Starring in new Western adventure The Stolen alongside the likes of Alice Eve and Graham McTavish, Gillian MacGregor is an actress that seems to be consistently going from strength to strength. We got the chance to chat with her all about the film, as well as women in the movie business and the future.
What can you tell us about your new movie The Stolen and your character, Heather?
The Stolen is an epic Western adventure set in the 1860s during the New Zealand gold rush. At the time, there was a huge influx of immigrants from Europe and the US all seeking a better life and new opportunities.
Charlotte Lockton (Alice Eve) has settled in New Zealand with her wealthy husband in 1860. But her life’s dreams are shattered when he’s murdered on their farm and her baby son is kidnapped. When Charlotte discovers she’s being blackmailed by the kidnapper, she very bravely decides to cross the wilds of New Zealand’s South Island to try to get her son back. She joins our group of ex-convicts, hustlers and prostitutes (played by myself, Emily Corcoran and Mikaela Ruegg) also making the dangerous journey to Goldtown, led by a Maori warrior (Stan Walker) and Bully (Graham McTavish) who my character Heather is madly in love with. There, she meets Joshua McCullen (Jack Davenport), the owner of the mining town and the man who is key to uncovering the truth behind the disappearance of her son.
It’s a great adventure story and the character was so much fun to play. Heather had travelled to New Zealand as a maid with the family she worked for during the gold rush, but ended up in prison after turning on her master. In prison, they cut off her hair and branded her neck with a tattoo. Finding herself unemployable after that, she had ended up working as a dancer and prostitute. She believes she and her fellow dancers will all make a fortune in Goldtown, if they can survive the trip, so welcomes Charlotte, believing her to also be a dancer. When Heather finds out the truth about why Charlotte has travelled to Goldtown, she and the other women put themselves at risk to help her.
How does this Western stand out when put against other Western films of the past?
There are gunslingers, bandits, wagons, horses and all the epic landscapes you’d expect from a traditional Western; it just so happens that this story is told from a different angle. There have been a few Westerns with a female protagonist but it’s still quite unusual and that was one of the things I found so interesting about the script. Also, I’ve never seen one set in New Zealand before and the country almost becomes a character in its own right.
Niall Johnson serves as director on the film; how was he to work with?
Niall is always so calm and good tempered, which makes being on set a joy. Although he has a clear idea of what the film should be, he’s open to suggestions about characterisation and is great at thinking on his feet, which makes coming to work so much fun as you never know what will come out of the scenes that day. He knows exactly what he needs to get out of every moment in the script to best serve the story, so I always feel confident that I’m in safe hands with him and the final film is truly epic.
What was it like working with the likes of Alice Eve and Jack Davenport on the movie?
It was brilliant working with Alice and Jack. Working on a project with such a strong female lead and lots of well written supporting characters was so exciting. There were so many opportunities to learn watching Alice, Jack, Graham McTavish and the like and it’s always fascinating to see how different actors approach their craft. I was a huge fan of Jack in This Life and I’m from a small town in the West of Scotland near where his co-star at the time, Daniella Nardini is from. I remember being a teenager hearing where she was from and being absolutely thrilled and completely in awe. It was probably the first time I considered a career in acting as an actual possibility, so it was amazing to meet and work with Jack.
Was there an instant chemistry between everybody on the set?
I’ve known Emily Corcoran, who plays Honey in the film and also co-wrote and produced it for years and she’s one of my closest friends. Emily, Niall and I have worked together before so we have an easy rapport and the rest of the group clicked immediately. This was probably the most fun I’ve had on a job. Everyone was so charismatic and absolutely hilarious so we laughed our way through the entire shoot. They are a brilliant group of people and it was such a pleasure to be in their company every day.
Can you tell us a little bit about a typical day (if indeed there were any!) on set filming The Stolen?
A big part of the story follows the group as they make their journey across the South Island to Goldtown, so most days we were in a different location. I’ve always wanted to visit New Zealand so I was glad of this for selfish reasons! There was no typical day to be honest as one day we were dancing the can-can onstage, the next we were being shaken around in the back of the wagon, then filming round a campfire under the stars after shooting guns for target practice!
How did filming this movie compare to some of the work you’ve done in the past?
I’ve never done a period film before, so the corset was a new and interesting delight, and being so far from home was an amazing experience, but it came with some challenges. The time difference made it quite hard to keep in touch back home and I missed my husband like mad. Another thing that struck me about this film in particular, was the amount of women on set. It seemed pretty much 50/50 men and women, which is often not the case and I loved that! I had to sing and dance in The Stolen which I was really nervous about, but had to throw myself into it. I couldn’t worry about being ‘good’, as Heather wouldn’t care whether people liked her voice or not! I’ve been lucky enough to play some brilliant, strong characters in the past and Heather is a great one to add to the collection.
When it comes to women, and in light of recent reports coming out of Hollywood, how have you seen attitudes to you and fellow female actors change in recent years, if at all?
I’m not sure the changing attitudes I’ve personally experience is a sign of the times or simply because the people I’m surrounded with now would never dream of treating a woman – or anyone, for that matter – inappropriately. It’s disgusting that people suffer harassment or intimidation at work and it’s by no means confined to the entertainment industry.
The way women are portrayed on screen is a huge topic of conversation and it’s great to see many high-profile women making this an ongoing point of discussion. Although it feels like there are more opportunities now, I think we still have such a long way to go in terms of equal representation, so a film like The Stolen was so attractive to me. There are people out there making great films with excellent, well-written female characters, so hopefully as more female filmmakers work, we can see more stories which resonate with a female audience.
What tips or advice do you have for those looking to make it in this industry?
I don’t feel qualified to give advice on how to ‘make it’. ‘Making it’ can mean different things to different people so decide what that means for you and work towards that relentlessly. Is it winning an Oscar, or working consistently, or something else entirely? The highs are incredible and the lows can feel devastating, so it’s important to try not to take much notice of either extreme, as neither will last. Like all artistic endeavours, it’s a very difficult industry to work in and hard work does not automatically equal success. Talent is only a tiny part of it so you’ll have to be incredibly resilient and don’t forget to stop once in a while to take stock of where you are because, if you keep looking forward, you’ll never be able to see how far you’ve come.
Finally, what should we expect from you in the coming weeks and months?
Right now, I’m working on a new writing project which I haven’t been able to give a lot of time to recently, so I’m excited to get back to work on that. It’s going to be busy as The Stolen is released internationally and I’m excited to see everyone’s reactions!
The Stolen is out now in cinemas from Ascendant Releasing.