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Though a newer face to American audiences, George MacKay is already a Cannes veteran. The 25-year-old has had four films in the festival in the past few years, and his WWII drama Where Hands Touch, in which he stars opposite Amandla Stenberg, was picked up by Sony at this year’s fest. To top it off, he’s the recipient of this year’s Chopard Trophy, awarded each year to promising young actors — presented by Charlize Theron, no less.
The Brit took two days off from shooting Ophelia opposite Rogue One‘s Daisy Ridley and Naomi Watts to visit Cannes, where we caught up with him about his new role and advice for festival first-timers.
You play Hamlet in Ophelia. What can we expect?
We’re treating it as its own thing; obviously it’s Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but this is from Ophelia’s point of view. It’s a hybrid, really. When Ophelia leaves the stage in Shakespeare’s play, [in Ophelia] you go with her. Because of the point of view we can’t use Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter, but the wordplay is quite complex. It’s almost a language of its own.
It’s still the same setting and story?
It’s written and set in a nonspecific 14th century that’s a slightly magical realm. We’re sort of transported to a sort of medieval-esque world. I always find that time sort of magical, just because of the archetypes of the fairy tale element to it — knights and castles. There’s just a magic to that period. The costumes are just incredible. Massimo [Cantini] has just done an amazing job. And I’ve never done anything in that style before, so it really is kind of extraordinary.
How’s working with Daisy?
She’s lovely, she’s wicked, she’s forthright and cool. She’s really wonderful. As we’re doing it — we’re still in early stages and putting color into the characters — but she has a directness, a very front-footed way about her. Without referencing too much of the older play, Ophelia is supposed to come in and out where you’re not very aware of her and it can be vague, but Daisy has a real sort of drive on the character that she’s been given.
What lessons have you learned from any of the films you’ve had in the festival?
With Pride, it was really about the power of community and the individual simultaneously. There was a sort of insurmountable task in the politics they were facing and their hardships at the time. They didn’t let that beat them, and they almost didn’t consider it in a way, they didn’t think that, “Oh, this is going to be a big fight.” They just did it. That’s the first step in anything — you can think yourself out of so many situations. When they just sort of began taking steps forward, they made huge changes. And those things are still reverberating now. If they hadn’t taken those steps, people wouldn’t be patting you on the back 30 years later for things you almost did or wanted to do but didn’t.
This is your fourth time in Cannes — any advice for a first-timer?
It’s truly wonderful. What’s exciting about the vibe here in general is that everyone is so thrilled to be here. We are one of many floors in one of many hotels, all really invested in what they have been doing, but there are so many films and so many filmmakers that have been working on something that comes to Cannes, and it just spreads down and down and down and you can feel it everywhere. It’s important to enjoy your time here but know that you’re one of many. That’s the whole purpose of this festival: [it] celebrates so much, it is ginormous, the focus is not necessarily on you, it’s about the festival. And be thrilled to be a part of it.
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