Universal is set to release a live-action adaptation of Philip Reeve’s best-selling book series The Mortal Engines on December 14, 2018.
“Thousands of years after civilization was destroyed by a cataclysmic event, humankind has adapted and a new way of living has evolved. Gigantic moving cities now roam the Earth, ruthlessly preying upon smaller traction towns. Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan)—who hails from a Lower Tier of the great traction city of London—finds himself fighting for his own survival after he encounters the dangerous fugitive Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar). Two opposites, whose paths should never have crossed, forge an unlikely alliance that is destined to change the course of the future.”
Last year our own Ashley Victoria Robinson was fortunate enough to visit the set of The Mortal Engines and interview many of the creative forces behind this major motion pictures – including Leila George. George is an actor known for playing Leah Lewisohn in Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? She plays Katherine Valentine in Mortal Engines.
Katherine goes on such an interesting journey into the books. How much did you read before you got the script? What were your initial impressions of her arc?
LEILA GEORGE: I read the book way before the script because I read the book for my second audition. And her arc and her journey is what interests me most, all of the stuff with her father and how she kind of goes from being a little bit naïve and a little bit living in a bubble to really having to, I mean, she was already strong, but she never had to use her strengths, if that makes sense.
And she really gets to really get to see for herself how strong she can be. And so yeah, all of the stuff with–all of her father stuff is what mainly drew me along with everything else.
Can you elaborate on that a little bit? That’s one of the big sequences that you were just building, so how did she react to what she’s learned and how does that drive her moving forward?
LG: You know, it’s difficult for her because–for anyone. I’m going to go off on a tangent a little bit, and it’s going to make sense. I feel like she’s just discovering that moment in your life and you she’s discovering it way higher level than most people in not The Mortal Engines world, but it’s that moment in your life where you realize that your parent is a human being they’re not this perfect thing that doesn’t do anything wrong and that you follow.
And I think the moment with the father is much more specific than the moment with the mother because I think when it comes down to it, mothers, their first instinct is their children. And with fathers, don’t tell me guys, I think with the father’s their first instinct survival. As a male, its survival, it’s not their young. And so I have huge respect for when men are just great fathers, because I think it is harder for them.
Katherine, unfortunately, has a dad who’s choosing survival, and that’s a really hard thing to find out. And so yes, you can add in that he’s a murderer and that he’s trying to, you know, there’s this huge ego-driven villain that’s taking over. But when it really comes down to it, he’s choosing survival over anything else, and I think for her that’s huge because they had such a close relationship and he was her world.
Everything. It’s not just that he was a different person than she thought, it was that she never thought anything could be more important than her.
She also sort of asked a question, the structure of the society and her place it in the story. Is that something, which she and Bevis would kind of have in common, though from opposite ends to some degree? Do you feel like that’s how that’s playing out? That relationship with Bevis, from opposite ends of the culture?
LG: I see Katherine as so–she’s so lovely and she’s not naïve out of choice. And so she’s just not been in those situation, and as crazy as that can sound when you grow up on London, of course you think of course you’re going to pass a few homeless people or engineers and stuff.
She does go down there and hang out with her dad, and she’s aware, but she doesn’t–I think she’s more aware of the difference in class between her and Bevis because he makes it obvious and he kind of has a chip on his shoulder towards her. And so it’s more apparent to her, I think, because all of a sudden she thinks she’s done something wrong. She really would hate to upset anyone.
I guess she’s aware, but she just did grow up in that way and she’s not horrible to people and the instinct is to help and she always wanted to help. That’s what hurt her whole thing is. She really has nothing to do with any of this, aside from her dad. That’s the main thing, but she doesn’t have to go and figure all of the rest of this stuff out.
She just loves to help. She loves helping and she loves being useful she gets bored and lonely and any way to make friends and help. So it’s not that she’s not aware of the class, she grew up around it. It’s just how it is. She had maids. She was tier one and all of that, but she doesn’t stop and think about it for a second. She’s in no way going to not be friends with someone because they’re not of her tier, you know? I hope I answered.
She becomes aware of her privilege.
LG: I think how do I approach it? She just always wants to help. She always wants to help. So that’s how I approach every situation like that with her. It’s that she sees something and she wants to do something about it.
Since you read the books early, how did you feel about not having Dog?
LG: It was a sad day. I knew about that in the second edition. Actually, I came in and I was like, you know, I did the audition and they were sitting there like, “So, what do you think?” I’m like, “Oh, I really, really love it. I mean, Dog, it would be so cool to have a wolf. I love wolves.” They’re like, “Yeah, there’s no Dog.” And so I was like, “Yeah, no, I hate the dog, that was a really good move.”
