm a member of the Los Angeles Celtic Supporters Club," he says, flashing his most charming grin. "Believe it or not, there are a few of us and we'll meet in the early hours of the morning at a bar in Culver City when there's a big match on. I'm usually the youngest one there and we drink tea and eat biscuits."

And if McCall can't meet up with the Los Angeles CSC (which also boasts Billy Connolly as a member), he'll watch the action on his computer, something he's planning on doing as he prepares to return to Albuquerque in New Mexico to shoot the second series of Crash, with Dennis Hopper.

Not as instantly recognisable as his Band of Brothers co-star Damian Lewis, McCall has carved out an impressive career. No-one in his family worked in show business – his older brother, and best friend, Stuart, is a Sussex policeman ("I do it on telly, he does it for real"), and his mum Maggie, now retired, was a nurse. On top of that, he only spent a year at drama school.

Sitting on one of the overstuffed couches at the Chateau Marmont Hotel, McCall exudes the kind of confident disposition that comes with a successful Hollywood career. But he's worked hard for it: he started acting professionally when he was 11.

Dressed casually in jeans, white T-shirt and accessories that comprise of a John Lennon belt ("I got it from a photoshoot I did recently, but to be honest I'm more of a Paul McCartney fan"), a rosary and three striking tattoos, he's happy to talk about how this self-confessed "naughty kid" now finds himself the lead in a show alongside one of Hollywood's modern icons.

After ordering a pot of coffee from the waiter – whom we conclude, by studying his chiselled jawline and buff physique, is one of the many hopeful actors who survive in Hollywood by waiting tables – he explains how he became a child actor.

"I admit I was a bit of a naughty kid but in a nice way. I would drive the teachers nuts but they were kind of charmed by it I think," he says of his schooldays. "I'd find myself in history class writing a play while I was supposed to be studying. But when I was 11, I ended up doing a school play and the headteacher, who was very much the nurturing type, realised I could sing. He encouraged me to audition for a part in a local tour of Oliver!, which I got. The national tour needed kids to fill the gang and I ended up as the Artful Dodger. It was all a bit of a blur really."

By this time, McCall and his family had relocated to Canterbury in Kent, which is why his Scottish accent is only in evidence when he does an impersonation of his dad.

"Yep, Kent's the reason for this dodgy accent," he says. "We moved there for dad's job when I was seven."

He was spotted by an agent during the tour, joined the cast of Les Miserables in the West End and has been working pretty much ever since, even landing a role as the young Freddie Mercury in Queen's video for The Miracle. The fact that he got to act beside a music legend meant very little to him at 13, but it paid dividends for the young, free and single actor when he arrived in Hollywood eight years ago.

"My room-mate had the video in his collection, which was kind of weird," he laughs. "But he would throw it on at two in the morning when we brought the girls home and I'm not going to lie, it did well for me. I was a cute kid! I've been in this business for 20 years now and it's the one thing that people still bring up. It's a classic."

McCall's acting continued throughout his teens with the blessing of his parents, who appear to have done a very good job of keeping him grounded. Although now amicably divorced – his dad lives in Gourock while his mum lives in Rothbury, Northumberland – they were both supportive.

"They could have been those horrible parents that you dread, but they left me to it," he says, "I didn't earn a fortune because I was doing theatre but when I went to drama school when I was 16 they told me I had to contribute towards the school fees. They were super cool."

He recalls the time a couple of years ago he phoned his parents to tell them that he had two films in the cinema – a rarity for an actor.

"I asked my dad, 'Have you been to see my movies yet?' And he told me he hadn't. About a week later he called to say that he'd seen one of the films – he'd bought a DVD from a guy who was flogging them in the street for a fiver!"

He admits to a small rebellion in his teens but is thankful to have got any immature behaviour out of the way at a young age. "If you just come into this business at 25 there's an allure to coming to the Chateau, having some drinks, meeting some girls and partying upstairs," he says. "I get it, but I got that out of my system at 17."

Working from such a young age has also made him incredibly self sufficient. "I'm very close to my family but I don't get homesick", he says. "I was living in B&Bs from an early age with a chaperone. And when I was 16 I got a part in a Neil Simon play in the West End and had to make the decision to move away from my family, which I did. That was a big step for me but it was totally my choice."

