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Sun-Herald

The prince who fell for a munchkin

Author: Steve Dow
Date: 01/08/2010
Words: 1943
Source: SHD
          Publication: Sun Herald
Section: Extra
Page: 2
Tim Campbell is taking a walk along the yellow brick road, a path already travelled by his partner of two years Anthony Callea, writes Steve Dow.

TIM CAMPBELL has never played a gay role, though this "big westie boy" from Campbelltown never sought straight subterfuge off camera or off stage, either. "I came out when I was 20," chips in the tall 34-year-old, carrot-topped musical theatre crooner. The media, he says, simply didn't inquire about his personal life most of those years.

Campbell's an earthy, quick charmer, if undecided about the value of this freshly minted gay tag. He's sitting in a room off the dark mediaeval-like foyer of Capitol Theatre in Haymarket, slipping into his latest role as Fiyero, a prince between two witches, soppy good Glinda and saucy green-skinned Elphaba. He has taken over Rob Mills's long-running spot in Wicked, a musical riff on The Wizard of Oz.

Torn between two women? Campbell almost went down this road at the end of three years playing schoolteacher Dan Baker on the TV soap Home and Away. The character died in an off-screen abseiling accident in episodes that aired in early 2008. Watching his own character's funeral scene,

"I teared up because I felt really responsible," he says, laughing.

Viewers' moral sensibilities, Campbell reveals, were actually being spared. He'd elected not to renew his contract, so the writers given the task of removing his character from the show faced a quandary: Dan had such a popular onscreen chemistry with his wife Leah, played by Ada Nicodemou, that his only plausible exits were death or adultery. The thought of the teacher taking off with another woman proved too ugly to contemplate so the poor fella was sent crashing to earth.

Leaving Summer Bay proved fortuitous because Campbell was freed up to play Roger, an ex-junkie struggling musician in the stage musical Rent. In that production he met former Australian Idol

runner-up Anthony Callea, who was playing Mark, a struggling documentary filmmaker. Their characters were straight but the actors had a mutual attraction.

Callea had already outed himself after rumours and speculation. "Yes, I am gay," he told media in March 2007, reversing earlier denials. "I have no issue with my sexuality now but it's taken time to become confident with who I am and happy with who I am."

Campbell, meanwhile, had been upfront about being gay upon joining Home and Away in 2004 and his then boyfriend would visit the set. "It wasn't written in the media, basically because I wasn't asked about it," he says. "All the young [actors] were asked about their personal lives and I was middle-aged in Home and Away terms, so [the media] didn't really care."

But, as the website Defamer so delicately put it in a headline, in Campbell and Callea we had Australia's First Showbiz Superhomo Couple. Now, that's a different yarn.

In December 2007 Campbell confirmed his sexuality in a Melbourne newspaper interview that was widely picked up by other media outlets. Then he insisted he and Callea were "mates", both getting over break-ups with their respective partners. "We were questioned in early times together," Campbell says now, "and we kind of kept saying 'no' because, I mean, really, we'd only just met. You know, 'Are we together?' 'I dunno!"'

By following February, Campbell made "no" a definite "yes" in a radio interview. "We'd just kept denying it and ringing our managers and doing all that game-playing stuff, and we just got to a point where the relationship was really great and we were really happy with it, and [we wanted] to stop speculation fuelling."

Two and a half years later the couple are still living happily together in a quiet Melbourne suburb. They've sung Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas together at Carols by Candlelight - "Ladies and gentlemen," Campbell told the crowd, "the beautiful Anthony Callea" - and performed a duet of the love song Get Here at Crown Casino, their happiness palpable.

But they avoid doing interviews together, Campbell putting the kibosh on a request to put a call in to or email questions to 27-year-old Callea. They want the focus to be on their careers, Campbell explains, and using interviews to "celebrate the relationship" is "cheap to me". Campbell accepts that interviews are part of the job and that it's impossible to say their private life is off limits, "and you don't want to, because we're ... actually in a great relationship. I'm happy, I went to the ARIA red carpet with him and love to go to events. We don't go to the opening of an envelope, anyhow, but I don't want that to be the forefront of the relationship".

Yet he understands the curiosity. So how does it work with two artistic egos under one roof? "Ant's from the western suburbs of Melbourne and I'm from the western suburbs of Sydney, and that kind of dictates who we are. We're very supportive of each other, there's no envy or jealousy."

"He keeps saying, 'Can you just hurry up and get a big gig in America, so I can retire?' and I just say, 'Go and sell a big album and

I can retire!"'

Talking shop is inevitable;

Callea played the munchkin Boq at the beginning of Wicked's Melbourne run.

What impact might his honesty about his sexuality have on Campbell's career? In April, gay Newsweek writer Ramin Setoodeh criticised gay actor Sean Hayes - gay Jack in sitcom Will and Grace - for being "wooden" as a straight character in a Broadway revival of Promises, Promises.

