For Those in Peril: Interview with director Paul Wright and actor George MacKay

To mark the DVD release of For Those in Peril, I interviewed director Paul Wright and actor George Mackay for Hey U Guys.

For Those in Peril is the debut feature from Scottish filmmaker Paul Wright. The critically celebrated film won a slew of awards, and was nominated for a BAFTA this year (Wright won his first back in 2010 with short film Until the River Runs Red). Also nominated this year for a rising star BAFTA was George Mackay, who delivers an exceptional performance as tragic Aaron, whose life is catapulted in to despair when a disastrous fishing trip makes him a hate figure of his local community. We caught up with the director and star to talk about one of the best British films to come out of 2013.

So, you were both up for BAFTA’s at this year’s awards which is pretty exciting?

Paul Wright: Yeah I think it’s great in that it gets the word of the film out there. It premiered in Cannes and then played in Edinburgh so it’s had a good festival run. You know, a film like this, hopefully always going to be about the people that did get to see it having a connection with it, something like a BAFTA nomination helps.

So Paul, where did you get your inspiration from? Your short film Believe (2009) seems to have quite a similar themes running through it.

PW: Well I grew up in a very similar village to the village in the films so, living right by the sea there was a certainly a lot that I could relate to, and in terms of the themes of the films, with death and grief especially. When I was younger, about 14 or 15 I lost my Dad, and I guess it’s that age where obviously I knew what was happening, but I couldn’t totally get my head around it, but I guess that probably doesn’t change no matter what the age is. The film obviously isn’t autobiographical but there’s certainly things there, and I think that’s been quite interesting with audiences. I don’t know, I think there’s something with grief, it’s quite an extreme thing, and life and death become a lot more vivid and in this film and maybe in some of my short films as well, I’ve been interested in exploring that.

One of the interesting things about the film is that whilst there is obviously the element of the ‘gritty British Cinema’ that people are familiar with, but then you also have element of fantasy, which is very unique.

PW: Well I know my favourite films, rather than having the bit at the end where somebody wakes up or there’s ‘…and the moral of the story is…’ or whatever, it’s nice to allow a bit of space for the audience. With the character in this film and the journey he goes on, I think it’s more true to life almost. You know, you can remember one thing whilst you’re doing something else, or you suddenly have a moment where you’re fearful of something in the future, rather than waking up and ‘oh, it was all a dream.’ So it was about exploring that, and also, I think that there’s something interesting about grounding a film in reality and playing around with it in that way. And it isn’t even like it is fantasy, or has dream scenes or anything like that, which hopefully is more powerful than if there were to be dragons flying about or whatever!

In the film, George MacKay’s Aaron is in this awful situation where he loses his brother in a fishing accident, and then he has to come back to a situation where people think it’s his fault. Did you find that this sort of attitude still exists? It’s quite hard to believe.

PW: Well it’s not based on any experiences that I’ve had, but certainly whilst researching for the film, there were certainly people saying things like ‘they’d rather go down with the boat,’ or whatever, but what kind of made sense to me is this feeling that, in your darkest moment, if you’d lost a love one, maybe you would feel have that slight feeling of ‘why couldn’t you have saved them? ’The idea of the film was to push that to the extreme by having Aaron going in the opposite direction to the rest of the village, it brings out these feeling that he has, which may have remained subdued. But anyone who comes from a small village will know, once you go in a different direction to everybody else, it becomes sort of amplified.

So George, how did you come to be involved with For Those in Peril?

George MacKay: Well I was working away at the time, and I’d sent a tape off, then there was a chance to meet Paul and do a reading. So I met with him and Polly Stokes and Mary (Burke, Warp Films producer), and I’d been given scenes to prepare, but when I got there, they were sort of used as a framework. It was a really cool audition actually in the sense that there was a lot of improvisation; Paul said quite quickly that I only has to use them as a guide which was cool. It was great fun, I’ve not really had many other auditions that have felt quite so free. He still gave me a really strong idea of what I had to do.

How do you prepare for a role like that? Obviously it’s an extremely harrowing film, and the emotions that you’re having to bring to the surface are quite strong.

GM: I felt like a lot of the work was done for me in the sense that the character that Paul creates. Again, we talked quite a bit about Aaron and came up with a broad framework of his journey, and what he’s feeling at particular stages, and within that, we plotted quite specifically what Paul wanted to achieve from each scene, and then all of the sadness comes out of that process. I think the sadness comes from the fact that he’s the only person who thinks that the decisions that he makes are the right ones. It’s interesting because if you’re looking at the character that you’re meant to be sympathising with, and they’re feeling sorry for themselves then it’s a bit like ‘Oh, well.’ But if the character is absolutely sure that they should be punished for what they’ve done, then it’s more upsetting.

The film is devastating, it makes you feel real grief, which is hard to do….

PW: Well I think it’s quite important to just go for it not be shy about what we were trying to do, and that’s what film is, is about trying to create an emotional response.

So George, you’ve managed to build up quite an impressive body of work, are there any plans to go to Hollywood?

GM: I don’t really think about a strategy really, it’s good to be able to think about what you would want to do, but I’m not trying to get carried away yet! For me, it’s about the script and the people you work with and wanting to be part of that, and if that’s further afield than grand, but that’s not really what I’m thinking about.

You’ve just finished filming Pride about the Thatcher era, can you tell us a bit about it?
GM: Yeah, well its set in 1984 and is telling the true story about these gay rights activists who started a support group called ’Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’ and started fundraising for the miners on strike in Wales. It’s all about the bond created when you find a common goal, and transcend surface level boundaries.

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