Yeah, obviously who doesn’t want to have a giant white beautiful wolf with you the whole time. But I’ve heard animals are hard to work with. I’ve never had the pleasure. I still think it would be fine. Katherine still has a dog, he’s just not in the movie. He’s there in spirit. I’m not letting them go.
We heard from Hera [Hilmar] a little bit about how she was able to offer her own ideas on the character and that was sort of a collaboration. Was that the same case with you?
LG: It’s been so, so cool. And that is the word I’ll use, because it’s cool. Because this is my dream and to be able to have such an influence, I mean, it’s never happened to me before. I’m sure it’s not that uncommon. I really don’t know. This is my fourth job.
But it’s definitely the most I’ve been allowed to be involved in ever, and it’s really awesome. And Philippa [Boyens] and Fran [Walsh] and Peter [Jackson] and Christian [Rivers], you know, anytime that you want to sit down and talk to them about something, it’s always a discussion. It’s never a no. It’s always, “Okay, well, let’s talk about that.” Which is terrifying for me, because as if I would have any ideas that would, you know, but sometimes you do. I don’t know. There’s no way I’m saying that.
It’s been really, really cool the way that I’ve been allowed to be involved in every aspect. It’s not just like, “Okay, this is what you’re wearing today.” It’s like, “Okay, let’s spend three or four weeks deciding of until the last minute, until action, what you’re going to wear. Is this something that you’re comfortable with?” It’s really cool to be involved. It makes you feel like–it makes me feel like a real actress.
Is there a specific character moment or character trait that you fought for that you’re proud of getting into the movie for your character?
LG: There’s nothing that stands out. It really is always a group decision. You know, there’s nothing–and by the way, what they’ve got, there’s no need to change anything. Anything specific that I wanted to fight for?
… With custom, this isn’t a big deal and it’s definitely not anything I had to fight for at all, but I think we really liked how she’s one of the only girls–I think she’s the only one aside from one of the leads, that wears a dress. And so I really wanted to get her in that at some point, but I think costume already wanted that as well.
And so she goes from dress to slowly my action hero.
What was it about a dress? What does that represent for you?
LG: Just being a lady and being feminine and, you know, you’ve got Anna Fang and Hester [Shaw]. They can’t wear a dress. And it’s nice to show how Katherine differs from them within clothing, and it shows her where she stands and it shows a nice arc from wearing nice, pretty little dresses to running around trying to stop London from crashing.
What has been your most challenging day on set so far?
LG: Everything feels like, like I said, I was saying the other day–I was trying to remember what I did at some point. The morning had felt like it was last week. You know, you get to the end of the day and it’s like, “Was that this morning or was that five days ago.” Because it honestly feels like–right now I’m like, “The thing that we just shot first thing this morning, I’m like, “Was that yesterday? Or was that this morning?”
I’m trying to think. What’s the hardest thing I’ve done so far? Action-wise, Katherine doesn’t have much crazy, crazy, crazy stuff to do. No, everything’s been really easy. I’m honestly trying to think of which sets I’ve been on and what I’ve been doing. No, nothing’s been hard. I mean, physically.
Emotionally, we’ve just touched the surface with that kind of stuff. We haven’t got into any of that crazy stuff yet. I mean, today and yesterday were the first kind of moments, and then last week were very easy because we were in the museums. That’s all the calm before the storm stuff.
Yeah, we haven’t hit the crazy scenes for me yet. It’s actually been really nice to be able to move into stuff. There’s only been a couple of the middle of my emotional graph. She gets quite high and we haven’t gone past midway. So no, actually so far it’s been very easy, which is a really nice way of doing it.
You know, surprisingly, what’s so great about this is because there’s so many different locations managing to film a lot of stuff chronologically in the locations, which is so good for us to not have to go from the last crazy scene back to, “Oh, hi, what’s going on, dad? Everything is great.” We’ve semi shot chronologically by location, which has been great. So now, gosh, my answer to this is awful.
Everything is it so easy. I’m having so much fun, it’s really hard to be like, “Oh my gosh, that was such a hard–” These shoes hurt. My little toe hurts. It’s not wardrobe’s fault. They’ve done everything. I’ve got big feet. Honestly, that’s the most pain I’ve been in that. Oh, shit, sorry, no. I don’t want wardrobe to get in trouble, I love them.
Mortal Engines opens in theatres worldwide December 14, 2018.