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How ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ Prepared George MacKay for ‘1917’ (Video)

”It’s the most immersive experience I’ve ever had on a project,“ the actor tells TheWrap

Before George MacKay dove into the trenches for the intense shoot on the Best Picture-nominated “1917,” he was deep in the Australian wilderness for “True History of the Kelly Gang.” And it was the immersive nature of this film that prepared him for “1917.”

In an interview from his home over Zoom with TheWrap, MacKay explained that he was able to get inside the head of Australian folk legend Ned Kelly because of how deeply he was immersed on director Justin Kurzel’s WWI film.

“The experience of making it and everything from the prep beforehand to the actual shoot was really full-on, and it’s the most immersive experience I’ve ever had on a project,” MacKay said. “And I think being pushed physically and emotionally hard for it, it set me in a really good state to do ‘1917,’ and the kind of feeling that came by the end of Ned was actually really informative to playing Schofield, the way I could operate and the way of getting through something really difficult.”

MacKay spent time on location both in prep and during shooting, and he explained he couldn’t pull away to think about home or life away from what Kelly’s life would’ve been like in 19th-century Australia.

“If you make me go there in my head and heart, I’m going to unravel, and I can’t. And that feeling was really integral to my interpretation of Schofield,” MacKay said. “It also just made me much fit, because physically it was tough with Ned, and ‘1917,’ the physicality was less aesthetic, we were on the go the whole time.”

“True History of the Kelly Gang” is a fictionalized version of the life of Ned Kelly, a real-life outlaw and gang leader in the mid-1800s who has attained folk status, with some believing him to be a Robin Hood-type hero who fought oppression and others who view him as a murderous gangster who doesn’t deserve the reputation he’s been given. Kurzel’s film grapples with the ideas of truth vs. fiction as it relates to Kelly’s legend and dissects the many sides of masculinity.

MacKay plays Kelly as a brawling and boastful badass who is still an intellectual with a poet’s heart. When we first see him on screen though, he’s dressed in nothing but his underpants in front of a big Union Jack flag, flexing and stretching for a bare-knuckle brawl. MacKay said he got his character’s attitude from the Irish MMA fighter Conor McGregor

“This kind of new breed of colonial Australians, it was a mixture of Irish, Scottish English, and he probably would’ve spoken with an Irish accent,” MacKay said. “Conor McGregor was an insight into that bravado, that swagger.”

On the other side of the coin was Nicholas Hoult playing the film’s villain, Constable Fitzpatrick, a ruthless and corrupt lawman who seeks to bring Kelly to justice but does so with his own violent swagger and sensibility. MacKay said he spent a lot of time with the actors playing the core members of Ned Kelly’s gang, but the time he got to spend with Hoult showed how alike they both are.

“We enjoyed being in the soup of that world, and there’s this really sort of fluidity to their friendship in all senses. But also, you know, I really like you, because I think we’re the same, but we’re on opposite sides. I get how you are, and I despise how you are, and I can almost respect it because of that, but I can’t respect you because of that,” MacKay said of Hoult and his character. “I really enjoyed that dance with Nick, we were really playful in finding that.”

IFC Films will release “True History of the Kelly Gang” on digital and on-demand on April 24, and the film will also play in select drive-in theaters across the country day-and-date.

Watch the interview with George MacKay above.