Callum Woodhouse Interview: The Joys of Playing Tristan Farnon
Actor Callum Woodhouse says he was happy every day playing All Creatures Great and Small‘s Tristan Farnon in the 2021 TV adaptation! Find out why, discover his insights into his character and his castmates, and get his take on dogs, the Dales, and The Durrells in Corfu.
Back in January 2021, our interview with Callum was delayed by his emergency visit to the vet with his puppy. He’d had a scare, but fortunately, all was well with his little cavapoo. It was of course no inconvenience at all for MASTERPIECE, who reassured the apologetic actor that he was exactly where he was supposed to be, as a dog dad. Relieved to have his puppy home, better, and happy, Callum agreed, saying, “It’s really quite fitting with the show, isn’t it? I was off saving an animal. I was doing it for real.” (More on his puppy below…)
What do you like most about Tristan?
It’s easy: Just how upbeat he is, how optimistic, and so joyful he is as a character. I’ve never been lucky enough to play a character like that yet in my career, and just getting to work every morning and night, getting to the place that I’d have to be in to play Tristan would always put me in the best mood, even if I’d gotten out of bed on the wrong side that morning, because he’s constantly so upbeat and happy. And it was really fun, spending three months basically being really happy every day. It was great.
You’ve said that all the laughs onscreen with Nicholas Ralph were real. Was that just in the performances, or was it when the camera wasn’t rolling, as well?
It was both, really. And what really helped is that me and Nick—the entire cast, really—but me and Nick in particular, clicked almost immediately, when we first met. By the end of the [animal] boot camp, before we’d started filming, I felt like we were quite tight. And that was great, because the first episode that I come in, James and I are actually warring against each other for Siegfried’s affections. Those types of scenes are always so much easier and more fun to play when you really, really get on with the person you’re doing it with, when you’re trying to wind someone up on screen, but off-screen, you absolutely love that person. I had the exact same thing with Josh O’Connor [Larry Durrell] in The Durrells in Corfu. Larry and Leslie, they never got on with each other, and they were constantly winding each other up. But me and Josh were the best mates on set, and it’s always so much fun to play those scenes, when you can really have fun with it.
So it just carried on through right to the end of the series, from when Tristan and James become partners in crime against Siegfried at the end of the second episode. And me and Nick would be making each other laugh. We’d been watching a lot of Ricky Gervais and things like that, and we’d be like, “Oh, let’s see if we can fit a Ricky Gervais-ism into this scene.” And then we’d fit it in, and no one would notice, and they’d be like, “Great! Let’s see if we can up it more.” And then we’d do it, and they’d be like, “Don’t do that.” And we’d be like, “Yeah, yeah. Of course, of course.”
It seems like you were having as much fun making it as it is fun to watch!
We really were, and I think that really does speak to the show’s success. It was a real unit, a real team of people. Speaking personally, I loved going to work every morning, because I just got to hang out with four people I really, really got on with and wanted to hang out with. We’d do a 12-hour day, working with these people, and then were still totally up for going for a meal in the evening and glass of wine. Yeah, I think that camaraderie bled into the show.
It seems like your offscreen friendship with Nicholas Ralph is as strong as that of Tristan and James. What can you tell us about their relationship?
I think the great thing about Season 1 is that Tristan started as a very lazy character, and just wanted to be boozing all the time and chasing women, whereas James was the complete opposite of that. He was nose-down and really, really work-focused. And I think, by the end of Season 1, they’ve balanced each other out. James has made Tristan more work-focused, and Tristan has made James loosen up a bit and be able to have a good laugh. I’d like to see that continue, really, and see them both continue to have fun, but also crack on when they need to. Episode 6 was personally my favorite of the whole season, where they come together and they solve it themselves, and it’s James and Tristan, and they absolutely smash it and it comes through. I just think was the perfect end for both of those characters.
But we still want Siegfried to acknowledge Tristan’s success. It’s complicated because, though it seems like Tristan is really confident, deep down underneath, he really wants Siegfried’s approval.
Well, me and Ben [Vanstone], the writer, spoke a lot about their relationship, because I think it’s one of the most interesting relationships I’ve ever seen in a drama. Siegfried and Tristan both lost their father, and when that happened, Siegfried stepped into the role of Tristan’s father, because he was old enough to do it. But he’s never going to be a replacement father, which meant that in one fell swoop, Tristan lost his father and his older brother, and that’s probably really, really affected him. So we’ll just keep unpacking that relationship. I remember Ben saying, early on, “We’re building all the way up to them to having [a genuine] hug.” And it’s so true. Every series, it’ll get closer and closer to that show of emotion and affection, and I, for one, can’t wait to get there.
And it’s worth mentioning as well that me and Sam [West] get on like an absolute house on fire, as well. I love Sam, and getting to work with him was another career highlight for me, because I followed his career as a young actor, and getting to now be a scene partner felt like a very big achievement.
How was it working with Matthew Lewis? Did you grow up on Harry Potter? Were you like, “Oh my God, I’m working with Neville Longbottom?”
Yeah, I was! Well, I’m a big Harry Potter fan, but who’s an even bigger Harry Potter fan is my girlfriend and her family. They absolutely love it—my girlfriend’s got a wand that she actually got from Ollivanders at Universal. And I think her sister’s boyfriend is the exact same, they absolutely love it. So I would just casually send that family WhatsApp a photo of me and Matthew on set and be like, “Just hanging out with Neville. Don’t worry about me, guys.” And they’re like, “Ask him this, ask him that. Ask him about the Battle of Hogwarts.”
What can you tell us about your puppy?
