Meet Leila George, a Hollywood Royal Emerging as a Star in The Kid

For rising star Leila George, acting was just a matter of destiny.

Photograph by Jeff Henrikson; Styled by Emma Wyman.

“My secret desire is to be the most talented, interesting person in the world,” says Leila George. “I want to master krav maga and sew fantastic ballgowns. I want to bake perfect macarons and tap dance. I want to be at a party and have someone ask, ‘Can you do a backflip?’ And then do it and everyone will be like, ‘Myyy gosh!”

For the time being, however, the Australian-born, English=bred 26-year-old is focusing her wide-ranging ambition on acting—and it seems to be paying off. George starred as Katherine Valentine, a post-apocalyptic socialite in Mortal Engines, the Peter Jackson-produced sci-fi extravaganza that hit theaters this past December. It was her first major big screen role—“I still remember exactly where I was when I got the call that I landed it,” says George—but, as the daughter of actors Greta Scacchi and Vincent D’Onofrio, she’s hardly unfamiliar with filmmaking. “Growing up, I’d sit on my mum’s sets or my dad’s sets for hours and hours and not get bored,” she says. “That’s always where I wanted to be.”

Initially, however, George was too intimidated by her parents’ success to attempt to follow in their footsteps. “I knew there was a huge chance I’d never achieve what they have,” she says. Instead, she pursued a more behind-the-scenes role, studying assistant directing and editing at Sydney Film School. Her genetic destiny, however, proved impossible to avoid. “When I finished the course all of my friends were continuing on with their film studies at university and I just wasn’t excited about that idea. So I remember calling my dad and saying, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ And he said, ‘What are you most afraid of?’ And I said, ‘Acting maybe?’ And he was like, ‘Well, that’s what you’ve got to do.”

Never one to question her father—“My dad was never the disciplinarian. He was the one who took me to Disney, so in my eyes he could do no wrong”—George soon moved to New York and enrolled at the Lee Strasberg Institute, where D’Onofrio teaches a master class. For George, it was the continuation of a lifelong acting education. “He’s always given me lessons,” she says of her father, “whether it was at home or at school.”

That training continued on set of her latest project, The Kid, a D’Onofrio-directed retelling of the Billy the Kid story that’s in theaters now. The film centers on a boy called Rio (Jake Schur) who forms an alliance with the legendary Wild West outlaw (Dane DeHaan) and a local sheriff (Ethan Hawke) in a quest to rescue his sister Sara, played by George, from kidnappers. “Working with my dad was a dream come true,” she says. “In most cases, you go into the family business and you start working at your dad’s company or your mum’s company—you know you’re going to be working alongside them. In this industry you never know. So I feel really extremely lucky that we managed to do it together. The stars had to align.”

And it’s not the first time that’s happened. In 2014, after leaving Strasberg, she played Nina to Scacchi’s Arkadina in an Australian production of The Seagull. “It’s something of a tradition in acting families,” she points out, noting that Blythe Danner and Gwyneth Paltrow as well as Vanessa Redgrave and Natasha Richardson have occupied the same roles. In her quest for movie stardom, that’s a good omen, though—having witnessed the fickle nature of Hollywood her whole life, she’s not about to stop cooking up back-up plans. “If this whole acting thing doesn’t work,” she shrugs, “I can always open a bakery.”

Leila George wears a Gucci dress

Photograph by Jeff Henrikson; Styled by Emma Wyman. Hair by Dylan Chavles for Oribe at Art Department; Makeup by John McKay for Koh Gen Do at Frank Reps; Manicure by Mimi D at Celestine Agency; Producer: Claire Donoghue; Photography Assistants: James Bailey, Jeremy Jackson; Fashion Assistant: Marcus Cuffie; Production Assistant: Brendon Schaufert.