From Neverland to Wales, via Afghanistan and Scotland, George MacKay’s roles have been brilliantly eclectic. This winter sees the young talent turn sidekick for Hollywood boys Viggo Mortensen and James Franco.
Keeping up with George MacKay’s career path is a task in itself. He first graced screens in 2003 as cute Curly in Peter Pan. When we meet, he’s still got that boyish charm, capable of melting hearts the world over. In 2014, his brilliantly soulful depiction of Joe in Pride was an irresistibly sensitive performance. The year before that, three high-profile films ( How I Live Now, Sunshine on Leith and For Those in Peril) landed him a Bafta nomination for Rising Star. When we speak to him, he’s off to Toronto to start filming the Stephen King mini-series 11/22/63 as Franco’s sidekick. He’s just wrapped a six-week stint at the Young Vic in Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! and is enjoying some short but sweet down time.
“The biggest advantage of working when I was younger is that there weren’t any trials and tribulations because I wasn’t aware,” MacKay admits. His training almost adds up to a decade in drama school – with just under 10 silver screen appearances by the time he was 18. “I was basically really spoilt; I was allowed to have all these amazing learning opportunities without thinking about it too much.” In fact, his two auditions for drama schools – one for RADA and the other for LAMDA – got him nowhere. “So I just thought I’d try to keep working, and, touch wood, I’ve been lucky so far.”
We’re quick to notice that ‘luck’ is a word he uses recurrently – an accusation he shrugs off with a laugh: “I guess [not going to drama school] makes you work extra hard. I don’t have the bedrock of skills so I’m hyperaware that I have to really pay attention,” he explains. “The play was an amazing experience. I was trying to soak in every facility that’s in the rehearsal room because I’ve not had that before.” MacKay’s first stage appearance was in Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden last year – not too humble a debut on the boards.
“Sometimes it’s about learning more, so you want to do a different kind of work to things you have done before… whether it’s a different kind of story, or with different people or different methods of working,” he tells us. “Every story takes time, so it needs to be something worthwhile. So I just try to be true to that.”
Road movie Captain Fantastic is set for release this winter, where MacKay takes on the role of Viggo Mortensen’s son. “It’s emotional, but within that there is room for a fair amount of comedy about someone from the very far left meeting popular society, with these children who are too far in one direction,” explains the young actor. “I play the oldest of the six children. He’s applying for all these Ivy League colleges and he’s got to the point where he’s 18 and he’s realised that he literally can’t speak to anyone.” Travelling between Seattle and New Mexico for Captain Fantastic, the young Londoner has more often than not been on set filming. “When you’re working you have such an intense time with everyone that you are working with,” he tells us. “You don’t get to see anyone from home. Even when you’re filming in London, it’s hard to get away from the job, physically.” Preparing for his roles takes up the rest of his time: “Most of it is in the script, and it’s just sussing that out. You never film chronologically, so you’ve got to get a strong sense of what’s going on from A to B, and all the milestones in between.”
For someone who has so much media exposure, George MacKay is remarkably humble. With gentlemanly reserve, he attributes much of the success of projects he’s worked on to the team. “It was so lovely that people really took to Pride. That’s down to what those guys actually did, and then [Steven Beresford] distilling that into such a wonderful script, and Matthew [Warchus] for executing it.” Little does he mention the fact that he essentially had the role that glued the whole narrative together, holding the most screen time, alongside British greats such as Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton (we’ll do the name dropping for him, since he’s too modest to do so himself).
MacKay’s modesty belies all the praise and awards he’s had heaped on him “It’s not something I want to think about too much but you also don’t want to patronise how meaningful it is,” he muses. “It’s something that’s really lovely. But everything moves so quickly, I don’t think it’s something to hold on to.”
Set to make his mark on the upcoming wave of young British actors, this rising star is guiding us higher and further than Neverland. MacKay is well on his way to earning his place alongside the icons.