Interview with George MacKay

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George MacKay plays the role of Mick in The Caretaker. He chatted to Old Vic New Voices about rehearsals, working with Matthew Warchus and roles he’d love to play.

This interview is taken from The Caretaker Education Pack.

What do you do before starting rehearsals?

Its interesting, because Im learning with each play whats needed. With experience its like, Oh I should have done more of that, or less of that. So usually I try and get a sense of my lines as best as possible. Because that sort of cancels out one of my biggest fears and that enables me to be a lot less scared and more flexible. That said, it can sometimes be a bit troublesome – I found it a bit troublesome at the beginning of this rehearsal. To learn them I had to make my own decisions about them, but that means I came in with some decisions sort of pre-made, which is good because you have something to offer. But if theyre not right you have to kind of let go of them.

Im learning to be a bit more open and allow myself to be a bit more scared. To be more open, rather than be worried about being found out on the first day. I read the script a lot – always go over the script lots. Then each part is different. With this there was a bit of accent work, because Micks got more of a sort of a cockney, London accent. So I did a bit of work on that myself, speaking to friends who had the same accent, and then working with a dialect coach for a few sessions before starting rehearsals. I also did a bit of reading on Pinter himself. I started a book about him that I didnt finish until we were mid-way through rehearsals. I said to myself that I would read more plays than I have. I did read another one of his plays, just to get a sense of his style, I guess. Obviously we want to do our own thing, but his name is attached to something, a sort of style of writing and way of doing things. I was quite wary of getting locked into that, and not wanting to just replicate that. But I also wanted to learn about what it is to do his plays – I want learn about his style so that I can approach the material better.

Its week four of rehearsals, how has the process been so far?

Its been cool, its been fascinating. The play is so deep, so its very daunting at the beginning, because theres so much possibility. You dont know where to take it – so you sort of dive in with one idea, and because there are so many options, you sort of think I want to try and pick the right one first. Because within that option, its like a sort of mind map – theres a sort of arm and once you get to the end of that arm, it could be a word, or way of doing something or whatever it is, theres another three more options, and then another three. So youre like, I want to make a decision. But at the same time, like learning your lines too much, youve got be able to let stuff go.

So now, come week four, theres still so many possibilities and still so many things to find out. I think well be finding that out all throughout the run to be honest, but now we are starting to fix some things. Its like having milestones, or road signs that we are going to stick with this idea links to that, this fed in from that and this compliments what came before. I dont know if easy is the right word but I feel in a better position to orientate myself, being a bit further down the line. Like anything, I just know more now. That said, theres still much more to find.

Do you have any particular exercises or rehearsal techniques that you like to use a lot?

You learn so many with each job. My process, which Im still trying to work out, is doing work that makes you feel youre ready. And that changes with the job. With this, theres been some physical work. Having not gone to drama school, Ive been doing work on and warming up those muscles that will be required in projecting my voice. And the physical side to the character, hes very difficult to pin down. I think its important, it would be cool, to have an element of it thats physical too. Its preparation in terms of allowing yourself to feel able to explore the broad idea of what the character is, and the specifics of that change with each job. It might be that if you dont have many words and the context is more important or if youve got tons of words but its a non-specific place thats not as affected by the context, then that will be a different process. You do that for yourself before you get going. Then the main thing is when you are in the room and working with people how you are then, how you respond.

Youve worked with the Director, Matthew Warchus, on the film, Pride, is the process of working together on a play different?

I think the nature of the film we worked on, there were so many people involved. It was rare that youd have a scene with three people. It was more common that thered be a scene of six to twelve people. One day we had 40 speaking roles on set! I dont know how different the actual approach is, but on The Caretaker we simply have more time to rehearse. We have more conversations that are exploring things that are yet to come. Whereas in film, we did have three weeks of rehearsal on Pride – the conversations we had were little check ups on set, for something that you are literally just about to do. Whereas now, we are having deeper conversations to do with something thats a little bit further away, just because we wont have as much contact with the Director during the run of the play. But I think that theres just more contact, because theres just the three of us actors working together.

Youve worked in film, TV and theatre. Is there one medium that you enjoy more?

What I like about each medium is whats different about the others. In theatre I love the fact we get to go on one big run, and see it and feel it the shape of the play. Youre part of some massive journey with all these other people and thats really thrilling. But by the same token I love the sort of slightly ridiculous nature of film, of taking half a day for something thats going to last 30 seconds on screen. You spend so much time on making something so short but in a way they both last forever. With theatre and film when youve done it, you cant take it back. In theatre you do it again the next night but you cant redo the last night. Its always going to be what it was. In film its in the hands of the people who edit it and its up to them how it turns out. But with both youve done something, and its imprinted, be it on film or a memory card or someones memory.

