Angus Macfadyen, ‘Unhinged’ in Virginia

Angus Macfadyen as the modern-day Macbeth, inside the stretch limo that is the setting for much of his directorial debut, "Macbeth Unhinged," premiering April 9 at The Film Festival at Little Washington.
Angus Macfadyen as the modern-day Macbeth, inside the stretch limo that is the setting for much of his directorial debut, “Macbeth Unhinged,” premiering April 9 at The Film Festival at Little Washington.

Scottish-born actor Angus Macfadyen says he started down the road to playing Shakespeare’s fatally crazed king mostly to keep from going insane himself.

Before you add “oddly enough” to that sentence, you’ll need to reacquaint yourself with the many film performances by Macfadyen. This starts long before he decided to write, act and make his directing debut in his newest feature film, “Macbeth Unhinged” — back to 1995, with his initial rise into the global spotlight as a conflicted Robert the Bruce in Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning “Braveheart.”

There’s always been something roiling beneath the surface and behind the piercing blue eyes of Macfadyen.

“I came up with the [‘Macbeth’] idea in my first year of shooting,” Macfadyen says, speaking by phone from Switzerland last week, and referring to AMC’s “Turn: Washington’s Spies,” the Revolutionary-era series now in its third season, in which Macfadyen has a recurring role as the coolly fierce mercenary Robert Rogers.

There’s always been something roiling beneath the surface and behind the piercing blue eyes of Angus Macfadyen.

Billeted with the cast and crew in Richmond in 2014, Macfadyen says, “I had a little too much time on my hands, and basically decided I had to do something in my second year to fill my time. I thought I’d do something with the actors there, around the streets where I was living . . . and I tried to figure out the cheapest way, and came up with the stretch limousine — and it just worked.”

Thus “Macbeth Unhinged” is shot primarily inside a vintage black Lincoln stretch limo, in and around Richmond, and in vintage black and white.

It has its world premiere at the second annual Film Festival at Little Washington, the Rappahannock Association for Arts and Community-sponsored event on April 8-10.

The cast includes several of Macfadyen’s fellow cast members from “Turn,” most notably Taylor Roberts as Lady Macbeth and Kevin McNally, his 18th-century sideburns intact, as Duncan.

And the crew is largely made up of film students from Virginia Commonwealth University, VCU’s cinema program having signed on early to co-produce the film with Macfadyen.

Thus surrounded by film students, Macfadyen, 53, isn’t sure how instructive the fast-paced production — with a budget of just $600,000 — turned out to be for the VCU’s young crew.

“There wasn’t much time to teach,” Macfadyen says. “We shot on weekends. They all had very busy schedules. We had basically eight-hour days, and I think they were a little in shock after the first weekend.”

Up until then, he says, the students “had worked on short films. Really, I was shooting as fast as I could, in order to get everything I needed. On the first day, I had to start shooting the speeches inside the car, in one direction. The next day, I turned around and shot all the speeches in the other direction.”

“Nobody really knew what the hell was going on,” Macfadyen says. “I think they all thought I was completely mad, off my head.”

That said, though, he adds: “I’m very pleased with it — considering we shot it in 11 days. I think it’s pretty darn good.”

Macfadyen says he would consider more directing efforts — but isn’t sure he’d want to also act at the same time again (“As an actor, you always want someone to be pushing you, to be helping you out . . .”). Nor is he sure he’d want to direct anything other than projects, like “Macbeth,” that are dear to his heart.

“It’s such a time-consuming process, directing,” he says. “I don’t see the point of being for hire. It’s got to be some kind of personal expression. Not sure I’d give the job its due otherwise, I’d just get lazy.

“When you’re doing something that’s inside you, it’s never good enough,” he says. “You end up not taking ‘no’ for an answer. And when you don’t, ‘no’ eventually becomes ‘yes.’ ”

Over the course of his career, Macfadyen has appeared in dozens of feature films and television shows. He’s one of the few actors who can claim to have played Orson Welles. a directing role model, Macfadyen has said, whose influence is evident in the lush, Terrence-Malick-meets-“Scarface” vibe of “Macbeth Unhinged.” He’s also played Richard Burton, Zeus and Adolf Hitler — or a character convinced he was Adolf Hitler, anyway.

Macfadyen, in other words, has more often said “yes” than “no.” (In his first appearance as Robert Rogers in “Turn,” for instance, he speaks over his shoulder, standing somewhat apart from his troops at camp, turned away from the camera — obviously relieving himself of a full bladder.)

“I think maybe when I was younger, I . . . well, there definitely was that anarchic energy that comes with youth, where you just want to throw rocks and colors at the canvas, and go crazy. I think I’ve settled a little in my later years.

“But I definitely do . . . I don’t like playing lawyers or doctors, or, you know, FBI agents — anybody in a suit. I’ve tried to avoid that in my life, and I certainly didn’t want to get onto a TV show where I’d have to wear a suit for five years . . . .

“But I think I do, in a sense, enjoy the freedom.”

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