Warning: This article contains spoilers about 1917.
Favored by many to win Best Picture at the Oscars on Sunday, it would be the cherry on top of what has been a thrilling season for the World War I technical feat. Thursday night, at Universal’s pre-Oscar shindig at Spago in Beverly Hills, the film’s two stars, George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, emerged from the trenches of awards season to chat with EW about how audiences should feel at the film’s conclusion, what their craziest awards season experience has been thus far, and who they’re hoping to meet on Sunday.
The film’s ending is a sobering one — in some senses, it’s hopeful with Lance Corporal Schofield (MacKay) completing his mission and getting to pass on the news of Lance Corporal Blake’s (Chapman) death to his brother (Richard Madden). But given Blake’s shocking death and the loss of many other lives, it also feels a bit futile. Both Chapman and MacKay feel the ending nails the emotional balance between those two extremes.
“It’s very true of life,” reflects MacKay. “There’s something I found quite peaceful in it — it’s that life just goes on. It’s hopeful because he’s made it through. But it’s also tragic given what the circumstance is, but life just keeps moving. As the film does. It picks up on the move and it ends on the move. And the second after the screen goes black, life will continue. That was quite a peaceful way to end the process of the film actually, to go with that understanding.”
Chapman, whose character doesn’t make it to that final shot, describes the ending as “emotional,” saying, “That moment when he pulls out the picture of his family, it just reminds that you the war is still going on for another year and Schofield might be Blake. He might not survive. He might not come back to his family and that just represents the men who fought in the war, always missing home, always dreaming of just being back safe in England.”
For them, it’s been a crazy awards season, with Chapman noting that the only break they’ve had since the film premiered in the U.K. in November was for Christmas. He says the Golden Globes were a double whammy of surreal moments for him. “I wasn’t expecting us to win only because at that time, the film hadn’t come out yet, so for some reason, I just didn’t think we’d win,” he marvels. “That moment when they said 1917 was really surreal. [Then, it was crazy] meeting Pierce Brosnan on the carpet at the Golden Globes because I love Pierce Brosnan. He’s James Bond. As a kid, I used to really look up to him. He said how much he loved the film, so that was great as well.”
MacKay’s own personal highlight was getting to celebrate their BAFTA wins with much of the crew, who were in attendance. But their run isn’t over yet, and they’re still hoping to create some once-in-a-lifetime memories on Sunday night, perhaps by meeting some of their personal heroes. MacKay, who says he admires the star for his career and his work-life balance, most wants to encounter Tom Hanks, while Chapman is holding out for a couple other Oscar winners.
“I really want to meet Robert De Niro. He’s my favorite actor,” Chapman quips. “Leonardo DiCaprio as well – I’ve seen him at these other events, but I haven’t had the balls to go up and say hello. Sunday, it’s the last go, I’ve got to do it.”
The two actors not only have become fixtures on the awards circuit, but they also had the opportunity to work with director Sam Mendes and renowned cinematographer Roger Deakins, both heavy favorites to win in their categories as well. Given the film’s technical wizardry — it’s designed to look like one single, uninterrupted take from start to finish — the film required a different level of commitment from the two young stars.
“We had to rehearse six months before shooting,” explains Chapman. “So we got to rehearse with Roger, Sam, every department six months prior, so we really got to see a three-dimensional look into every department, which actors don’t really get to see. You step on set, you do your job, and then that’s it. Whereas we got to see this world be built from the ground up. Roger [is] a rock star.”
“All there is a constant curiosity and commitment to the work, so to be around that was a real inspiration,” echoes MacKay.
While the film was designed to look like one long shot, that’s a bit of movie magic. MacKay admits it’s probably even more of a fake-out than people think. “Most people know that it was broken up, but I think most people assume that it was far less shots than it was. They’re like, ‘What, so about three?’ And it’s a bit more than three,” he grins.
But that “bit more than three” could carry them all the way to Oscar gold.