After high praise for his roles in hit films Pride and Sunshine on Leith, George MacKay has now been gathering even more plaudits for his lead role in BBC1’s emotional post-war drama The Outcast. He’s playing Lewis Gilbert, a troubled teen dealing with the grief of losing his mother as a young boy.
At the end of last week’s episode we saw Lewis sent to prison after burning down his local church. With the final epsiode of The Outcast showing this Sunday (BBC1, 9pm), George tells What’s On TV what it’s been like to play such a traumatised character…
What’s your take on Lewis?
“Lewis is a very troubled person. His experiences are exacerbated by the type of people he’s surrounded by in his village, and what’s expected of him by his father. He’s very sensitive, but there’s also a real hardness about him. His sensitivity is probably the reason for his emotions to be as high as they are and that all stems from a real close connection to his mother when he was young boy.
“It’s really hard at any time in life if you lose a parent, but if you’re not allowed to say anything about it it’s far worse. He’s such an interesting character to play.”
Do his violent actions, excessive drinking and self-harming stem from the guilt he feels after seeing his mother drown in front of him when he was only 10?
“The confusion, guilt and horror of what happened to his mother has warped his mind. He thinks ‘well I must have done something wrong’ which brings on that constant whirling sense of emotions in him.”
Had you read Sadie Jones’ best-selling book?
“It wasn’t until I read the script that I read the book. It’s wonderful and absolute gold from a character point of view to have these wonderful journeys into Lewis’s mind, to get a point of reference on his character.”
What was it like working on this project with actors such as Greg Wise, who’s playing Lewis’s father Gilbert?
“It was nerve-wracking, but that just keeps you focused all the time. Greg and I had a hug after our first scene and it was like ‘that’s one down!’ and he was really sweet about it as well. Nerves are good, but you don’t want to be overrun by them so it’s nice to have felt part of the ‘gang’ so quickly.”
How was it working with Jessica Brown Findlay, who plays Lewis’s stepmother Alice?
“It was wonderful. I didn’t watch Downton Abbey I’m afraid, but it was nice because I got to meet Jessica as Jessica and watch her play Alice. We did a great scene where Alice is drunk and Lewis has to take her home and she did it wonderfully.”
They have a strange relationship, which gets passionate in this week’s second episode…
“Yes, they sleep together. There’s something beautifully sad between them. They’re united in loneliness, both worn down by having to hold themselves in all the time and not being able to break through and acknowledge their emotions.”
Were the self-harming scenes difficult? Did you do much research?
“Not so much on self-harming. It was more about an understanding of why he would do it. There’s a wealth of insight into his mind through reading the book so that for me was really helpful. The drama does have dark themes. I can’t think of another period piece off the top of my head that’s had self-harming in it. Repression is a theme that’s looked at a lot, but the outlets for repression in this are quite unique.”
How does this make you feel about the 1950s when The Outcast is set?
“It’s well before my time obviously, but it shows how our ways of thinking have moved forward. There can be still a lot of repression and prejudice now, but broadly things are much more open. I was raised in a much more open way than Lewis. It’s funny how openness is seen as so progressive now. We show a lot of the repression and prejudices around in the 1950s.
“If things such as grief aren’t spoken about or ignored, especially where a child is concerned, it can have truly devastating consequences on an individual.”
The Outcast continues this Sunday, BBC1, 9pm