V Girls: Leila George Nominated by Ethan Hawke
From Chekhov to Peter Jackson’s Mortal Engines, this Aussie is leaning into her acting destiny.
In Mortal Engines, Peter Jackson’s recent adaptation of the YA classic by Philip Reeve, cities become moveable machines that “eat” other cities. While not quite as daunting as a cannibalistic metropolis, the set of the film was somewhat intimidating for Leila George. “It was the biggest thing that I’d ever done,” says the Sydney, Australia native, who traveled to New Zealand to play the part of Katherine Valentine, a socialite whose father oversees the “digestion” of a small English town. “It was completely unbelievable as it was happening. You’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I now have to be as good as this all looks.’”
The scale would’ve been jarring for actors of any seniority level, but it was only George’s fourth credit. To her relief, she found plenty of support in the film’s outsize crew. “The talent of their art department over there in New Zealand is mind-blowing. A job like this is all about a huge team working together to create a fantasy and doing justice to the books,” she says.
Despite her far-flung origins (George was born Down Under but mainly raised in Brighton, U.K.) she is no stranger to film and television sets. Her dad Vincent D’Onofrio, after all, spent years as Detective Robert Goren on Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
“I loved being on set,” George says. “I remember my dad was doing Law & Order for 10 years, and they would give me a walkie, and I would go around pretending I was a PA.” She even worked behind-the-scenes for a time, attending film school in Australia and learning casting, camera work, and post-production.
While resistant to following in her parents’ footsteps (her mother is actress Greta Scacchi) George inched towards acting, appearing in student films. “I didn’t want to admit that I wanted to act, because my parents are such fucking inspirations to me, and it’s such a difficult career path, and they were so lucky. I didn’t think that there was a possibility, and I didn’t want to get into something that I knew I wouldn’t reach their level. I was aware, growing up in the industry, of how difficult it is,” she says.
But after film school, while visiting her dad at the Strasberg Institute where he was teaching a class, George finally relented. She ended up staying at the Institute for two-and-a-half years, later acting alongside her mother in Chekhov’s The Seagull in Perth.
After that successful theatrical run, George then gave it a go in Los Angeles, where she subsidized her acting career as a waitress at a small restaurant in Santa Monica. “I started working in restaurants at 16,” she says. “I have this annoying chip on my shoulder about making it on my own, and doing this all myself. I have this Universal movie coming out, and I’m about to go on this press tour, but I’m working five days a week at this café. [My parents] have offered me help when I need it, but I have this weird anxiety about people thinking I’ve been handed things.”
Next up for George is The Kid, a take on the story of Billy the Kid, directed by her father, due to hit theaters in May. “There’s no one that I will ever feel more relaxed around when I’m acting, and there’s no one that I will ever trust more to bring out a good performance or take risks,” she says of D’Onofrio. “It was the experience of a lifetime.”