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Ned Kelly and 1917 star George MacKay on his best bits of Australia

Exclusive: The Ned Kelly star on some of Aussie culture's best bits.

Ned Kelly and 1917 star George MacKay on his best bits of Australia
28 February 2020

George MacKay is back on the big screen after a critically acclaimed turn in awards season darling 1917. But this time he has been transported back to colonial Australia to play infamous outlaw Ned Kelly.

Justin Kurzel’s True History of the Kelly Gang takes a visceral, punk rock approach to the biopic format by offering a narrative more focused on its lyrical delivery than historical accuracy.

George MacKay himself is of Aussie heritage on his father’s side, and so to celebrate the release of the new movie Shortlist sat down with MacKay to discuss some of his favourite things about Down Under.

My dad


"Why I wanted to do the film was because a year before the audition came about I had this conversation with my dad where he told me all this stuff about what it was like growing up there. I had never asked. It wasn’t until I was asking for another reason that I was like, ‘tell me about what happened when you grew up.’ He told me stuff like how his granddad came from Ireland to be there and I just found it amazing.

"His accent isn’t that strong, though. He came over to England when he was 21 so I don't think he sounds English but only because we're in England. It's sort of a pretty neutral accent but he sounds more Aussie when he talks with his brother. For Ned, we wanted [his accent] to be subtle and not too Ocher which is sort of broad Australian. The equivalent in England, I guess, might be the Cockney accent. Ocher is more of a working class Aussie accent and Ned is that but there's also a kind of subtlety to it rather than being too on the nose."

Gareth Liddiard

George MacKay's best bits of Australia

"There is a fella called Gareth Liddiard, who's the singer of a band called The Drones, and he was quite a big reference for Ned. Justin wanted this version of Ned to sort of be a writer - it's about him writing his own history - and Gareth is a storyteller in his songs.

"He did this one solo album called Strange Tourist which is him and an acoustic guitar and there's these kind of noodling poems of songs. His way of talking is very easy, very cool, but he sits back. That's what we wanted with this version of Ned. He has quite a bit of power in being unreadable, it's a kind of defence mechanism, that thing of, ‘you're not gonna know what I'm thinking’ and that should make you feel funny.

"Gareth had a bit of that but then when he sings in The Drones, he kind of barks up at the mic like Liam Gallagher. Gareth has this sort of intellectual swagger, while also kind of working class and a sort of quiet Australian with a mullet too. He was the biggest reference in terms of voice and look. In terms of attitude and physicality, Conor McGregor was the other big reference for the character."

Listen to Gareth Liddiard's Strange Tourist on Spotify or at Amazon

Romper Stomper

George MacKay's best bits of Australia

"Justin gave me a massive list of Aussie films to watch to understand the Aussie humour and culture, cinema and a few references. There's a kind of brutal sort of sensuality with like Romper Stomper, all these skinheads, these white working class males all over each other.

"I think in Australia there's a sort of hyper masculinity like rugby boys over here where there’s a blurred line of like, ‘we're so far from this thing that we might kind of be this thing,’ [Shortlist: you mean homoerotic?] Yeah, and that's the thing, there is so much love in the film that Ned's kinda like that with his best mate."

Buy Romper Stomper from Amazon

The Gaso

George MacKay's best bits of Australia

"Justin saw the Kelly gang as a punk band so he made us start a band, write an album’s worth of songs and perform them. We had three-four weeks of rehearsals before he booked us a gig in Melbourne. We had to come up with a name and it had to be outside of the film so we called ourselves Fleshlight.

"We would write and rehearse these punk songs everyday and it was the best thing because you start listening to each other differently and have an awareness of each other in a way that when you play music you do.

"We performed at The Gaso in Melbourne in dresses. It’s quite a big venue, but we played just on the floor downstairs but the bar upstairs is quite a famous music venue. Melbourne is a really good music city."

Snowtown

George MacKay's best bits of Australia

"Snowtown was Justin’s first film and genuinely, it's the most affected I've ever been in a cinema. It's so amazing and so brutal, and I woke up with the film the next day. To be honest, I woke up sad, it sticks with you and it's just so intense.

"Dan Henshall in it is so fantastic. And the score! It's about a real life serial killer in South Australia and they do this weird stuff with this tone running through it. [In one scene], there are these portraits that are almost like stop motion and it's so disconcerting with this throbbing musical accompaniment. I was so taken back by that film that when I auditioned for Macbeth I was just so thrilled to meet him."

Buy Snowtown from Amazon

Wake in Fright

George MacKay's best bits of Australia

"It’s terrifying without being a horror movie. It begins with this amazing shot, which is just a set of railways going off into the distance and just dead straight, red, way up high, and you see a schoolhouse on one side and another building on the side. And it just pans around really slowly, and you just see desert, the space of Australia, the amount of space is there, and you see nothing until it comes back around and this little figure walking out one schoolhouse to the next. And it's about this teacher that's on his way home to meet his fiance back in Sydney, but ends up in a mining town and the locals force him to take part in a kangaroo hunt. It was quite famous because I think they did actually go kangaroo shooting. I think it won the Palme d'Or in the ‘70s too. It's amazing but terrifying."

Buy Wake in Fright from Amazon or stream it on BFI Player

The True History of the Kelly Gang is in cinemas now