The rain schedules are a matter of national security, movie or not. Thus, on a sunny but cold Saturday afternoon amid an industrial ruin in the city’s East End, actor Angus Macfadyen — a regular in the filmed-in-Richmond AMC Revolutionary War spy series Turn and the Wild West crime-solving series The Pinkertons, shot in Manitoba, Canada — is adjusting the scene while CSX freights grumble along the elevated trestle.
Macfadyen, directing and acting in his adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedyMacbeth, incorporates the train’s massive might and the shadows of the cars grazing across the brown grass into the scene. For this project, he’s using an unusual production company: Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts’ Cinema program.
The End of the Road
Macfadyen portrayed Orson Welles in the 1999 film Cradle Will Rock, and counts him and John Cassavetes as directing role models. Welles himself once remarked that a film director is one who presides over accidents, and a film likeMacbeth, made on a budget of less than $600,000 — an amount that some major productions might spend to feed the crew — while conducted at a fast pace, uses a form of naturalistic choreography. What occurs around the busy scrum of the actors and technicians may be threaded into the process, like the 35 mm film running through the camera.
Shooting was conducted during weekends because of the actors’ weekdayTurn schedules. Macbeth’s cast rehearsed prior to filming, so that when the camera rolled, little time or film was wasted. Macfadyen didn’t want to overwork scenes, either, to allow for a raw, muscled performance.
In thoughtful written responses to questions from Richmond magazine, Macfadyen muses that Welles and Cassavetes “knew how to make a film by rubbing pennies together. They would no doubt approve of a shooting schedule which is two days filming on weekends, and five days off to prepare for the next assault.”
Several of the final scenes are getting shot on this Saturday in mid-January. A ragged cardboard sign, a film prop, indicates “THE END (OF THE ROAD).”
As Macbeth, Macfadyen sings the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech to a jazz-ballad tune. His big voice reverberates off the nearby ruinous brick walls. He later says he didn’t have a particular tune in mind. “I think there was a little West Side Story on ‘ … creeps in this petty pace from day to day.’”
In character, Macfadyen dances a macabre tango-waltz holding the limp body of his redheaded Lady Macbeth, portrayed by Turn colleague Taylor Roberts. Costume and makeup people circle her. Vivid blood is applied to her lips. The actors pace out their movements for the camera. Roberts wears Uggs for this bit, but when the actual shooting commences, the former ballerina, clad in a black slip dress, goes barefoot. After the whirling and dipping, Roberts critiques her performance.
“I don’t think I seemed dead enough.” Macfadyen isn’t troubled. “That’s part of it; we’re wondering, ‘She’s dead, is she dead?’ It’s gruesome.”
Then comes a scene in which Turn colleague Seth Numrich, portraying Macduff, whose family was slain at Macbeth’s command, confronts Macbeth. He pulls a pistol and aims across the roof of the 30-foot-long limousine that serves as the rolling center of the film. The two men roar at each other, in part from the emotion of their meeting, but also due to the train, the rumble as uncompromising as the character Macbeth, its cataract of noise underscoring the scene’s visceral nature.
“This is about Macbeth’s madness,” says Julian Pozzi, another o2f the film’s producers and a VCUarts Cinema instructor. “He’s in his body, he’s outside his body.”
Taylor Roberts is an American actress, poet, blogger and perfumer. CEO of emerging House of LITA, she is known for acting roles such as Rachel Clark on AMC's TURN: Washington's Spies and is currently starring as Lady Macbeth in Macbeth Unhinged.