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Only a small number of actors can say that they’ve starred in two Disney movies by the age of 20, but Mackenzie Foy can say that and a whole lot more thanks to key roles in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, The Conjuring and The Twilight Saga. In her first starring role since 2018’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Foy returns to the screen in Disney+’s modern adaptation of Black Beauty. She plays the grieving Jo Green who, following the death of her parents, is forced to live with her uncle (Iain Glen) at Birtwick Stables. Before long, Jo forms a lasting bond with a bereaved black mustang she names Beauty.
Even though the film was mostly shot in South Africa, there’s a section of the story that takes place in New York, and Foy remains blown away by the movie magic of filmmaker Ashley Avis and Co.
Foy tells The Hollywood Reporter: “It’s crazy because you wouldn’t think that New York and South Africa would go together, but those scenes in Central Park were actually filmed in South Africa. I have a picture of me in Central Park from a couple years ago, and it looks exactly the same. It’s insane.”
In August 2013, Foy shot Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar in Alberta, Canada including the memorable goodbye scene between her character, Murph, and Murph’s father, Coop, played by Matthew McConaughey. When the production eventually moved to a soundstage in Los Angeles, Foy was caught off guard when she realized that she was re-shooting many of the same scenes she’d already shot in Canada. But there was one big difference this time around as McConaughey was wearing a spacesuit and hanging from wires behind Murph’s bookcase.
“It’s funny because I didn’t actually get those pages of the script. So I didn’t really know what was going on,” Foy recalls. “I just walked on to set and when they gave me sides, I was like, ‘We’ve already filmed this scene.’ And they were like, ‘Yep, just trust us. Just go and do your thing.’ So the next thing I know, I’m two stories up in a half-remake of Murph’s bedroom and Matthew is in a spacesuit, flying around and yelling at me through a bookcase. I was like, ‘Whoa, this is awesome.’”
In a recent conversation with THR, Foy reflects on riding Black Beauty up and down a South African beach, collaborating with Jessica Chastain on their shared Interstellar character and her Star Wars dreams.
Is this year the first time you’ve worn a mask since the dust storm in Interstellar?
Probably, yeah. It’s crazy. Who knew that a couple years later I’d again be wearing a mask and goggles to get my groceries?
You’re an old pro already.
So I’m pretty sure that most people from my generation read Black Beauty in school, but was it a part of your childhood as well?
Absolutely. I probably read it in fourth grade, and I really, really loved the story. It’s one of those books that I read until it actively fell apart. My favorites were Black Beauty, The Secret Garden and A Little Princess.
Did you have any personal history with horses prior to this movie?
Not really. I’d worked with horses before; I learned how to ride on my previous film. So I had to ride a little bit in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, but not too much history, no.
Did you actually ride Beauty without a saddle?
Yeah, I did! Just a little bit. I actually love riding bareback.
How long did you have to do equestrian training?
Honestly, it wasn’t too long. It was probably like two weeks of training, but I knew that I was going to do this film a couple months earlier. I actually wanted to start riding anyway once I finished high school, so this movie encouraged me to do it. I probably got ten lessons in on my own before I started filming. Once I got to South Africa, I worked with FilmEquus and they taught me everything I needed to know to do the film.
Did you also have a trainer that taught you how to lead, pet or guide the horse in Jo’s one-on-one scenes with Beauty?
Kind of. There was a trainer named Cody Rawson-Harris, and he’s essentially a real-life version of the John Manley character (Iain Glen). He is the horse whisperer. So he showed us how to not necessarily talk to the horses but how to read their emotions.
How many horses played Beauty?
There were a lot of Beauties. Like the book, the movie spans her entire life from when she’s born. But mainly, I worked with a horse named Jenny. The two main Beauties were Spirit and Jenny.
Did you shoot everything in South Africa including the New York scenes?
I think it was mostly done in South Africa. There may have been little snippets shot in New York, but all of my stuff was done in South Africa. It’s crazy because you wouldn’t think that New York and South Africa would go together, but those scenes in Central Park were actually filmed in South Africa. I have a picture of me in Central Park from a couple years ago, and it looks exactly the same. It’s insane. I just loved South Africa. It’s stunning. It’s one of the most amazing places that I’ve ever been, and I definitely have to go back one day.
