With the upcoming series of Malory Towers, Jason Callender has been announced to play Mr Parker, the first male teacher in the all girls’ school, which he has been filming in Canada recently, and he’s previously been in the cast of 4 O’Clock Club, joining the show in 2013 as Dexter Harris, where he stayed until Series 7 in 2018. Jason’s other screen work has included episodes of Shadow and Bone and Holby City and he has voiceover experience, having voiced the role of Tink in Bottersnikes & Gumbles. Also having a theatre career, Jason had been performing in The Upstart Crow at the Gielgud Theatre in the West End before the pandemic, and after his time touring internationally as Jonathan Harris in The Play That Goes Wrong, he reprised the role when it opened in London, making his West End debut. Answering our questions, Jason tells us about joining the cast of Malory Towers, playing Dexter Harris in 4 O’Clock Club and performing in The Upstart Crow before the pandemic.
You’ve been announced to play Mr Parker in the TV series Malory Towers, how has it been joining the cast and what are you looking forward to most for playing the character?
It’s such an important show. Malory Towers covers issues from growing up, to fitting in, to giving young women the freedom to speak, and I’m honoured to be part of the show. The girls made it so easy for me to join the cast. They are incredibly talented, funny and intelligent young women.
Mr Parker has some lovely scenes and moments and I look forward to his own journey. Going from nervous to being a kind of father figure to the girls. Also, getting to shoot in Canada is always a bonus.
Is there anything you can tell us about Mr Parker and why would you recommend watching the series?
He’s the first male teacher in an all girls’ school and let’s just say it takes him a bit of time to adjust. And it’s not just the girls he’s scared of, he’s got another thing coming when he comes face to face with Matron, who’s played by the phenomenal Ashley McGuire. It’s such a heartwarming series. It’s like Downtown Abbey with a dose of girl power!
You played Dexter Harris in 4 O’Clock Club over a number of years, what was the role like to play?
It was an honour to play Dexter. I was lucky enough to play a character who was sensitive, always tried his hardest and would do anything for his friends and family. He had so many good qualities and, to this day, adults and kids still come up to me and thank me for being such a good role model. The show wouldn’t have had a life without its fans, so I just want to say a massive thank you to everyone who watched it.
How was your experience working on your first CBBC show and what was it like film?
I was so nervous. I’d never done TV before and I hadn’t even graduated from drama school yet. My first day was insane. I was just put in Speedos and had to stand in a freezing cold field for a photoshoot. Then straight onto set rapping into camera about wetting the bed. It was a baptism of fire but the best way to learn. I also couldn’t have done it without the cast and crew. Everyone was so welcoming and made my first series to my seventh series a joy to be part of. The show was about family and behind the scenes it felt exactly the same.
What are some of your favourite memories from your time in the cast?
We spent the whole time messing about. Surprisingly, Simon Lowe who played Mr Bell was the worst. He always found the comedy in any line and never made the obvious choice, so he always kept you on your toes. There were so many scenes I just got lost watching him/laughing at him. Dressing up as Biggie Smalls and riding around on a motorised throne was definitely a highlight. However, I did crash said throne into a wall and had to go to the hospital because I thought I’d broken my toe.
We had a very diverse cast and I remember shooting a scene and we all looked around and realised that everyone in the shot was black. It just showed how groundbreaking the 4 O’Clock Club really was, but I don’t think I realised that until I left the show.
What were your episodes of Shadow and Bone and Holby City like to film?
Holby was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done. I spent the whole time just trying to stay awake. My character broke his leg so I was in bed all day, and those beds are ridiculously comfortable.
My family love Holby City and it was great to be part of something that’s so iconic, and work with actors I’ve grown up watching.
As soon as you step foot on the Shadow and Bone set, you’re automatically transported to a mystical world. You go from being in Budapest to somewhere deep inside the Grishaverse. I was playing a streetwise trickster, and I had never played anyone like that before. So I had a lot of fun getting into character and learnt some really cool card tricks.
Can you tell us about voicing the role of Tink in Bottersnikes & Gumbles?
I had never done any voice work before B&G. I’m literally a product of Looney Tunes, The Proud Family, The Simpsons and Family Guy. So I jumped at the chance to put my voice to a character. I think we went partially insane. We’d spent the whole day in a basement studio playing characters that could bend and stretch themselves into all sorts of positions. By the end of it, I think we started to believe we were actual Gumbles. Watching the other actors contort their bodies into the different characters they played was incredible. Some had about three or four different characters and each one was so different from the last. We had no idea how the characters moved when we first started and, as the process went on, we finally got to see little glimpses of how we walked, the facial expressions we used and how our voices fit in around it. I think it really justified how stupid we were in the booth and probably made us go even further.
Have you seen any TV shows or films recently you would recommend?
