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George MacKay & Dean-Charles Chapman Interview: 1917

1917 arrived in theaters on Christmas Day, and it’s already been preceded by plenty of rave reviews and awards buzz. The film, which centers around an unlikely friendship formed in the midst of a terrible war, brings stellar writing and cinematography together with powerful performances from young actors. Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay, the stars of the story, told Screen Rant all about their strenuous preparations and their take on the dynamic between their characters.

Guys, amazing job. Not only acting with each other in this film, but the prep work has to be quite intense too. You’re not only focusing on the acting but also where you have to be, because everything is so strategically planned. Can you talk to me about the prep work that went into this?

Dean-Charles Chapman: Yeah, we had to rehearse for six months before we started shooting. Every single scene of the film is a big choreographed dance between the actors and the camera and the set. So. in the first week of rehearsals, we had to walk around in this open field in the middle of nowhere. Just the grass, me, Sam, George, and our scripts in our hands; just walking and talking the same but at full pace.

And that was to measure how long we needed the set to be. The set needs to be the length of the scene, and the scene needs to be length of the set every single time. So, we would do it like 100 times just to make sure it was the exact measurement we needed. And then they’d dig the trench, and then we’d do that with every scene we needed. During the six months, we were military training and armory training with the weapons and the research we did. Yeah, it was this big, whole long six months of just so many different layers and stuff to it.

Credit to you guys, because obviously, the shot is this is beautiful and amazing. But the acting is what kept me into it. Talk to me about the friendship that you formed throughout the course of this, because there’s a great line in this where you say, „Why did you choose me for this?“ And he says, „Well, I thought it was going to be something easy, like getting food.“

George MacKay: It’s nice that you picked up on that line, because I think Sam said that this story is coming from his granddad, and the stories often just involve chance. And that’s so much this film, which is that these guys are only special to the audience because they happen to be the ones that you’re looking at. There’s so much of, like, it just happened that way.

I feel that they were friends beforehand, but not necessarily that close. And it’s just this chance happening, which sends them on this epic journey together. But I think, in terms of the characters‘ friendship, throughout that long process, we sort of met in the middle in terms of life and fiction. Just spending time with Dean every day – we’ve rehearsed together, we’ve spent every day together for six months, and then the shooting process on top of that. Dean is just the loveliest bloke

Dean-Charles Chapman: George is the loveliest bloke.

George MacKay: I think it kind of just happened naturally, really. The characters are two very different people in a sort of surface level, in the way that they personally deal with things in opposite ways, and they kind of beautifully meet in the middle as they go along.

What did you guys learn about the war that you may not have known after doing research about this time period?

Dean-Charles Chapman: I obviously knew the First World War was trench warfare and, but the more I looked into it, I didn’t realize how young a lot of the men were. And also, they were signing up to something that they didn’t necessarily have a good education on. They didn’t know what war was really like; they thought they were winning the war, when really it was just this big stalemate for four years. And just the brutality and the scale of the loss of life. Generations of men just completely gone. The brutality of it was just horrific.

You go on this emotional roller coaster with these characters. What was the most emotionally draining scene for the both of you?

George MacKay: I think it’s genuinely tricky to name one. I mean, there’s a couple of that sort of spike in the story. But I think it was more the fact that, at every point at the process from rehearsals to when we were setting the pace of the first, you had to come in at 100%. Because you’re setting the rhythm, and if you sort of do it half-hearted because you know we’re not actually filming it, you’re setting a rhythm that is half-hearted.

So, from day one, back in November last year, we were giving it our all. And also in the doing of it, every take, we could do 50 takes in a day before or after 20 takes of rehearsals. And any one of those could be the one that is in the film. And when you get the five minutes of the shot, that five minutes is going to be in the film. So, it was more just that kind of consistency of how every take could be the first and so you give it your all.

But you don’t really know when it’s going to end either, so it wasn’t a case of pacing yourself in certain ways. It was just a case of doing it as best you could every single time. When you got there, whenever that would be, that’s when you’d go home.

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