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Making Macbeth: Week Five

By Will Haydon | 29th July 2015

He might be the youngest Macbeth ever to grace the big screen. He’s certainly the first actor born in the nineties to do so. But Mark Rowley, the Paisley boy who before this shoot had just finished a sold-out run of James III at the National, has the patience, the sensitivity and the shrewdness of an old hand.

“He’s got ideas,” says Kit Monkman, directing the GSP Macbeth, way back before the shoot begins. “Not like that,” he adds, meaning Mark’s not trying to usurp the director’s chair, but rather that he easily intuits Kit’s interpretation of the Scottish warrior and responds with his own complementary insight – and leaves Kit securely seated.

Mark Rowley on the throne as the tortured Macbeth.

Mark Rowley on the throne as the tortured Macbeth.

This mutual understanding plays out beautifully in the studio. Most of the film’s shots require a number of takes to get right – as, of course, is to be expected on any film set. Most of Mark’s first takes end with Kit sharing a glance with Thomas Mattinson, the producer and co-adaptor, nodding urgently and enthusiastically, then giving the signal to cut and move to the next shot.

It’s just as well, because Mark’s probably the busiest person on-set next to the camera operator. He’s in the majority of the shots – and when he’s not before the camera you can find him in make-up, or costume, or the rehearsal room, or outside practising his swordplay.

Macbeth surveys his green screen kingdom.

Macbeth surveys his green screen kingdom.

Between this and the daily 6am pick-ups from York, the fatigue must have started to creep in, and last week he moved from York into the GSP Studios digs to live among the production crew and give himself a lie-in (until 7am).

He’s much happier, says Jo, a costume assistant who’s also living on-set. He can wind down with a beer and a game of FIFA on the Xbox once filming has wrapped (in a long-awaited reversal of fortune, he was being beaten 5-2 by Al Weaver, playing Banquo, when we were visiting).

Banquo (Al Weaver) and Mark Rowley plan their battle tactics.

Banquo (Al Weaver) and Mark Rowley plan their battle tactics.

By nature conscientious and determined – to be in his position at 25 you’d have to be – Mark feeds much of this into his character, who when the story begins has already defied any age barriers by climbing to the uppermost rank of Duncan’s army. He doesn’t look to political tyrants for sources of influence, he told One&Other – unlike Patrick Stewart’s recent take on the character, loosely based on Stalin and his government – but takes his lead instead from ferocious fighters like Mayweather and Pacquiao.

He’ll be a physical Macbeth, to be sure. But from what we’ve seen on-set he can turn on a dime from being an intense, energetic presence to an electrifyingly self-possessed and understated one. He’ll need to capture both extremes in portraying a character who starts out with good intentions then plummets to the murkiest depths, before trying to reclaim some integrity in the final bout.

Director Kit Monkman plans the battle scene with Mark Rowley.

Director Kit Monkman plans the battle scene with Mark Rowley.

NEXT WEEK: our focus will be the ‘GS’ of GSP Studios as we explore how the green screen technology works, and the extent to which it modulates the actors’ approaches to their roles.

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