I don’t even know where to begin. I had to quarantine for two weeks when I was in Canada filming Malory Towers so I got through a lot! I had never seen Boardwalk Empire before and I would definitely recommend watching that. The performances from the late great Michael K. Williams and Stephen Graham are out of this world. Both men just have a way of making everything they touch iconic. You on Netflix was deliciously creepy and Lupin and Money Heist made me contemplate robbing a bank. As I’m also a bit of a comic book geek, anything Marvel on Disney+ and The Boys on Amazon Prime are also a bit of a go to. And if you need a pick-me-up and fancy a really fun, feel-good show, I would definitely recommend watching 4 O’Clock Club, Bottersnikes & Gumbles and, of course, Malory Towers.
Before theatres closed due to the pandemic, you had been playing Arragon in The Upstart Crow at the Gielgud Theatre, what was the show like to do and how had the run been going?
I was lucky enough to work with some of my comedy idols. What was amazing was that we were all learning from each other. We all excelled at different things so we could give each other advice. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to look at Mark Heap in the eye without laughing. Then they made us have a ridiculous fight, and he’s in the biggest puffling pants ever made, so that task became even harder. From the first rehearsal, Gemma Whelan and David Mitchell set the standard and we all knew we had to match it. There were seven of us who weren’t part of the original TV cast, but after the first week it was like we had been part of the journey from the beginning. We had press night, amazing reviews, and the show was really getting into its stride then unfortunately it got cut short. I will always remember our final performance. The audiences were dwindling since the news of the pandemic, but there was a sense of relief in the auditorium. People needed to laugh and for an hour-and-a-half they weren’t worrying about anything, they were just with us on our crazy ride. I just hope that the show still has a life and comes back in the not-so-distant future.
I also have to give a special mention to Rob Rouse who played Bottom. He has the energy of a Duracell Bunny and the patience of a saint. Whatever mood you’re in, he is the perfect cast member and one of the funniest and most selfless guys around.
You made your West End debut in The Play That Goes Wrong as Jonathan Harris, how was it reprising your role in London after touring internationally with the production?
After touring something for so long and not being in a place for longer than a week, it was lovely just to be in one spot and have a base. On tour, you end up staying in some unusual digs with some interesting people. So it was lovely not having to go through digs roulette every week. We had performed the show over 700 times on tour, but it was still good to get into the rehearsal room and try out new things and push ourselves to make it funnier and slicker. The show just grew once we got into the West End. Luckily we kept the whole tour cast together so it felt like we were just on stage with friends. The hardest part was not corpsing.
What is it like being part of a Mischief Theatre show and what drew you to The Play That Goes Wrong?
Mischief is just an amazing family to be part of. I hated clowning when I was at drama school, but due to the brilliance of director Mark Bell, he found a clown in me that I never knew I had. I learnt so much about timing and the different styles of comedy whilst doing the show. As well as having trapeze lessons and learning how to do stunts every night. I got to travel around the world and met some friends for life so, for that, I will forever be grateful to Mischief Theatre.
Do you have any highlights from your time both touring and in the West End?
The biggest highlight for me was that we got the chance to go to Hong Kong and New Zealand. Don’t get me wrong, the UK is lovely, but the tour really went up a notch when you trade in Stoke for Auckland. From climbing waterfalls to bungee jumping off Auckland Bridge. I feel like I experienced so much and got to see places I never even dreamed of, with the greatest bunch of idiots you could possibly hope for.
I think just being in the West End was the highlight! I never imagined I’d perform on a West End stage, let alone be there for just over a year. The audiences were amazing and we were lucky enough to meet Dame Kelly Holmes and some acting royalty in Bryan Cranston, Simon Callow and Kelly Macdonald.
Where does your love of acting come from and is it something you always wanted to do?
When I was younger, I remember playing Mrs Ali BaBa in a school play. The show was going really well until my fake bum came loose and I ended up dancing on stage with my skirt and fake bum around my ankles. I didn’t really know I wanted to be an actor, I just enjoyed dressing up and making people laugh. It wasn’t until I got to college that my drama teacher told me I could make a career out of acting and encouraged me to go to drama school. It was then that acting went from being a hobby to a career.
What’s your favourite aspect of working on both screen and stage?
I think the pandemic has shown me how much we need theatre. People come in and, from the moment the lights go down, you’ve left your worries at the door and you’re immersed in a whole new journey. I’ve done a lot of comedies so, for me, that laughter not only lifts the audience but gives you a lift as well, and it’s that relationship that is so exciting about stage. Also, if a joke falls flat, the audience will definitely let you know.
There’s a whole different craft to screen. And what’s lovely is that the camera picks up on little subtle movements or gestures that can help bring your character to life. Also, the fact you can tweak every take, and it feels like there’s a huge collaboration with yourself, the DOP and director. Everyone is working so hard to make the show the best it can be.
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