Interview: Beyond star Gillian MacGregor Ian White January 13, 2015 Editor's Choice, Interviews 2820 Actress Gillian MacGregor’s new movie ‘Beyond’ finally reaches DVD on January 12. Its trailer received more than one million internet views and it has already been available on digital download for almost a month. Although reviews have been mixed-to-favourable, the one element of ‘Beyond’ you cannot deny is the strength of Gillian’s performance. When I interviewed Gillian, I had only seen the film once (I’ve watched it twice more since then.) At that time I thought it was an interesting, intelligent idea and a brave attempt to do something new. The film has a lot of texture. But when I watched the film a second and third time to write the review I was disappointed to discover that the positive response I’d had on first viewing quickly wore off. Although ‘Beyond’ is a film that undoubtedly rewards multiple viewings because there’s a lot of information to miss the first time round, the more familiar you become with it the more frustrating it is. On one hand, ‘Beyond’ writer / directors Joseph Baker and Tom Large should be commended for what they tried to do in making a film with more philosophical weight and emotional resonance than we’re used to seeing in a genre piece but ultimately the film is dissatisfying because it takes on too many ideas, the relationship between the two main characters Maya (MacGregor) and Cole (Richard J. Danum) is unconvincingly written with some turgid over-explanatory dialogue – and don’t even get me started on pretty much every scene involving Paul Brannigan’s strangely annoying grocery store clerk – and ‘Beyond’s central conceit, which is effectively to bookend the film with a story ‘twist’ lifted from a much better and very well-known movie, is not only an out-and-out rip-off but its execution is a bit of a mess. My reaction especially disappointed me because, having spoken to Gillian, I really wanted to give ‘Beyond’ a much better reception. I wasn’t familiar with Gillian’s work before ‘Beyond’. I had seen ‘A Lonely Place to Die’ but only remember it as being a surprisingly decent Melissa George movie and all the other cast members had completely slipped my memory. But in preparation for the interview I decided to research Gillian’s other work and – luckily – there’s quite a lot of it on the internet ready to watch, particularly at Gillian’s own website, www.gillianmacgregor.co.uk. Check out a fantastic short film Gillian wrote and co-starred in called ‘Hit Girls’, which has quite a substantial fan following and deservedly so. And the trailer for Gillian’s latest project ‘Fight Room’, which will hopefully lead to a full-blown feature or television series, already suggests a concept that will be quite special. And then there’s the trailer for the cyborg sci-fi ‘Magnesium’ in which Gillian appears to play a glowing-eyed terminatrix with a very human heart, and her recent web series ‘Nikola Tesla & The End of the World’ is a lot of imaginative goofy fun. ‘The Urge’ is well worth tracking down too. MR: Before we talk about ‘Beyond’ I wanted to say how much I enjoyed ‘Hit Girls’. That’s a wonderful film. GM: Oh thank you! I’m blushing! The original idea for ‘Hit Girls’ came from the thought ‘what if Monica and Rachel from ‘Friends’ were assassins’? And then it became what it was. I love it. It’s something I’m most proud of. MR: Did you and Rosie Fellner (Gillian’s co-star in the film) do your own stunt work? There are a lot of gymnastics and martial arts involved and you’ve trained as a boxer? GM: Oh, Rosie – I love her to bits! She’s awesome. I don’t do back-flips – that was Helen Bailey, the most amazing physical performer / stunt double I’ve ever come across – but I do as many of my own stunts as I’m allowed. Most of that fight was me and Rosie. MR: So, ‘Beyond’ – over a million trailer views. Congratulations! GM: I know, it’s craziness. MR: Audiences are obviously approaching it with a lot of anticipation. Did you think people would connect with the idea the way they have? GM: You never know. There are things you get excited about that people literally couldn’t care less about and other things that come out of nowhere. With ‘Beyond’, I really connected with the script. It’s such a great part and so interesting. I really wanted to do it. And I’m so glad there’s an audience out there for what I feel is an intense, intelligent, thought-provoking film that we don’t unfortunately get to see a lot of because filmmaking is a money game. You normally only get to see the blockbusters. I’m very happy people are responding to it so well. MR: Without giving away spoilers, the ending is quite a surprise. Did it sneak up on you when you read the script, the way it does watching the film? GM: To be honest, the script was very different. Not my bits particularly but the whole Michael storyline – Paul Brannigan’s storyline – was different and we went back and did some reshoots of that later on. When I first read the script all I kept thinking was ‘Where is this going to go? How is it going to resolve itself? How is this ever going to be a happy ending?!’ I was quite surprised when I read it, definitely. And there were some bits when I was confused, wondering why my character was acting that way – scenes when I couldn’t understand what this girl was going through, why she was acting so mental and crazy. MR: As an actor it’s hard enough putting a character together when you have a linear timeline, but ‘Beyond’ is incredibly fractured and disjointed, and there are several gaps in the narrative that aren’t ever featured in the script but that you and Richard J. Danum have to show us the before and after-effects of in the way you relate to each other as characters. How difficult was that to do? GM: I come from a theatre background so I do a lot of textual analysis in my own time and I’m used to filling in all the gaps. I enjoy doing the back story. We also had quite a big rehearsal process – two weeks – which is very unusual, but thank God we had it because quite frankly it was a mindfuck! As we started dissecting the character – and I know we can’t talk too much about it here because it’s a big spoiler – I thought ‘hang on a minute’ and I literally started getting nervous wondering how I was going to do it, I didn’t know if I was a good enough actress. But I spoke to my husband and he said ‘No, you’ve got this, you know your job’ and I thought about it overnight and I was okay the next day but I privately had a bit of a panic to begin with, to be honest with you. As an actress I always worry about things being hammy, that’s my biggest fear, and I was so worried that this was going to come across as insincere. Luckily the writer / directors Joseph and Tom are the best and I think they’ve done it so well… MR: How long did ‘Beyond’ take to make? GM: We were in Scotland for just over four weeks and we did another few weeks back in London. It was about six weeks altogether. MR: Again, because of spoilers, this is a hard one to discuss but there’s a scene in the movie when Maya is shown a photo of the alien invaders. We don’t see what you’re looking at but the expression on your face is horrendous. What were you picturing in your minds eye? GM: Well, as you’ll know from watching the film, Maya’s not at all looking at what the audience was expecting. But for me as an actress I had to play the moment straight so I was thinking the photo was of something disgusting like an alien eating a human being. Ultimately though, every reaction Maya has has to prompt Cole into making him do something. There are so many layers! MR: How would you cope with Maya and Cole during an alien invasion? With your kickboxing skills I guess it wouldn’t be long before you took the lead? GM: No, I’d give it about fifteen seconds before I’d want to kick some alien arse. I’m not one for hiding away. MR: Looking at your resume, you’ve done so much genre work – sci-fi, action and horror. When you originally trained as an actress did you think this was the avenue you’d fall into? GM: Well, I’m a huge horror, action and sci-fi fan. ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens’ are in my top five of all time and I love psychological horror, those are the stories that get me the most. But as an actress I’m in a strange middle place. Because I’m quite a funny looking person I don’t fit into the leading lady mode but I’m not quirky enough to do the full-on character roles either. I’m also quite fiery and energetic and I get bored, I want to do cool things, which kind of leads me in a genre direction. And I’ve been writing for years. I like to write interesting women, interesting characters, I’m interested in how people relate to each other. I’m tall as well so that restricts me a little bit because people in film tend to be short. And the sci-fi stuff, where people tend to be slightly weird, a bit unexpected, that sort of thing lends itself quite well to my looks, my personality. The great thing with ‘Beyond’ is that I had to go full-on extremely unattractive. I read an article once where Jennifer Aniston said “The minute a woman goes unattractive they go ‘Oh my god, look at her, she’s a real actress!’” which I think is very true. And ‘Beyond’ made me look even rougher than I actually look which was very cool. They put circles under my eyes and everything, I didn’t have to bother. And when we came off location and I did have the chance to dress up everyone on set was like “Oh my God! Look at you! What a transformation!” MR: Can you tell us about ‘Fight Room’? GM: Well, we’re just jumping through all the hoops with that one. It made the official selection for Cross Video Days in Paris and it also made the New York Television Festival. It was screened twice at NYTF and it got a lot of interest from that. I feel really good about it, it’s a drama with action elements that isn’t for titillation, it’s not about exploiting women, and because there are so many characters involved there will be huge scope to the stories. MR: And what about ‘Magnesium’ and your web series, ‘Nikola Tesla’? GM: ‘Magnesium’ – they released the trailer but unfortunately I don’t think it’s been finished. Playing a cyborg was pretty awesome. ‘Tesla’ I loved doing, it was a lot of fun. MR: What scares you the most? GM: Demon Children. MR: Would you like to become Britain’s first real female action hero? With everything you’re doing on-camera and off, you’re making a pretty strong case for yourself. GM: That would be awesome. I’m surrounded by very strong women – female producers, directors, cinematographers, I’m a girl’s girl and I’ve got no time for bitching or backstabbing. Neither have my colleagues. With Emily Corcoran, who wrote ‘Fight Room’ with me amongst many projects, there was no bullshit. We’d often have arguments but we’ve got such a great working relationship. If I could portray characters who embody that, I’d be very happy. MR: And if you ever had to choose between acting and writing? GM: I love acting but I’m more interested in creating. That’s my focus. So if I absolutely had to choose it would be writing. I don’t need to see my face on the screen or read my name in the credits, it’s the work excites me, the creative start to finish. MR: I’ve got a feeling we’ll be seeing your face and reading your name for a very long time to come. It’s been a pleasure talking with you, Gillian. Have a fantastic 2015! GM: Thank you! Happy New Year to you and your readers too!