In his early twenties, he moved briefly to Aberdeen, where he worked in a bar, catching the sleeper train to London for auditions.

It was at that point he got the opportunity to audition for Band of Brothers, along with every other young male actor in the country. The widely acclaimed HBO series, which told the story of ten American soldiers in Europe in the Second World War, was produced by Tom Hanks and became a springboard for everyone who worked on it. McCall auditioned for the role of Corporal Joseph Liebgott three times before a special audition with Hanks at a London hotel.

The American accent was no stumbling block either. "I've always been able to do a convincing American accent. It think it was because I watched so many movies when I was younger."

And boy did it come in handy, helping him land the plum role alongside Damian Lewis, Donnie Wahlberg, Ron Livingston and Dexter Fletcher.

"I knew I was in something special when it came along. It's iconic and guys of all ages still come up to me to talk about it," he says, revealing that Hanks has since become a personal friend and mentor.

"I like the way he handles himself," he says simply. "In Hollywood you see so many trainwrecks, so many people doing the 'cool f***-up' thing but he's been married for years and you never see him do anything stupid. He turns up for work, knows his lines, is friendly, gracious and fun, and that's why he's No 1."

With the success of Band of Brothers came a slew of meaty parts including his role as footie fan Dave in Green Street, alongside Elijah Wood, before landing his present role as conflicted East Coast cop Kenny Battaglia, in the TV series Crash.

He began dating Ghost Whisperer actress Jennifer Love Hewitt in 2007, and they got engaged, but split up at the beginning of this year. He discovered that being half of a celebrity couple exposed him to the kind of media interest he could do without.

Circumspect, he understands the interest in the lives of the rich and famous but says, "You have to choose if you want to do tabloids or you want to do GQ. I've read the tabloids and I guess it's interesting to see someone walk the dog; the problem comes when it starts meddling with your life. Stories get created. I don't turn up to the opening of an envelope, and in my previous relationship that wasn't us."

He pauses to recall the split. "After the break up it was f***ing nuts, the photographers were everywhere, but I just walked away. If you're classy enough and you don't let it out they have nothing on you."

He says that family and friends have been approached for stories, adding, "I've been told some of the prices of photographs of me and I'm like, 'Are you kidding? Give me the money and I'll send you a personal shot myself!'"

Does this kind of spotlight make it difficult to trust people? "Put it like this, I have a very intimate circle of friends, and I'm great with that. I'm in my house 99 per cent of the time."

He now shares his home with his 16-month-old boxer Mona, whom he'll be taking to Albuquerque with him for the Crash shoot. "She's very cute but there seems to be no end of her bounding towards every single person and dog. I'm over the puppy stage now."

He landed the role in Crash, based on the Oscar-winning movie, after being considered for a role in another show called The Black Donnellys. He didn't get that part but Crash co-writer Robert Moresco, who wrote the series alongside Oscar-winner Paul Haggis, kept him in mind. "This is the second series and I'm the same character but in a completely new set of circumstances," McCall says, adding that it's fun to be sharing canteen time with Easy Rider star Hopper.

"He's an icon," he says, grinning from ear to ear. "I remember Hopper's electric scene in True Romance and it's always odd when you meet someone you admire. But then they become your co-workers and at the end of the day we're all eating the same mac and cheese. He's a very zen guy, so either his craziness has subsided or he's hiding it really well. But I have to admit that it's really cool to go to work every day and be number two on the call sheet next to Dennis Hopper."

What might not be so cool is that later that week Celtic lost to Rangers 0-1. Still, McCall has other fish to fry. His next movie, Knuckle Draggers, recently premiered at the Newport Beach film festival in California and he's also co-written a TV pilot that he hopes will go into production later this year.

It seems that, apart from the footie scores, life is good. "I was raised a Catholic and I go to a Catholic church here in Hollywood," he says. "But spiritual is the way to go for me. I'm humble and I appreciate what I've got. I believe in God and I believe in good and that's it."

With a final sip, he says: "I don't know when you get to sit back and say that you've made it. I guess when you're Mr Hanks looking in the mirror. When that day comes I'll call you."

And with that, he tips the waiter handsomely and heads off home to take Mona for a walk.

 
 
 

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