Interview: Mortal Engines actress Leila George talks working with Hugo Weaving and the incredible practical sets

The latest film from the creative genius talent of Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens and directed by Christian Rivers sees the team adapt the Phillip Reeve book series Mortal Engines. Set in the future, and moving slowly out of dystopia, roving cities on wheels must avoid being devoured by much larger “predator cities”. In amongst all the rabble is a young woman named Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) who is intent on seeking revenge upon the man who killed her mother, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). We also meet Katherine Valentine, the daughter of Thaddeus, played by Australian/American actress Leila George. We sat down for a chat with Leila regarding her role in the new film.

Well we’re here to talk about an incredible Mortal Engines. I got to see it on Monday. It’s such a spectacular film. I want to talk about the kind of sets you got to play around in. Obviously you spend the whole film in the London engine. But did you get to explore a lot of the other sets as well?

Oh yeah. Absolutely I actually got there two weeks before my first day. So I spent a lot of time on the set kind of just watching how things were moving and working. It was cool because I got to see them do a bunch of the stuff that I’m not involved in. I think I was there for a lot of the Jenny Haniver stuff, which is that big red awesome, beautiful spaceship thingy. Whatever you want to call them in the future: aeroplane, aircraft. I got to see a lot yeah and what the team down there, what they create, the detail is phenomenal. I walked around the sets for ages, just looking at all these different things, it was awesome.

So a lot of what we see on screen is being practically designed in these sets.

It was there. Yeah. I mean really I can only remember one scene that we shot where I’m on a bridge and they created the floor and then there was a green screen behind and that was the only time that it was like that. Everything else was built, there’s this beautiful museum in the film that was built completely, three rooms. All of the underground tunnels of London were built. There’s one kind of square outside the museum, leading into Tottenham Court Road Station. They just built the whole thing, they built so much. You could just run around there for days, playing hide and seek.

When you originally read the script were you like, “Oh I’m going to have to be sitting in front of a green screen the whole time,” and imagine these things?

When I first read the script I was not in the mindset of complaining about anything. No. I didn’t get the script until I had the role. I had read the book before my call back and I was immediately attracted Katherine’s character and so that was aside from Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, aside from all that being a dream, I really related to Katherine a lot and was really excited about her.

Lets talk a little bit about your character, Katherine Valentine comes from a life of wealth and privilege, but has a great kind of education about the past. Tell me a little bit about how you shaped your character’s arc in the film. How you went into that role?

Well we catch her at this time in her life where, which every young person goes through, where they are moving from adolescence into adulthood and it’s a really interesting time because you never really know how it’s going to hit different people. She goes through that moment with such strength, because she’s really thrown in the deep end. It’s not just like she’s waking up, and she’s going from her kind of childhood school bubble into, “Oh now I have to get a job.” No she’s realising things about the world that she didn’t know, and these are big things, and it’s huge. So it was really exciting to be able to play that and kind of go back over the parts that and make the connection between my life and her life and what was the same and that was really fun.

You’ve read the book I haven’t. So going into this film, as a well read, fan of the book and have you seen the film? I guess is the-

I’ve seen it.

Yeah you have seen it. It hasn’t premiered yet so I thought I should preface with that. How do you think fans of the book are going to kind of respond to the film?

I don’t know. I’m excited to find that out, I really have no idea. It’s so difficult to be able to watch a film that you’re in objectively. What’s really cool about this is that half of it takes place off of London where Katherine isn’t. So half of it for me was like getting to see a film that I’m not in. So that was awesome because there’s so much action and everything else. So excited because it’s all this stuff that I hadn’t seen, that I wasn’t in and so, but I feel like it’s, they’ve been really loyal to the book in a lot of ways. You can never do it exactly like it is and there’s some big changes, but when it comes to the wealth that they’ve created I think they’ve done it such justice and I know that Philip Reeve, the writer, is super excited and super happy about it and I think that’s what’s important, I think if the writer loves it, than the fans of the book can’t complain.

Exactly, if they’re going to disappoint anyone it’s going to be the writer of the book.

Exactly if he says it’s good, that means it’s good.

You get to work with such an incredible cast in this film, obviously you’re not doing enough screen time with everyone, Hester abandons you pretty early. I want to talk firstly about your father in the film, the great Hugo Weaving, tell me a little bit about what it was like working alongside Hugo.

He’s awesome. He’s so intimidating. No, he’s not intimidating. I was intimidated. We met up before we both went to New Zealand actually, which was really nice and calmed my nerves a lot, and we talked about a lot of backstory and about our relationship, father, daughter stuff and all of that, so that was really nice to work with someone that was willing to do that with me, because obviously he’s got so many more years of experience under his belt and this is my first big thing. So it was really nice to go to New Zealand knowing that I already had a friend. So yeah, no he was great.

He’s worked with Peter Jackson quite a lot in the past obviously with Lord of the Rings and the million other projects he’s had in that part of the world. Did he have any advice for you, kind of walking into this film?

Not advice per se, more just like, “You’re going to be fine, they’re so lovely over there, it’s going to be great, you’re in great hands.” That kind of thing. Just to relax about not it, just to, not to worry.

You get to work with another, who is now a great actor of the stage, Robert Sheehan. He was just doing a bunch of Shakespeare in London. Tell me a little bit about working with him and his character of Tom, obviously your arc and his are intertwined.

What’s cool about working with Rob is that you just never know what’s going to happen next and that’s always fun. You’ve got to be awake, you’ve got to be ready for what he’s going to come at you with. So it’s fun.

Yeah he seems like a pretty funny guy. I’ve met him once and seemed he like a pretty great person to work with. Finally, I guess if there’s one thing that you learnt from your character, what would that be?

I like that question. To have faith in myself, to believe that I can do what I want to do, succeed in my missions. Because she’s so strong and she’s thrown in the deep end as I’ve said and she never gives up.

Mortal Engines is released in Australian cinemas December 6th, 2018 through Universal Pictures Australia