It would seem at present that young, British actors are rather sought-after in Hollywood, with a recent surge of talented, up-and-coming performers making the move over to the States to take leading roles in big-budget blockbusters. Whether it’s John Boyega or Daisy Ridley in the forthcoming Star Wars endeavour, of the fact that nearly the entire leading cast of the Maze Runner franchise are British actors, cinema is very much a globalised art form, and where you come from can have little bearing on the roles you may end up undertaking.
For George MacKay – renowned predominantly for his roles in Pride and How I Live Now – not to mention his BAFTA nomination last year as a Rising Star – the recent inclination for studios to turn to British actors has inspired him, and proven that anything can be possible.
“You look at your peers and the projects they’re involved in, and it shows you haven’t got to be an American to play an American,” he said. “I like it there. Hollywood is kind of romantic because you really feel the hustle, everyone is tryna’ make it in the movies.”
There’s also the likes of Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch too, two of the most highly-regarded actors working today, with the former the recent winner of the Best Actor award at the Oscars. They’re also examples of actors who move effortlessly between blockbusters and smaller productions – which is the type of career that Mackay is keen on emulating.
“The people I look up to and admire, in all walks of life, have, where they can, made creative decisions about their work,” he said. “I’ve been so lucky too, it’s not like I’m sitting there with all these scripts picking this and that. For something like For Those in Peril, I’m just lucky I was able to go to the audition for it. But it wasn’t like “I want to work with you young man”, there’s so much luck involved. But as much as I can, amongst that, I want to learn more. I want to learn about different ways of working and how to do my job better.
“Plus, I have gone for those films and not got them! It’s not like, “I’m too good for Avengers” – I would love to be in Avengers. I could pretend to be on my high-horse about making choices, but there are also choices that are made for you.”
Luck is a word that MacKay used quite often during our coffee shop meeting in Hammersmith. Respectfully, we beg to differ, given the talent this young actor possesses. But it’s not something the modest performer may acknowledge himself. Simply upon meeting MacKay, following his instructions to “meet outside the station by the statue”, he stood peering out into the distance, clutching on to his string bag with both hands, which was nestled on the back of his hoody. He’s not a movie star, he’s just a regular person; and that’s all part of the appeal.
His latest production is Bypass – and it’s that innate ability to portray a character in such naturalistic circumstances which is valuable to Duane Hopkins sophomore endeavour. MacKay plays Tim – an introverted teenager who finds himself caught up in a dangerous lifestyle, doing all he can to survive and keep a roof over the head of both himself and younger sister.
“Tim is relatable because he’s very human,” he said. “He has faults and that’s something everyone can get on side with, because we’ve all mucked up at certain stages.”
“On the surface, I’m very different to Tim in a lot of ways, and Duane told me not to worry about that. Very broadly speaking, Tim’s disposition and his sensitivity doesn’t fit in with the world he’s in and the things that he has to do, and that’s something I can understand a little bit more. So, without wanting to sound pretentious or anything, it was about getting to the centre of Tim as a person and building his lifestyle around that.”
“You do look for something you can relate to that is tangible, but a lot of that happens as the process happens. The project starts to assimilate naturally with things going on in real life. What was lovely about Bypass is that from a work point of view, more than ever, the story took over and it became very close to me personally. Rather than try and find something in my own life to help relate to what was going on – what was going on was affecting me a lot more than other projects have.”
“It’s great having someone like Duane on set, who can ask about a character they know inside out, more than you could ever hope to,” he claims. “Duane is very open to a lot of ideas, he’s got a certain style in his filmmaking and the type of films he wants to make, and his tastes, be them aesthetically or emotionally.”
“I’d love to do it myself one day, but it’s one of those things that can be said flippantly. Every one of those jobs behind the scenes are so difficult. It’s only really in this profession that you can not have any experience in a certain field, and yet be given wonderful opportunities. Whereas you have to do a lot of training to be a pilot, or a surgeon. You can’t dabble in it. So being a professional writer is a real art and I wouldn’t want to just say I could do it. But it’s something I’d be interested in… In a while.”
A career in cinema always seemed like a likely destination for MacKay, growing up in a household that consisted of a costume designer in his mother, while his father was a stage and lighting designer. However the 23-year-old admitted that luck (it’s that word again) played a part, even if it was likely he’d have eventually ended up in this industry nonetheless.
“As you get older you realise how much of a product you are of your parents, you’re literally made up of the same genes so it definitely filters through. But it’s one of those strange, lucky butterfly effects – my first audition was after a casting agent came to our school and picked out a bunch of boys. If she hadn’t come round that day, then who knows? I was interested in drama so therefore I may have gone in to drama school later on, but it’s one of those things that you just don’t know.”
“But I love it so much that I feel I would found it somehow. I would have found something in the industry. I’d like to think I would have ended up involved in film, TV or theatre. I remember when DVDs became a regular thing and they took over from video, I was endlessly watching the making of films. I remember being sick off school and watching the making of Black Hawk Down, over and over again across five days. I was amazed by it and the process. So I was always interested in that.”
Another film(s) that MacKay was hugely interested in when growing up was The Lord of the Rings franchise – so it was inevitably quite an experience to collaborate with the one its leading stars Viggo Mortensen, in his next project Captain America.
“I just had my first experience working in America on Captain Fantastic with Viggo, and it was lovely. It wasn’t that different either, just a different character who happened to be American.”
“Viggo is lovely, kinda quiet, a bit goofy,” he admiited. “I had The Fellowship of the Ring, the four-disc version and I would endlessly watch the making of. So it was really surreal when he walked into rehearsals on the first day.”
Bypass is released on April 10th.