George Webster: "For me, it’s (grounding) about understanding that there are so many unexplored things, even in the physical world. That curiosity is needed, I think that needs to be drawn out of us more."
Alice Gee | 11/10/2022
Sat against a tree in Victoria Park, George webster lets me in on the memories of the moments that contributed in one shape or another to the path he walks today.
“I was always obsessed with action figures when I was a kid. I had every WWE action figure you could think of, every Star Wars and Lord of the Rings figure. Playing with them as a kid, it got to the point where there were multiple storylines, across multiple things going on in all of these different worlds.”
I ask whether those worlds as a young boy gave him the direction he was looking for as a child. “I’d say my imagination was integral to me growing up, it made me want to be a director. That was suggested to me when I was about eight as I set up my little scenes. To me, it sounded great. From that age onwards, I decided that’s what I was going to do”. He jokingly tells me how math’s got left at the wayside as I wonder whether acting was part of the package in discovering his passion for film. “I started to follow other routes for quite a long time until I discovered I was denying that I was an actor. When I look back at playing with the action figures, I had 50 different accents going up in my head, so I guess it was kind of obvious. I was internalizing what I actually felt.”
I resonate, having spent what feels like the entirety of my early teenage years on The Sims with various storylines. Two years after making his debut in television, many will recall George stepping into the role of William of Orange for the critically acclaimed Versailles. As a massive lover of period drama, I remember being fascinated by the series, wishing that I could step into costume. George is quick to mark the series as one of his first legitimate gigs, as I curiously ask about the set locations and what it was like stepping into such a large and highly anticipated production.
“It was a strange one because I was playing William of Orange, who was only in series One at the time, so I thought that was it. And at that time, I could accept that it was the right scale for the role size I should be doing. I mean I got to go to France and film. When you get there, you get to see the scale of it. It was my first time in the studio, so seeing behind the scenes of films and TV shows was something special. It was a bit overwhelming in that sense. When I returned for season Two, it was all on location. I didn’t film anything in the studio. They were in these old monasteries. I believe they even allowed the series to film at Versailles in the Hall of Mirrors, which was one of the only productions allowed to then. Being intertwined within the history of a place was such an honor.” And as for the costumes, I fawned over, “they were incredible. Still, in all honesty, all the women who had to wear corsets, were barely breathing on set” ok, so maybe I’d try them on briefly I declare to George.
Having spoken about what must have been breathtaking locations on the set of Versailles I’m interested in what George prefers: either being on stage or in the studio.
“That’s a good question. I think both have their place. I wouldn’t say I like the cold. I am the worst when it comes it. So when you’re on location, you’ll probably be cold. But saying that, you’re also completely immersed when on location. When I’m on location, especially in period productions, I always try and find a snapshot with my eyes of somewhere where there’s nothing modern, everything completely natural. When I do that, and I’m in period gear, my brain is tricked into thinking I’m in that time, like a time machine, so being on location can be more magical.”
Since Versailles, George has made quite the name for himself, known for the diversity of his roles. “I think if I can keep every day as fresh as possible, I’m happy,” He explained, “As much as I love routine, and I need routine, I also crave the shattering of it. So juggling many things simultaneously when you pick up another role within a year can be quite chaotic. But honestly, I get off on the chaos of it all.”
With Wedding Season premiering within days of our interview, and the excitement surrounding his role in Masters of The Air, I can imagine he’s enjoyed the chaos of playing multiple roles in a short time. As for Masters of The Air, those who haven’t heard the impatient and excited rumblings of a whole industry getting ready for what can only be described as a stunning adaptation filled to the brim with adrenaline and leading actors. It’s going to be quite something, I exclaim to George, who plays Lt. Glenn W. Dye.
