FOX TV PHOTO
Punahou grad Sarah Wayne Callies in the role of Dr. Sara Tancredi on "Prison Break."
Punahou grad Sarah Wayne Callies tends to inmates in "Prison Break," with her first movie due out soon
It's a long way from a fellowship in indigenous theology to a starring role in a Fox TV action series, but Sarah Wayne Callies has negotiated that wide philosophical gulf neatly over a short few years.
Sarah Wayne Callies
"Prison Break": Season premiere, 7 tonight on Fox/KHON
"The Celestine Prophecy": Sneak preview, 7 p.m. April 7 and 8, Unity Church. Tickets are $10. Call 735-4436, ext. 316, or visit www.unityhawaii.org
The Punahou School graduate was studying at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire when it struck her that an academic's life can be much too lonely and she turned instead to the theater work that she had enjoyed in high school.
See Callies tonight in the role of prison doctor Sara Tancredi, when the hit drama "Prison Break" returns after a hiatus. Next month, she stars in author James Redfield's movie adaptation of his spiritual novel "The Celestine Prophecy," to be released April 21 (a sneak preview will be held at Unity Church, where Callies was a youth member, on April 7 and 8).
And around Halloween, Callies stars with Josh Holloway of "Lost" in the supernatural thriller "Hellion." "We just finished doing additional scenes in Vancouver a month ago," she said.
But right now, fans of "Prison Break" want to know how her character's tenuous relationship with prisoner Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) will develop.
"The cycle continues for them in a way. It's the pattern of growing in trust for one another," she says cautiously, not wanting to give too much away. "But the stakes get much higher. ... Because execution looms closer for his brother, Michael has to move faster, so he asks more of her.
"In fact, Episode 15 (later this season) will be a flashback, occurring between a year and three years before they met in the prison, right up to the night before Michael was incarcerated. We learn something about Sara that Michael doesn't know about. ... Her stability is a lot more tenuous and fragile. ... Deep down, they're like two magnetic poles that attract and repel at the same time."
FOX TV PHOTO
Michael (heartthrob Wentworth Miller) visited Dr. Sara Tancredi (Sarah Wayne Callies) in the infirmary in November's season finale of "Prison Break." Their relationship is a key side story in the series.
Callies, 28, was bitten by the acting bug as a junior at Punahou. "I was going to stop to make sure my grades would stay high, but it was tough to quit because I loved it so much."
All of her local stage work was at the campus' Dillingham Theatre. "The kids there had such phenomenal talent. ... The great thing about it was, when trying to negotiate adolescence, being actors allowed us to explore different identities in a safe way, and you're respected, if not admired, by your peers in the process."
Listening to Callies, you can hear the academician she could've become, not surprising as she is the offspring of two educators at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (since divorced) -- professor of English Valerie Wayne and Richardson School of Law professor David Callies.
"Part of me always assumed I would be an academic. ... I still do love academics and university settings, and have so much respect for the lifestyle." She earned a degree in feminist studies at Dartmouth and received a senior fellowship in indigenous theology.
"But I found the researching academic's life was really lonely. It drove me crazy, also because I fell in love and married a more social person.
"I thought about it long and hard, and realized that the time I spent onstage was when I was really more myself and at ease. So, late in the game, I went to the National Theatre Conservatory in Denver, Colo."
There she completed a master's degree in fine arts and planned a career in theater, but "even though my husband and I have moved to New York, I haven't been in a play -- not for the lack of trying. It seems I'm best suited, at the moment, for film and TV."
CALLIES has been working hard these last two years. She did a bit of episodic TV work before she landed her first co-lead role as a police detective in the WB's short-lived contemporary take on "Tarzan" in 2003.
When that series was canceled, she got a guest shot on the CBS crime drama "NUMB3RS," then landed the role on "Prison Break." It was a matter of good timing, as she had been in Los Angeles to audition for an ABC pilot that was never picked up.
In the meantime, Callies was part of a national new-faces ad campaign for L'Oréal cosmetics that gave her the financial support to choose her jobs with care.
As for her upcoming movies, in "Hellion" she plays Holloway's fiancee and a co-conspirator in his plan to kidnap a boy from a wealthy New England socialite family. Too late they learn that the kid can mysteriously tap into the minds of others.
"The Celestine Prophecy," about the search for a sacred manuscript in the Peruvian rain forest, was filmed in '04 but has been in post-production since. "James (Redfield) took his time, making it clear he didn't want to compromise his vision," Callies said.
"It was really a nontraditional production, a very grass-roots event. Here, you have the writer who wrote the book, the screenplay, and financed it and edited it himself. And as the book was originally sold at church meetings, he's followed that same pattern of marketing here with his movie."
She read when it came out 10 years ago, while in high school. "It's basically a philosophical parable, a very compelling thing. I've always been drawn into any kind of aspirations that are noncommercial."
Since filming on "Celestine Prophecy" wrapped, Callies said, she's improved as an actor. "I'm very critical of myself and my own work -- it's part of my academic background. ... I feel I'm still on the bottom of the learning curve," she says with a laugh, "still trying to perfect my craft."
When filming ends for this season of "Prison Break," she and her husband will enjoy 10 consecutive weeks off in New York, where she hopes to do some plays. "I still think the highest benchmark for any actor is to be on Broadway. When I talked to my theatrical agent on my chances, he said, 'Oh, get famous first and be successful in film and TV.'
"I'm willing to do off-Broadway, but Broadway is the pinnacle to me, the Harvard of acting."
She has also found pleasure in doing a couple of upcoming episodes for the National Public Radio version of "The Twilight Zone." "I had more fun on that than anything I've ever done, recording with a bunch of people like Stacy Keach and Jim Caviezel, and a phenomenal supporting cast."
Ever the student of life, Callies says, "I learn something every day."