His name’s Ralph. He’s got a very long name—his name keeps on getting longer and longer. I think the latest one was Count Ralph Claude Van Damme of Worcestershire Manor, but it keeps on changing. I give him new names every day. But yeah, Ralph is his given name. He’s a little cavapoo, and I just love him. We’ve had him since the end of November, and I’m fully besotted with him. We took him to the groomers yesterday for the first time, and they blow dried him, and he ended up looking like a completely different dog. He ended up looking like a Pomeranian, or he actually looked like a polar bear, like a foot-long polar bear, on the floor. She showed me the dog, and I was like, “Oh, sorry, I think you’ve got the wrong dog. That’s not mine.” But yeah, he was very, very, very happy to see me. Bless him, he’s such a little sweetheart. He’s 14 weeks, so he’s still really young, and I think he’s going through his teens, because every time we try and stroke him, he just wants to bite our fingers.
He’ll get a bit bigger, but we need him to just get taller rather than longer, because every time we take him out for a walk, he gets absolutely trashed. His underbelly is just two different colors. We have to give him a bath every walk we go on! But we just bought a coat, so hopefully that should stop. But yeah, I absolutely love him. Hopefully, he’s going to be at All Creatures with me for a lot of the second series. It’s a perfect job to bring your dog to work for, isn’t it? Just throw him in with the other 16 dogs that we have on set. It’s fine.
If you had to choose an animal alter ego from the show, what would it be?
I do think I’m a bit of a Labrador or golden retriever, to be honest, just bounding in. A bit dumb, but just happy to be there. Enjoys getting stroked and just sleeping all day, getting fed. I have a theory about dogs, and it is that they’re better when they’re a bit stupid, a bit silly. You know what I mean? When they’re really silly, they’re just so much more fun to play with.
Can you describe the Yorkshire Dales, and what your experience filming there was like?
Honestly, the Dales—I can’t big it up enough, I could bang on a bell all day, but you just need to watch two minutes’ worth of some of the sweeping drone shots that we have in this show, and it is just the perfect selling point for why everyone should visit them. It’s endless fields of just beautiful landscapes. I remember saying early on, in some of the English press that I was doing, that for me, there wasn’t a great deal of difference from The Durrells to All Creatures. Corfu is just beautiful vistas and gorgeous sea, and in the Dales, it was really just as beautiful, in a very different way. There was no sea, and maybe the sun wasn’t there as much, but really the case was that you could just throw your eyes anywhere, and you could be like, “We can shoot with that as a background, or that as the background,” and it is just going to look stunning whatever way we do it.
There was a day on set, I think in the first week—it was definitely the first time that me, Nick, and Rachel had all been on set together at the same time, in the same scene—and we were doing this scene where we were in a tractor that Rachel was driving, coming over this huge field. And while they were setting up another shot, we all just took a minute and did literally a full 360 turn, and in every direction, it was just endless green fields with hills and gorgeous streams running through it, and then cliffs. We were just like, “Guys, we’re really making something here. This is going to be quite something.” It was one of the first moments where we were just like, “Oh my God, we’re part of something quite big,” and it was really exciting. Yeah, I really can’t big up the Dales enough.
Where we were filming is maybe a 30, 40-minute drive from where I grew up. My mom and dad came to visit me in my cottage quite often. It was weird, because I’d never really spent much time around the places where we were filming, but we were honestly a stone’s throw from where I grew up. So it felt sort of like coming home and discovering a new world. It was really nice.
How’s Tristan like The Durrells in Corfu‘s Leslie Durrell, and how’s he unlike him?
I don’t know how they’re like each other. For me, it’s easier to talk about ways that they are different. Leslie was the most amazing start to my career I could’ve possibly asked for, and I’ll always have a really, really big space in my heart for him. But he was a very downtrodden character, and was the outcast of the family in many ways. He was the only one of all of them that didn’t release a book, for example, and he was the only one who never really found his calling in life. Obviously, after the series ended, we never get to see it, but he tried his hand at multiple business ventures and they all failed. I absolutely love Leslie, but he was a bit of a heartbreaking character a lot of the time. It was a dream getting to play him, but it’s quite upsetting, because I grew really attached to Leslie, and I wanted him to succeed, and I wanted him to have good things happen to him. When you know historically that that’s not what happened, you started to feel quite sorry for him.
Tristan is the complete opposite of that. Obviously, he’s not without his hardships, but he always ended up managing to turn a negative into a positive. And that’s what I’ve gleaned from Tristan and from playing him—that he was just so perpetually upbeat and happy, and would enrich people’s lives in a similar way, by making them happy, and getting them to the pub, and getting them drunk, and that type of thing. It was a very uplifting experience to play Tristan. So they’re very similar shows in a lot of ways, but for me, the characters couldn’t be more different.
Which show has your favorite animals?
It is tricky, that, actually. Straight off the bat, I want to go with All Creatures, just because of the volume of dogs that I got to hang out with on set, and dogs are my number one favorite of all time. The amount of dogs I got to hang out with, and I could have a dog just chilling with us in the green room—that’s just my idea of heaven. But at the same time, in The Durrells, we got to meet a sloth, and I got to hold a one, and that was an unbelievable experience. Even if you went to a zoo or something, you couldn’t pick up a sloth and feed it…I don’t know, it’s tricky. I think I’d go with All Creatures, but there’s certain animals in The Durrells that would have to get honorable mentions!
Which The Durrells in Corfu cast member might be most envious that you are working with animals again?
It’d have to be Milo [Parker, who played Gerry Durrell], because he was really full-on and hands-on with the animals the whole time through The Durrells, and I never once saw his enthusiasm for it drop. He was the most passionate about it, as passionate as, I believe, Gerald Durrell was about animals, which is why he was perfect for the role.
What Lugaretzia might think of Tristan?
That he’s the best child. Easy, instantly, of course that’s it: Best child. She’d probably try and introduce him to one of her Greek granddaughters, maybe. Yeah, she’d definitely set him up.