Introducing Harry Macqueen: Inside the life of the first-time director taking the independent film world by storm

From butcher and barman to Raindance hopeful, we chart the journey of Harry Macqueen

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The Independent Online

If you prefer subtle, relatable stories based on real lives to fantastical box office hits, then rising director and actor Harry Macqueen should be on your radar.

In fact, were Andrea Arnold and Peter Strickland to hypothetically procreate, they might create a child like Macqueen - someone with a similar penchant for social realism, beautiful, ragged landscapes, complex, dissatisfied characters and a love of subtle, often unspoken emotion. His uniqueness is perhaps his softness.

Hinterland, his debut film which he directed, wrote and stars in, is premiering at indie cinema mecca Raindance Film Festival which kicks off in September.

Shot using just £10,000 in desolate Cornwall, Hinterland focuses on two friends who go on a road trip in what is essentially a tender story about love, friendship and the period in your twenties when many feel lost; a no man’s land in between starting your first job and maybe realising that it wasn’t what you'd hoped.

A still from Macqueen's directorial debut, Hinterland

Although still a relative secret, it’s already amassed an industry buzz among film festivals (Macqueen turned down several offers before deciding on Raindance) and distributors; his debut screening was oversold.

Director Andrea Arnold herself – whose naturalistic, stripped back influence is apparent throughout the film – gave Macqueen the personal kick he needed to start the project and he spent the next year sleeping on sofas and also in a shed to make the film come together.

He is soon to be a favourite among the indie film circles if immediate reception is anything to go by, but how did he get there? In what is his first big interview, we meet the man behind the hype – from butcher and barman to Raindance success story.


He was kidnapped when he was nine…

His parents pulled over at a petrol station and got out the car leaving Macqueen on his own very briefly. A stranger got in the car, not knowing that he was still in the backseat. Eventually he was dumped by a council estate and told to run off. A friendly couple found him and he was returned to his parents, who had already alerted the police.

He hails from Leicester, but is based in London…

Although not a complete city boy, it's unlikely that Macqueen will move to the Home Counties any time soon. “Suddenly, you realise that Nigel Farage is very popular in those places and it becomes a scary reality.”

His older sisters used to dress him up in dresses…

Macqueen was very young at the time and he doesn't wear women's clothes now, but his twin sisters, who are nine years older than him, used to entertain themselves by dressing up their little brother. “The amount of photos there are of me in girls dresses is staggering, to be honest.”

Folk singer Lori Campbell who makes her acting debut in Hinterland

He has worked as a butcher, chef, usher, barman and usher…

“I can make you a good coffee, slice you a good piece of meat and cook you a half decent meal, but none of that's directly relevant. I've always thought that meeting people is the most important thing and meeting people from all different walks of life - that's a million different characters right there. It gives you context to feed into other roles. Or maybe I'm just trying to justify working in a coffee shop for £3.50 an hour.”

But he is an actor first and foremost…

Macqueen trained as an actor at the Central School of Speech and Drama, and appeared in a mix of television shows (including Eastenders) and films, such as Me and Orson Welles. He has no formal filmmaking qualifications and decided to create Hinterland as a way of expanding his repertoire and filling in the gaps between jobs. “Acting is wonderful when you're in it, but so depressing when you're not,” he said. “It can be quite frustrating and disempowering - you have to be given permission to work. Creating the film was about taking some of that control back.”

He spent a month on the Isle of Man with Zac Efron…

The pair acted together in Me and Orson Welles. “He's actually a really humble guy. Everyone thought he'd play the superstar, but he was just quite nice and just there to do his job.”


Andrea Arnold told Macqueen to make Hinterland

As far as motivations go, they don't get much better as a young filmmaker than being told by an Oscar-winning director that you're prospective film is a good idea. Macqueen was living next door to Arnold, who advised him to make the film. “I was standing there chatting on her doorstep one day and was unsure whether to go ahead with the film and she said 'Well, I think you've got to. Jump and the bridge will find you. When someone like that tells you do something, you have to really. The director, Peter Strickland, was also very supportive too.”

He lived in a friend's shed for a year while he made it…

Macqueen inherited £10,000 from his late father and he decided to use the money to make his first film. A modest amount in terms of filmmaking, he was forced to be economical in how he spent the cash. He spent the entire year sleeping on friend's floors, eventually being upgraded to a shed. “I'd wake in the morning and think that's right, 'I'm still here in this shed, listening to foxes shagging all night.'”


He's not a film snob…

“I watched Four Weddings and a Funeral the other say and loved it, it's brilliantly written, scripted and mostly well-acted. Although you do have a duty to inform people when making films, they can be entertaining too. They should be both.”

Sports really isn't his forte…

He used to play cricket, but latest sporting efforts were prematurely ended last year, after he was invited to play for a cricket team in Peckham. Just 10 minutes into the game, a ball hit his thumb and broke it - cue a swift trip to A&E and a minor operation. “I still can't move my right thumb, the joint doesn't work. I had to teach myself to write again,” he laughed. “So there'll be no more cricket for me.”

Next up is a political role…

Well, of sorts. Macqueen plays Archibald Sinclair in Christian McKay’s Winston Churchill film, although its release date is still to be confirmed. “I don't think I'll ever want to give up acting for directing - the two are mutually inclusive I think.”