“It’s just amazing; no job I’ve ever been on has had the gravitas. We are trying to tell these well-researched stories, so every actor on it was so engrossed in trying to do it justice. When I say how brilliant the cast is, I speak for everyone on set. I find myself just watching them completely engrossed. I never went to drama school or anything like that, so I get better at what I do when I see good people doing it. Watching Austin Butler, Callum Turner, and Barry Keoghan, who are just at the top of their game, and being able to play alongside them is a mad job. This time last year, I managed to get in touch with the pilot who I play co-pilot to, who’s still alive; he must be 98 or something. I found the town and desperately tried to find a way to speak with him. He was incredibly generous with his time and information. It was a complete joy. It was one of those moments that slapped me in the face. A total dream.”
I’d imagine it’s quite the responsibility taking on a true story, yet extremely rewarding being able to do it justice. I ask if the cast felt that awareness?
“Awareness is the absolute right word for it. Because when I was playing William of Orange, he died like 300 years ago. But when you’re doing research and the characters are alive or have recently passed, I think the trick is to not see them as historical characters. That absolutely translated into Masters of The Air. I can’t think of another event that was so horrific, in just the sense of what these guys were asked to do on like a daily basis. It was madness; they had the courage and strength to go on these missions that were essentially suicide. So there was an awareness that we needed to do these guys justice. Every single person on the crew knew that. And I think that’s at the heart of the show.”
Speaking of the gravitas a role can have on you, it’s impossible for me not to bring up his first feature film, which he directed at the tender age of 22, and the experience of being in complete creative control.
“It’s not very good.” He jumps into saying, as I quickly dispute that that’s being rather harsh.
“It’s the naivety of youth, especially at that time. There was no other route. I didn’t want to go to film school, not that I could afford film school. So I started a tiny little Kickstarter campaign. We shot this film over two weeks for about four grand. I had an amazing team of local filmmakers from Brighton that absolutely facilitated it. I met Jamie Patterson, who went on to do amazing things, and who I’ve worked with again and again. He produced my feature back in the day. We did it out of pure love, so it didn’t matter how shit it might turn out to be. Anything done with love and passion has merit, and I think that’s something I need to remember.”
I agree firmly, making a big deal of the fact he funded the project from a Kickstarter campaign, which is not easy and gives me nightmares, but also the dedication shown in full in his early twenties for something he loves. On being kinder to himself, I wanted to ask how he puts that into practice, putting his well-being and mental health first.
“It’s a funny time for me to do this interview because I’m in the depths of a lot of stuff going on in my personal life. So I am in the grips of trying to stay afloat. So for things that help me, I think there are two things. One of them is looking to our elders, like a parent or a mentor, or even literally a fictional person, somebody to aspire to be. I am constantly looking at Alan Watts, insights and philosophies, Marcus Aurelius, stoic philosophy and things that are higher than me, and people with more experience than me and listening to what they say. And the other one that I think has helped me weather the storm is having at least some kind of metaphysical concept of reality itself. I don’t subscribe to any religions, but I’m curious about this whole thing. I think I’ve been quite conscious of that from a young age feeling like nobody really knows what they’re doing. I always think about when people tell me, ‘when you die, the light just goes off,’ and that’s it, which for me, is not helpful. We do it constantly in the west, this idea that you’re just a meat sack running around this mad world trying to figure it out and be happy. The fact we are told you should go to work and have a holiday for two weeks of the year before you go and die is incredibly unhelpful. So having a curiosity to go and explore those things, I think, is exactly what I’m doing right now. Looking into these concepts makes me feel this big, but simultaneously helps me feel part of the universe.”
It’s interesting to me as someone who often looks for more established roots for stability. I wonder if I may find more grounding in his approach.
“For me, it’s about understanding that there are so many unexplored things, even in the physical world. That curiosity is needed, I think that needs to be drawn out of us more.”
I take from the last moments of the interview the importance of curiosity and exploration, and how If we stop curbing it, we may be more at peace with the moments we find ourselves in. George firmly believes it applies to mental health, and perhaps he’s onto something when it comes to letting go and exploring them. And as for his recent and upcoming roles, they’re not to be missed, with him set to impress with such poignant stories.
Words: Alice Gee