Setoodeh argued that openly gay actors "still have reason to be scared". "While it's OK for straight actors to play gay (as Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger did in Brokeback Mountain), it's rare for someone to pull off the trick in reverse."

Campbell thinks watching a lot of Will and Grace may have blinkered Setoodeh's critical view. "It will be an interesting time now because I guess I do have a bit of a gay tag as an actor as well, and as much as I'd hate that to get in the way of roles because - oh, look, I've never had an issue; I've never played a gay role on telly or on stage."

But would he play a gay character in future? "I wouldn't have an issue; the only issue I'd have is if it was really sloppy writing and a cliche of a gay character ... [although] the cliches are going further and further away anyhow these days ...

"It would be interesting if I did audition for Dan Baker today, what the result [would be]. I can't imagine it would be an issue but, look, quite honestly, I have heard a couple of second-hand comments from producers, be it in whatever field, about their concerns - which is unfortunate to hear, because I don't think the public has an issue.

"In fact, I still hear in the street, 'Oh, I miss Leah and Dan, they were such a great couple."'

Campbell competed on Dancing with the Stars in 2007 and played Oz rock'n'roller Johnny O'Keefe in the jukebox stage musical Shout! the following year. He remains curious about the Wild One's dark side. Perhaps, given that Campbell has a hankering to return to TV, a spot in the next Underbelly series might give his image some added grunt.

But then he never expected to have this career at all. He was born on September 27, 1975, the middle child to high school sweethearts; Campbell's father was a suburban banker, his mother a homemaker who later trained herself in bookkeeping. None of the family, apart from Campbell, can sing, though there is a little light entertainment in the genes: tall and chiselled cousins on his father's side, Adam and Dave Hughes, are part of Manpower's Thunder Down Under show firmly implanted on the Las Vegas strip.

"I saw them about a year ago," Campbell says. "All I remember is Adam came back to our room after the show one night, and he brought back two girls who he'd met that afternoon. So I think that's his lifestyle. Very Vegas-oriented."

Campbell took a look around Los Angeles and decided that the place was ugly and wasn't somewhere he'd care to move for the sake of his career. Then again, he's been known to change his mind: bitten by the acting bug in year 11, having toured Orange and Bathurst performing a piece of physical theatre with the Sydney Schools Drama Ensemble, he enrolled to study drama at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne but left after a year.

He'd found the theatrical world "a bit confronting". "I was probably a bit too naive and young to appreciate the course of 'getting inside yourself'," he reflects. "For a guy from a finance family, [I thought], 'This is weird shit; what are you talking about?"'

He took his accounting exams and had a six-year cadetship lined up with Deloitte through his father's contacts but backed out two days before he was due to start. "Dad was a bit disappointed I was letting go a great opportunity," he says.

Campbell began a bachelor of business at University of Technology, Sydney, but dropped it after four weeks. He hadn't lost the acting bug. He took a job at David Jones to support himself and found an agent who got him two commercials and a 50-word speaking part as a Yabbie Creek soccer player on Home and Away (not his later character). Then he scored a weekend job performing at the now defunct Australia's Wonderland theme park at Eastern Creek, where he learnt to dance.

His family had been the type to watch the footy rather than Young Talent Time on Sunday nights - did they understand? "It really got to the point where I suppose they were envious ... [saying] 'Wow, you're making a living, however small or big, out of something you enjoy doing.' I guess they only question it because it's not part of their background; they don't get it."

But people adapt to change, of course. Campbell says he and Callea might sign Victoria's relationship register for same-sex and de facto couples - NSW is introducing one, too - but he's not sure they'd marry were it to become legal. "I just don't know if personally I'd want to," he says. "I choose the right to read this in five years and go, 'I've changed my mind' ... that's not to say anything against the institution of marriage or to go against the campaigners for gay marriage, just for me personally if I was going to celebrate our relationship I'd just rather do it in our own way, really.

"Probably just invite family and friends and there might be one or two speeches, maybe, if you're lucky, but just have a good night."

Australia's "spunkiest homosexual ginger", as proclaimed by the gay press, then ushers me out of the Capitol Theatre, mentioning that he and Callea have been asked to address marriage rallies and perform at Mardi Gras in the past - they declined - and asks whether parading in skimpy outfits is the road to broader public acceptance.

Later, it strikes me as an amusing comment, given that Campbell honed his skills at a bawdy Kaos Comedy Restaurant. There, over patrons' dinner, he would don fishnet stockings and suspenders as Rocky Horror's Frank N. Furter, a world away from Wicked's laid-back prince, to belt out Sweet Transvestite. Dressing up, or down, is not so different in the suburbs.

The Sydney season of Wicked, at the Capitol Theatre, has been extended and will now end on September 26.

 
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