Georgia MacPhail on learning and leaving a legacy

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At just 14 years old, Georgia MacPhail is already wise beyond her years and the picture of professionalism. It’s immediately clear that MacPhail is poised and eloquent, yet not afraid to let her effervescent personality shine through — politely asking at one point during the conversation if she can use the word ‘badass.’ With her hair and makeup prepared by her mother because she “isn’t that good at it yet,” MacPhail begins the interview talking about her love for animals and basketball, but most importantly: acting.

Balancing a budding career, while being a normal teenager, is no easy feat. And for MacPhail, it’s her biggest accomplishment to date. “I always worried that I wouldn’t be able to go to college or pursue my other passions,” she explains. “But I think that’s something I’m doing a really good job of because I get to experience the best of both worlds. I get to hang out with my family a lot and also do a lot of acting.” 

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During the production of Horizon: An American Saga, MacPhail spent most of her time on set, rather than attending middle school, like most people her age. While she’s already building an impressive filmography and fulfilling a “childhood goal” just by being on the big screen, MacPhail is also a student living in Central California with her four siblings and multiple pets. Those two lifestyles have always “[felt] like two different worlds.”

Since starring in smaller productions — including school plays and concerts dating back to preschool — MacPhail found that performing energized her. “I’d always done theater,” says MacPhail. “I’ve done theater for ten years now. I always thought that I was going to be big on Broadway or something like that, but when COVID happened and all my local theaters shut down, I got into film acting. [I thought it] could be really cool, so I signed up for an acting class and everything went from there.”

For MacPhail, there was a minor learning curve in the transition from theater to film. She found that much of her traditional training had taught her to be expressive and reach all of the audience members in the back of the house. “The first year or so that I was in film acting, I would overexpress myself and be way over the top, when really I just had to pull it down a lot,” MacPhail shares. “[With] on camera work, you really have to be more calm and more grounded.”

Early into her career, MacPhail has already discovered her main motivation as an actress — the desire to carve out a permanent legacy. “Every time I make a movie, I’m making something that’s going to outlive me,” she says. “My kids and my grandkids will all watch it when I’m old and not in the business anymore. It’s so cool to make something that’s going to leave an impact — something that will continue to make an impact long after I’m gone. That’s why I am an actor.”

Facing a future full of ambitions, MacPhail is grateful to have her family as a solid support system to fall back on. “My parents have been the most supportive people this whole time,” she says. “I think that’s something others don’t have which I feel really grateful to have. It really helps me and reassures me to know that I have supportive people in my life.” 

MacPhail’s parents have helped her rehearse for auditions, set up a professional background and lighting for self-tapes, and drive her to set every day. She also shares that her sisters are her go-to phone call to unwind after a long day of filming, playing video games or simply catching up. “I would talk to them about my day and hear about theirs, and it really didn’t feel like anything had changed. We were connecting again like we used to at home, and it felt like I never really left.”

Those calls from home were especially useful during the filming of her most recent project, Horizon: An American Saga — a production primarily based in Moab, Utah, which is hours away from MacPhail’s hometown. “I filmed Roswell Delirium in Burbank, which was really close to where I live, so it didn’t feel that different and it didn’t feel like I was in a whole new environment. But in Utah, I was just like ‘Wow. I am here filming a movie, it’s really crazy.’” MacPhail found herself navigating an entirely different location because of Horizon. She recounts how a squall would often blow in and the cast would have to take cover in vans as the set was whipped away by the wind. “[It was] kind of chaotic, but also super fun looking back — for me, at least.”

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Directed by prolific filmmaker Kevin Costner, Horizon was released earlier this year on June 28. The film is the first of four interconnected historical fiction retellings of the settlement of the American West, spanning a twelve year period before and after the Civil War. Horizon also features seasoned actors like Sam Worthington, Jamie Campbell Bower, Isabelle Fuhrman, and Luke Wilson. For a young actor like MacPhail, a star-studded cast like that could easily breed intimidation. She was fortunate enough to avoid any nerves. “I only had a week between booking the role and having to be there for my first day on set, so I didn’t really know who anyone was going into it, which was probably good because I wasn’t too nervous.” 

MacPhail was, however, eager to learn from the older actors around her, who had a wealth of career experience. She witnessed how they each used the script as a guide, but made creative choices to make their characters more dimensional. MacPhail came to understand that “the character doesn’t start in the movie,” as the actors’ intuition also contributed to Horizon’s effectual storytelling, rather than material explicitly tied to the script. “It’s really important for each character to have their own depth and their own backstory before the movie even starts,” she says. “I like to first begin with that and ask why the character is who they are and why the character behaves the way they do. It really helps me shape who I’m going to be portraying and express that.”

In Horizon, MacPhail plays Elizabeth Kittredge, the daughter of Frances Kittredge (Sienna Miller), and a young pioneer forced to grow up rapidly in response to tragedy and survival in the 1860s. Elizabeth’s resilience is a product of the brutal realities of the time, and MacPhail is inspired by that dynamic. “Going forward, I want to continue playing the more Elizabeth type characters because she’s so strong and she’s kind of — I don’t know if I can say badass — but she’s such a cool hero character. I love the way that she has overcome her struggles and comes out so strong. She’s being shaped into a stronger and more mature person for her family from all the trauma that she’s been through. It would be really cool to continue on that path. Those strong, super hero, badass characters.”

With a similar sense of bravery and boldness like Elizabeth, MacPhail is most proud of performing her own stunts from her time filming Horizon. “The stunts were insane. I was buried underground and breathing through the barrel of a gun, which is seen in the trailer. That is pretty much all real. There was a really long dirt tunnel that I had to crawl through on all fours, and there was a hole in the middle of Utah that I had to be underground in with Sienna. It was all scary, but it was also really cool.”

Miller proved to be an inspiring mentor, especially as she guided MacPhail through the stunts in many of the scenes they shared together. “Sienna is the most amazing actress,” MacPhail says. “She was phenomenal. I was always taking pointers from her and trying to be as good as she was. She was always my role model. When I was doing really cool stunts, she was always there with me. When we were buried under ground — you’ll see that soon — we were both under there, and we were both going through it. She was walking me through it, so it always felt like I had someone.”

Even though it was MacPhail’s first time trying out her own stunts, she is enthusiastically seeking out similar opportunities in future films. “One of the projects that I’d really want to work on would be a really cool action movie — like a superhero movie. I could do my own stunts Tom Cruise-style. It would be really fun.” But regardless of her established interest in stunt work and fast-paced action flicks, MacPhail has no intention of limiting herself. She’s already tackled horror, science-fiction, and most recently, a western period piece. “I really want to try and explore all genres,” she says. “I want to see where my passion lies and pave my path for my career.”

Before saying goodbye, MacPhail shared one of the many lessons she learned while  on the set of Horizon. “A wise person once told me that in acting there are going to be a lot of ups and downs,” she says. “It’s so unpredictable. You could think that you’ll never work again, but then that next opportunity will come and you’ll say oh, I never should’ve doubted myself. You always have to be prepared to think that you’re never going to work again, but if you’re working hard enough and you love it enough, the next opportunity is going to come your way.”

Photography IRENE CHEN

Fashion VANESSA POWELL

Hair SAMM CASTRO

Makeup SAMANTHA HALL

Words ADELE RUDNICK

Copy Editor SAMANTHA MARQUEZ

Fashion Assistant EMILIE MACIAS

Retouch VALERIA MANOUILENKO

Special thanks to IMPRINT PR

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