From the role of Young Murron in Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning Braveheart to in-demand lead in a huge range of features and shorts, Mhairi Calvey‘s career has come a long way in the last 25 years.
As an actor, she has some exciting feature films on the way, and is also writing and directing her own hard-hitting short film about an abusive relationship.
She kindly took some time out to talk to me about her memories of being fed donuts by Mel Gibson, how she now resists chocolate, and why she feels it is time to make a film exploring domestic abuse.
Your film debut came at the age of five in the Oscar-winning Braveheart. What an incredible experience that must have been. Do you have many memories of that, or were you too young to take it in?
I still have a lot of memories of my experience on set and being directed by Mel Gibson. I remember filming on location with the other cast and picking the thistle which was plastic and really hard to pull off. I rehearsed my scenes with Mel Gibson before filming and he would carry me around the set and feed me donuts in his director’s chair.
It was 15 years or more until your next film credit, but there was a lot going on in those years – your education, including acting school, and stage work. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I had a few Hollywood film offers after that but my mum took advice from a top casting director who said not to go into the world of child stardom and that I would be more protected going back into the industry as an adult. I was lucky in many ways because I was introduced to the profession I loved but I was protected and I got to have a normal childhood. While I was in school I did lots of theatre work in Yorkshire and was part of a theatre company after which I then went to study at drama school for three years in London.
Since you graduated from Guildford School of Acting, you’ve been incredibly busy – feature films, shorts, TV series. Which have been the most memorable or special projects for you so far?
I think one of my favourite projects was a feature film called 3 Lives. I spent the summer filming on location in Germany. We had such bad weather, it rained the whole time. The equipment would sink into the ground and we would be running through a river doing chase scenes. It was very intense, all the cast and crew were living together and we were in the middle of nowhere in the Harz Mountains cut off from the outside world. It was The Revenant meets The Shining. It was such an intense experience and we all became really close friends from it. It was one of the hardest films I’ve done but I loved the challenge.
You now combine acting with modelling. How did the modelling come about, and which do you prefer, acting or modelling?
I am much more of an actor than a model. I love acting, it’s my passion and definitely my favourite. I don’t really want to be seen as a model. I think most actors do a bit of modelling on the side. Someone advised me that I should do a bit of it which is a lovely compliment so I work on very select shoots and work with designers whose work I am passionate about.
Your screen appearances are very wide-ranging, from scifi and horror to some very gritty social dramas. I’m thinking of Alan, in which you play an abusive mother, and you’re writing and directing your own short film about domestic abuse. It’s a challenging subject to deal with. Can you tell us a bit about this project and why it matters to you?
I have always aimed to play a wide variation of roles. I don’t want to get stuck playing the same sort of characters again and again. I’m lucky now that I get cast in such varied projects and always have a new fresh challenge and chance to push my skills. That’s always something I aimed for. I want to work on projects I’m passionate about. Alan really pushed me and the director took a big risk casting me completely against type. It was a tough subject to research and took us to some dark places but it’s important to help shed light on abuse.
This is what has led me to my own short film about domestic abuse. There has never really been anything made on emotional or psychological abuse before so my film centres on those topics but also includes physical abuse. I have known a lot of people who have suffered and I attended support groups to learn more. It’s something that happens to one in every two women and one in every four men, yet we never really hear about it. I really want to educate people on the signs and how to get out of an abusive relationship.
Many of your acting roles, and certainly your modelling, means you have to keep in top shape physically, and you’re also a martial artist – as we can see from some of the fight scenes you’ve been involved in. How do you stay in such great condition?
Well, I try my best. I do my Krav Maga martial arts fight training once a week on a Monday for a couple of hours. Then on Wednesday, Friday and Saturdays I do cardio and on Tuesdays and Thursdays I do yoga. I get up early in the morning and do my fitness before I start my day. I also eat a balanced diet and just before I shoot where I need to look my best I will eat completely clean. No sugars or alcohol. I don’t really drink but I love chocolate so it can be really hard. I allow myself to enjoy the occasional treat too but I try and stay disciplined which isn’t always easy but I have a great personal trainer Roddy MacEwan who keeps me focused and on track.
You seem to be in constant demand, and you have some very exciting features in post-production – you’ve mentioned 3 Lives, but there’s also Robert The Bruce. What can you tell us about that?
Thank you, I am very grateful for getting regular work. It takes a while to build that after graduating drama school. I hope it continues and I love to keep busy so I hope to start doing more back-to-back jobs. I filmed Robert The Bruce in Skye. It’s not a sequel to Braveheart although a lot of people think it might be. Angus [Macfadyen] is still playing Robert but this movie is a film on its own right. Angus and Richard [Gray, the director] approached me about doing a cameo in the film and I couldn’t resist. I loved Richie’s previous films and wanted a chance to be on screen with Angus. Plus I got to wear some wonderful costumes, film in a castle and be a part of another epic Scottish film which was so much fun. 3 Lives is very different, I play the lead alongside two very well known European actors Tyron Ricketts and Martin Kaps. It’s a very action-packed survival thriller set in the present day. Both films will hopefully be out later this year .
On top of those two, you’ve recently been cast in two more feature films. Can you tell us anything about those, and any other projects we can look forward to seeing you in?
I can only mention a little bit about both projects as I’m not allowed to give too much away. One is called Lyra’s Wish, it’s a Christmas family movie with a brilliant script. Juliane [Block], who directed me in 3 Lives, is doing it and we jumped at the chance to film together again. Plus I love Christmas so it will be nice to do a movie set then. The other is Fear The Invisible Man which is the project I am most excited about. I’m playing the female lead and it’s a big period drama piece which has some romance and action scenes included. It’s one of the best scripts I’ve ever read and we are all so excited about making it happen. I can’t wait to share more soon on both these productions.
Film stills above from Horizon, Alan, and 3 Lives; red carpet pic from London Film Critic Circle Awards 2018; swimsuit modelling shoot by Paul Dudbridge.
If you enjoyed this post on Mhairi, you may also like these previous interviews with Johanna Rae, Ryan Ralph Gerrard, Samantha Schnitzler, Kate Davies-Speak, Antonia Tootill, Francesca Louise White, and Dawn Noel.
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