BREAKOUT TALENT: Christian Campbell - The Trick to a Great Summer

Most young actors could consider themselves lucky to achieve one major career break within a year. This summer, the multi-talented Christian Campbell has garnered high praise for his performances in both a hit stage musical and a record-breaking film, and-lest he be accused of laziness-he also runs an up-and-coming local theatre company.

"My life feels very full right now. It's wonderful. In a good way-the best way. The way that I've been working for, " said Campbell when Back Stage West met with him following a recent performance of the long-running Reefer Madness at Hollywood's Hudson Backstage Theatre.

In this acclaimed musical spoof by Kevin Murphy (book and lyrics) and Dan Studney (book and music), the 27-year-old Campbell is a nonstop bundle of energy as squeaky clean All-American schoolboy Jimmy, who takes one puff of that evil weed marijuana and instantly turns into an out-of-control sociopath. Campbell makes the most of this hilarious and physically demanding role-as he sings, dances, pantomimes, and contorts his handsome face into a multitude of configurations. When he met me after the final curtain in the "reefer den" (the cocktail bar at the Hudson), I expected him to be exhausted, but he seemed revved up and ready to keep going-articulate, upbeat, and utterly ingratiating.

The other role that is turning summer 1999 into the season of Christian is his charming film portrayal of another nice-guy character, who develops a bit of an edge as the story progresses, but unlike Jimmy, remains utterly gentleman-like throughout. The film, Trick, has evolved from a Sundance Film Festival favorite into a phenomenon that-according to Campbell-garnered the largest opening weekend per-screen gross of any gay-themed film in history.

In this delightful romantic comedy, Campbell plays Gabriel, an aspiring Broadway songwriter who finds himself attracted to a sexy go-go boy (John Paul Pitoc) who dances in a gay bar. It's sort of Neil Simon with a modern twist, as the two libidinous young men search for a private place where they can share a one-night stand but are thwarted by fate at every turn. In a predictable but fully satisfying fashion, the guy's quest for sex deepens into something more meaningful.

"I really enjoyed the script when it was first presented to me," Campbell said. "I thought it was lovely. I really enjoyed the fact that it's not so in-your-face, "I'm gay, I'm angry,' or anything like that. It's just a beautiful love story that I-as a straight man-really appreciated."

The other major venture that is bolstering Campbell's rapidly growing resum is the Hollywood theatre company that he runs as co-producing director in conjunction with Russ Daniels (co-producing director) and Anthony Barnao (artistic director). Three years ago, they launched the Blue Sphere Alliance Company, a 60-member organization, at the Lex Theatre in Hollywood. Such Lex shows as Solos in Harmony and Tracers have garnered critical praise.

"I really enjoy producing," said Campbell. "I enjoy giving opportunities to creative people whose work I respect. That's the nice thing about producing-having faith in someone and getting them the work." Campbell made his directing debut at the Lex with William Rehor's Reach and won an Ovation nomination for his performance in Nagasaki Dust.

The Toronto-bred Campbell's creative ventures stretch all the way back to age six, when his father, a drama teacher, cast him and his now-famous sister Neve (of the Scream films, and Fox-TV's Party of Five) in Scottish "pantos." He elaborated: "Dad [from Glasgow, Scotland] was always throwing Neve and me on the stage. The pantos are comedies, sort of fantasies-sometimes fairy tales like Jack and the Beanstalk. In these shows, there's a lot of humor, and always a cross-dresser. That's part of the genre." His mother, an actress who ran a dinner theatre, cast Campbell in his first professional job at age 12 in Herb Gardner's comedy A Thousand Clowns. He worked in Canadian television for several years and moved to the U.S. four years ago after landing a regular role in the short-lived Aaron Spelling TV series Malibu Shores.

"It didn't last long," Campbell said, "but it got me established here and it gave me the money to start my theatre company. And it led to other opportunities as well."

With his sister Neve, he co-produced and co-starred in the independent comedy Hair Shirt, screened at last year's Toronto Film Festival. He also appeared in NBC TV movies and miniseries. Another film project, Next Time, won the 1998 Discovery Award and was named "Best Film in 16mm" at the Hollywood Film Festival. He indicated that he is especially proud of this project.

"It's basically two people talking in a laundromat over a six-month period," he explained. "It was a great challenge. Not quite My Dinner With Andre, but a similar concept-essentially two people talking. It was shot in 15 days in a laundromat at nighttime. It was really satisfying and enhanced my confidence tremendously."

What are Campbell's long-range goals? "I love producing and directing, and they help to alleviate the down time between acting gigs. It helps to keep my focus on creative projects. But if my acting career were to really take off and take up a lot of my time, who knows? It is my love-my first love."

Audiences of Reefer Madness and Trick are clearly sharing in the love affair.