You will be performing in The Caretaker for 8 weeks. How will you keep your performance fresh each night?

I dont know! The jobs that Ive done in the past, you stay focused on, How can I improve it. Then again, you cant pre-empt the things that will change. Those things will come out of the work. I mean, even this morning I had an idea of a scene we working on, and it changed at lunchtime and then it changed again when we just re-ran it. I think one thing about The Caretaker is theres always so many possibilities of whats actually going on underneath the text. And also of Mick, the way in which he says things, or manipulates people, theres many different possible ways of doing it. So theyll be some of exploring that as we go. That said, I think changes have to be about improving the piece, and not for the sake of it. What you always want to put across is the best version of the play that you can, and that will take some getting to know I think. Maybe well never know. Thats the thing about theatre it genuinely is, to varying degrees, different every night, every performance.

How do you feel about Mick, the character that you are playing?

Hes mercurial. Hes wonderfully complex, which I know is a sweeping statement. Im still working him out to be honest. I want to give a good answer but while Im still working it out I also want to hold back. Hes kind of got – oh no, this is going to be such a vague answer! Hes got various different ways of doing different things, and Im still trying to work out how conscious of each one he is. Hes so complex. In rehearsals we have time to go through and analyse what motivates everything whereas sometimes in life we are motivated by something from way back when. So we say something because of how weve been treated way back when and Im trying to understand that for Mick. Hes incredibly bright. Im still working it out, just still working it out!

Whats been the biggest challenge of this rehearsal process for you?

Honestly, the biggest thing – nerves. Not just in the sense of Ooh theres going to be a lot of people there but also not letting those nerves be the biggest thing. They can be positive – nerves are important, you want them there, but they shouldnt be something that you seek out. You just have to truck through it, I think.

Whats been your favourite thing about rehearsals so far?

Its the hydra-head thing, where you make one discovery about the play, chop off one head and three more possibilities grow. When you get a nugget or a new path that feels good, its like oooh and its a really exciting thing that theres three more heads. Its these little blossoming moments of possibility for the character, or the story thats really exciting. Theres also the section with the bag passing, its tricky. Danny, Tim and I had practised it loads one day and then the next morning we ran the whole act and when it finished it was all quiet and then we all just looked at each other and went Yes, we nailed the bag bit! We were really excited.

Next week youll be moving from the rehearsal room into the theatre. What are you most looking forward to about that?

Im really curious to see what an audience thinks of the play. We are getting used to understanding the play, quite sort of privately. Itll be interesting to see what people think. Im sure that theyll be some people who know the play and will have their own ideas about it and some people who know nothing about the play. And Im just curious to see what the reaction will be.

Youve already mentioned that you didnt go to drama school. How did you become an actor? Is it something that youve always wanted to do?

I was really, really lucky. I got my first job from school where a casting lady was doing a big search, and she was going round lots of different schools to pick people for a workshop. And I went a long to a workshop to audition as a lost boy for the film Peter Pan, and after that workshop I got called back a number of times and eventually got the part as Curly in Peter Pan. I was 10, so I wasnt really considering what I wanted to do. I just enjoyed drama and that whole experience was so much fun, I just thought Id like to do this again. I got an agent through a friend, and she put me up for jobs when there were opportunities and I managed to work through school. Then I auditioned for two drama schools when I left school and I didnt get in. So I thought Id try and keep working and, touch wood, Ive managed to carry on working, for the minute!

Do you have any advice for young people who are interested in becoming an actor?

I wouldnt want to patronise, because I was so lucky with being able to get work. The more I work, the more I realise I learn most when Im doing. Its really difficult when that decision is taken out of your hands in terms of simply being employed. Theres so much that Ive learned so far in this rehearsal process that has changed the way Ill approach the second part of it, and will influence how I approach other jobs – just through working with other people. Its hard if acting is the thing that you are doing and trying to live off it, but really if there is anyway you can just be doing it, just do as much as possible.

Are there any roles that youd really like to play?

Its mainly roles that have already been done you see something and go wow! Ive been really blessed in terms of roles that I come across that I didnt know about. So theres nothing that Id call out, Im just really open to any possibility.

Are there any actors you think are brilliant and that youd really like to work with?

Danny and Tim! I really admire both of them. It was really thrilling and wonderful and quite scary on the first day of rehearsal. Theyre really nice blokes though. Hmmm, I dont know – any actor who consistently does good work and varied work, both in the characters they play, and the mediums in which they do it. As many as possible please!

The Caretaker runs until 14 May.