The magic-hour shots of Jo riding Beauty up and down the beach were gorgeous. What do you remember about that day on set?
That was actually my last day on set, and it was the coolest last day ever. Of course, it’s a sunset shot, but it was a pretty foggy morning, so we were there from sunrise to sunset. I spent the entire day galloping on Black Beauty across a gorgeous beach in South Africa. It was a dream day. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day. Just stunning.
I also appreciated all the rain shots throughout the movie. While I’m sure the crew used a rain machine at times, was it actually raining during your character’s introduction?
I think it was sprinkling, but they added a rain machine to create a steady rain.
Is Ashley Avis the first woman director you’ve worked with so far?
She’s isn’t the first female director that I’ve worked with, but I learned more from her just because I was younger when I previously worked with a female director. So I was more aware this time that I was working with a woman director. Ashley gave me a lot of information about the history behind horses, the history behind Beauty and how it all tied together in the modern adaptation that she created.
Interstellar is one of the best films of the last decade, and I also consider your performance as Murph to be one of the finest performances by a young actor in recent memory. What comes to mind regarding the audition process?
It was such a long time ago, but I remember going in there with a dummy scene. It wasn’t an actual scene from the film. I remember doing the audition, coming back for the callback and meeting Christopher Nolan. I just remember it being a very cool and a very interesting audition. And a couple days after that, I got the call that I booked it, and I was really, really excited. They also said, “Yep, you booked it, and now you’ve gotta have red hair.” I was like, “What? Why!?” And later I found out it was because I was playing a young version of Jessica (Chastain). So it was a cool audition process just because you didn’t really know what was going on.
So you and Matthew (McConaughey) never did a chemistry read?
No, there was no chemistry read. It was pretty much just those two auditions. After I booked it, I met with Christopher Nolan and Matthew, and we just talked about the film a little bit before we all headed over to Canada to start filming.
Do you know if Jessica watched your dailies as she prepared her version of Murph? I’m assuming you shot before her.
We kind of overlapped in the filming of our two versions of the character. I’m not sure if she watched any dailies, but before we started filming, we did talk about how we wanted to blend each version of the character together through little mannerisms and stuff like that. So we definitely had long conversations about the character.
When Coop is inside the tesseract, did you actually shoot some moments alone in Murph’s bedroom while Matthew was hanging on wires behind the bookcase?
Yeah, we did. It’s funny because I didn’t actually get those pages of the script. So I didn’t really know what was going on. I just walked on to set and when they gave me sides, I was like, “We’ve already filmed this scene.” And they were like, “Yep, just trust us. Just go and do your thing.” So the next thing I know, I’m two stories up in a half-remake of Murph’s bedroom and Matthew is in a spacesuit, flying around and yelling at me through a bookcase. I was like, “Whoa, this is awesome.”
And that section was done in Los Angeles?
Yes. Originally, we did the scenes how they played out in the beginning of the film. We did all that in Canada, and then we redid it all in L.A. with Matthew through the bookcase. So there was both me alone and then with Matthew.
How many times did you shoot that famous goodbye scene where Murph begs Coop not to leave?
I think that entire sequence of saying goodbye took a couple of days. It was just the normal amount of time to do the scenes with all the different angles and everything.
Was the dust storm pretty tough to handle?
It was definitely different. You could definitely feel it, but it put you in that environment. It wasn’t so extreme that it was hard to see or move. It was more the wind that was tricky. There was lots of wind, and you couldn’t really hear anything.
I saw a photo of you using the Force at Galaxy’s Edge last year. Is Star Wars something you’d do just about anything to get involved with at some point?
Yeah, it would be really fun to do something with Star Wars. I’m a big Star Wars fan. Whether it’s Star Wars, Marvel or Disney, I really love all of that stuff.
Lastly, you’ve done so much already, but what else have you been dreaming about doing in this business?
I would love to do an action film. I think that would be so much fun. I’d also like a play villain — or even a villain in an action film. That would just be the dream. But yeah, I definitely want to do something in that vein.
Black Beauty premieres Nov. 27 on Disney+.
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