Film4.com editor Catherine Bray catches up with George MacKay, star of Kevin Macdonald’s highly anticipated How I Live Now, and Paul Wright’s For Those In Peril, which premiered in Critics Week at Cannes 2013…
I arrived to interview George MacKay feeling like a half-drowned shipwreck victim, having run through a mighty deluge along the Croisette from the Palais, where I’ve just caught the underwhelming Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) at the 8.30am screening. Fortunately, there’s nothing underwhelming about For Those In Peril, Paul Wright’s debut feature and the reason George is in town. Selected for the Critics’ Week strand, which focuses on new voices, the Scotland-set drama tells the tale of the sole survivor of a fishing boat accident that killed everyone aboard but a young man named Aaron (McKay), including Aaron’s brother Billy. It has already been described by the Telegraph critic Robbie Collin as the “flipside of last year’s Cannes hit Beasts Of The Southern Wild; a film that reassured us that all we seek can be found bobbing somewhere on the waves. For Those In Peril makes some very similar assurances, although they sound less like a promise than a threat.”
As we begin our beach-side interview with the rain beating down on the roof of the temporary marquee, the waves crashing in the background and my boots half-full of water, the setting is in some ways the perfect backdrop to chat about a film in which the sea is a brooding presence that preys on Aaron’s grief-addled mind.
So apart from bringing the British weather with you, how has your Cannes been so far?
It’s been fantastic, although I haven’t been here long. Me and Paul got in yesterday and had a bit of an explore, met up with a few friends for a drink – the DoP Benny [Kracun], the editor Michael [Aaglund], we’re all here together now.
Can we start with how you approached playing Aaron in For Those In Peril – how did you shape him?
Paul’s such a wonderful writer; there’s so much there already in the script. And then the thing that was so wonderful about the whole process was it was an exploration with Paul, discovering things – we talked a lot. I’ve never had such a close relationship with a director before. So we established the reasons behind everything, the purpose and rationale to what Aaron was doing. Which gave me a really strong backbone around which we could improvise and explore when we began shooting.
And how did you relate to the rest of the cast – you’ve got Kate Dickie as your mum, and Nichola Burley as the girlfriend of Aaron’s recently deceased brother - did you improvise with them, or keep it more structured?
Well, firstly Kate was just wonderful, she’s so lovely. We really felt, without wanting to sound too silly, that we clicked, and understood each other, and had this emotional attachment to the project, which brought us very close together. So working with her in rehearsals really brought that backbone of understanding to playing Aaron. She brought a perspective on him which really changed how I saw him – working with her defined Aaron. That need to be with her is the crux of Aaron, really. And Nichola [Burley] was just so wonderful to work with. We got two days to rehearse together up in Scotland and with Nichola we explored the scenes more and explored how far you can push that relationship.
Aaron’s quite a dark character – did you ever catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and think ‘who’s this guy?’
Yeah, there’s the one scene where he’s got the red make-up on, and I forgot I had it on and went to the toilet and caught sight of myself! It’s like, yep, there he is! It was really invigorating doing it, it wasn’t an unpleasant experience going to those dark places; it was exciting.
And how did that contrast with Kevin Macdonald’s How I Live Now – was it a very different experience?
Well, in For Those In Peril, Aaron is so much on his own, whereas on How I Live Now, Eddie’s very much part of a family. And on How I Live Now, we kind of became a family on set – I felt like a big brother to Harley, Danny and Tom. It was about being together, and so it was much more about being a group, and my role in the group was looking after people. It was just a joy – that feeling of being a family is my strongest memory of How I Live Now. It was different – because of the nature of the part – with For Those In Peril. Me and Paul spoke for ages about the part of Aaron. I spoke with Kevin [Macdonald] before I got the part of Eddie and before filming and up until shooting in Wales, but with Paul, because Aaron’s on his own so much, we had a closeness all the time, because I was in all day, every day, all the time. I just physically spent more time with Paul. With How I Live Now, the best way of understanding the relationships was to hang out with the cast, whereas the best way of understanding Aaron in For Those In Peril was to spend time with the director, because the part in the story is so isolated. I learned so much from watching both of them.
And did you read How I Live Now before filming?
Absolutely, yeah. I think what’s great about the film is it’s true to the book in that it feels like the book, you know? The only way I can describe it to you is charged. There’s emotional intensity, and there’s love, and I’m so glad that came across in the script as well as the book. In the book Eddie is younger, but I think they are very similar.
And both Film4 films, of course…
Yes, I’m flying the flag for Film4!
Will you have time to see anything here at Cannes?
No, unfortunately not, which is a real shame because it’s so exciting being somewhere where the focus is so entirely on film, and everyone’s here to show new work. It’s obviously amazing just to get your film into the festival but then there’s the big sense of nervousness over whether it will work out…
How I Live Now is out Autumn 2013, For Those In Peril premiered at Cannes in Critics Week on 18th May 2013