By Claire Bueno
Callina Liang is the whole package, not only is she one of the sweetest people you’d wish to meet, but fundamentally she has talent. Starring in ITVX’s Tell Me Everything, the series is a coming of age comedy in which Liang portrays enigmatic Mei. Full of devilment, the Canadian born actress delivers an intoxicating performance, full of nuance and dimension. So you can imagine how excited I was to talk to the actress on the cusp of her career, who without doubt has an exciting future ahead of her.
This is very much a coming of age story with some very contemporary themes for young adults, was that what attracted you to the script?
Yeah, definitely. I think when I saw the script, I felt like a TV show hasn’t been made like this in a long time. Something that’s uniquely British, based in Welwyn Garden City, very down to earth, exploring the themes of teenagers growing up in the 2020s, because a lot of issues that teenagers face now is different to what people used to face before; even after COVID, the use of social media has gone up tremendously. I read the script and I was like, ‘This is something really sick because it discusses a lot of raw issues, and also has a lot of light-heartedness throughout. So definitely.
I was gonna say, apart from all the heavier themes to do with mental health, it’s also a celebration of being young and celebrating youth isn’t it? It does definitely have those light-hearted funny moments.
Definitely. It’s a very nice balance. And I think watching the show myself (laughs) there are some unique moments where I’m like, ‘I should be feeling really sad and crying right now.’ But Lauryn (Ajufo) will come in with a joke and start laughing, so it catches you off guard, which is also something really unique about the show, the comedy comes in at inappropriate times. So it’s very entertaining, but deals with serious issues; isvery real, and raw, because when you are going through something very low in life, you’re not always gonna be sobbing on the floor. So to me with the comedy as well, it’s just a real depiction of teenagers going through it; through life.
Fantastic. And you play the character of Mei, she is mysterious and she’s got a real edge, is that what attracted you to her?
Yes, I think when I first read the description of the character I was scared, I was like, ‘Whoa this is nothing like myself.’ She’s got this dark energy about her, and I think me as a person, I’m on the opposite side of it (laughs). But after reading the script more and learning more about her I definitely found a more common ground with her, and I found a lot of love for the character. She may do destructive things at times, but she’s also just another girl growing up, figuring herself out, and she will do whatever it takes to get what she wants. So I respect that (laughs).
She’s very striking in her appearance. We all look very different when we’re at home to when we go out, but I feel with Mei that when she puts on those clothes and she changes her appearance, she becomes her alter ego?
Yes! Definitely! It was something me and the make-up team discussed a lot, her wearing her mask. When she was at home and the makeup was light, it was like she has her guard down, but every time you saw her out with friends, with Jonny, she always has this really dark makeup and really intense outfits. So it’s definitely symbolic and I think the makeup team did an amazing job, because the makeup for Mei is just gorgeous and crazy (laughs).
And it must be amazing for you as an actor because you can just immerse yourself?
Exactly, it helped a lot because when I first read the character I was like, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to do this?’ Because if you look at me now, and you look at her, it’s so different. But with the hair and really dark makeup, I looked at myself in the mirror, I was like, ‘OK I can do this.’
The show is set in Welwyn Garden City and it’s very much a character in the show. So for an actor where spatial awareness is really important I wondered how being in Welwyn Garden City helped inform your character and your connection to the character?
Yeah, I totally see what you mean. I think it was really nice because it’s been written by Mark (O'Sullivan), and it’s a semi-autobiography about what he went through as a teenager. It was a very co-operative process with the actors and the writers. Every single day I think I saw Mark on set, and wherever we filmed he’d be telling us things about where we were, and what he remembers from when he was growing up. So it was definitely a very nice experience to help bring his vision to life, of how him growing up as a teenager in Welwyn Garden City, and how we can portray that realistically. It was very interesting and a very nice change of scenery for me, because I came from Toronto (laughs).
Even though there is a central character in the show it feels very much like an ensemble, but particularly with your character who is on the outside, how did you all work on establishing those relationships? And how did you integrate yourself into the ensemble?
It was really nice because we’re all about the same age and we all really got along as people, so it really helped me. I felt like Mei the character because I was coming from somewhere different, and I was really scared. But everyone was so welcoming and we all became really good friends. It was really funny because right before a scene goes, we’d all be having a chat, me and Lauryn cracking jokes, and as soon as camera goes, I’m just by myself and everyone’s in their group and everyone is looking at me, and I’m just there (gestures and laughs). But it was really nice, we’re all still really close friends, which I’m really grateful for that.
This is your debut for TV, I know that you are theatre trained and you have a formal training, but you are acting for camera which is a different discipline in that it’s very technical, it’s really important to hit the right marks. So how’s your transition been with regards to your technique?
I think it really helps because when I was 18 I went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and I did a summer intensive, and it was the first time I had done any camera work. So I did an ‘on camera’ course and I found that extremely challenging at first because the teacher was always going, ‘Stop moving your eyebrows.’ We’d watch it back on the TV and I’m like, ‘Oh my God this is really horrible.’ But I think personally acting for TV is feeling it internally, and not needing to overdo anything, so I always try to keep it as natural as possible. It all depends on how close the camera is to you, so if it shows your body, then I’d be like, ‘OK, maybe I can move a little bit more.’ but when it’s on the face, I feel like the eyes tell it all. So I just really try and ground my emotions and feel everything truthfully, rather than show it, if that makes sense? Because I feel like with theatre it’s all about showing and doing; whereas for TV, it’s very much about feeling and going through it.
And what has been the highlight for you working on the show? When you began to shoot the show have you learned a lot about yourself and the environment you’re working with that you can take to your next project?
Definitely. I feel I got very lucky having this as my debut role, because it was such a nice, well-rounded TV show. I had dark moments, light moments, funny moments, and I also had the chance to do stunts. There were a lot of fun scenes to film and every single time, where ever I could, I was like, ‘I’m gonna do the stunts myself, get the double away, I want to do it.’ (Laughs). So it was so nice experiencing everything, learning everything. And it was also my first time working with an intimacy co-ordinator, so I also learned a lot about that. Going forward. filming this show has taught me a lot, because I feel the best way to learn is to do. And having gone in there and giving it my everything was such a good experience, [and] very rewarding for sure.
You mentioned social media earlier, what’s your relationship like with social media and how important is it to keep the balance and not allow it to take over your life?
It’s a very thin line, I don’t even want to say young people; I think everyone struggles nowadays. It’s such a world that we can’t really do anything without social media. But for me personally I keep in contact with all of my close friends and family via messaging. With social media it’s like a break for me, if I want to post something funny and see what people are getting up to. I try to keep to checking it two times a day something like that, just very light because it’s a deep hole that you can definitely fall into. There’s good sides to social media and bad sides to it. So keeping a nice balance and not always relying on it. I think when you feel uneasy without your phone you should really take a big break. But now I can go without my phone for hours and hours and sometimes my agents get angry at me about that (laughs), but making sure you’re not on it all the time.
And finally what are your aspirations for the future? Where would you like to see your work taking you?
I would honestly just like to work in anything. To me as an actor, I just want to be able to create and work on projects that I am passionate about, whether it is big or small, none of that matters to me. It’s just being able to create with good people, good actors. I wanna work alongside other creative people who inspire me, other directors and just experiencing as much as I can, that’s honestly what would make me so happy.
TELL ME EVERYTHING
ITVX, 8th December
Photographer: Pip @bypip Stylist: Abigail White @abigailrosewhite
Hair: Joe Kelly @joekellz Makeup: Celena Hancock @celena_hancock
With special thanks to Dane Punch PR