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MCGREGOR, EWAN: STAR WARS, PHANTOM MENACE

OBI-EWAN PLAYS WITH HIS OWN LIGHT SABRE!
Speaking to Paul Fischer, Ewan McGregor, who stars as Obi Wan Kenobi, admits to the ups and downs of playing with his own light sabre in the prelude to Star Wars, to extinguishing the glamour of a heroine addict in Trainspotting - as well as his own attitudes towards Hollywood.

What do Ewan McGregor and little-known Scottish actor Dennis Lawson have in common? They both hail from the Scottish village of Crieff, they're related (nephew and uncle respectively); they both left for London to begin their acting careers, and one other thing - one was in all Star Wars films [as a character called Wedge] the other is to be in the next, and there's no stopping McGregor's childlike delight about his participation in what has emerged as such a cultural phenomenon.

"Every day I'd take a deep breath and have what I call a Star Wars moment."

"I mean, it might not be rewarding in terms of acting but it's Star Wars for God's sake, and every day I'd take a deep breath and have what I call a Star Wars moment." The ebullient 26-year pauses, puffs on his cigarette, and with New York's Manhattan skyline glimmering in the background, the child within laughs hysterically as he remembers "that I got to play with my own friggin’ light sabre; can you imagine?"

The film in question, is of course the year's most anticipated film: Star Wars, Episode One, The Phantom Menace. In Episode I, Luke Skywalker's father is just a hopeful 9-year-old boy named Anakin, who knows nothing of his eventual fate as a Dark Lord in years to come. In this earlier time, Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) is a determined young Jedi Knight. Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) is Obi-Wan's venerable Jedi master, trying to teach the Jedi way to his apprentice as their world begins to unravel in political turmoil. The effusive McGregor assures us that "Episode I will take audiences through extraordinary realms and adventures", from the desert planet of Tatooine to the galactic capital world of Coruscant (with its Jedi Temple), the green world of Naboo, and beyond. This first chapter in the Star Wars saga follows young Anakin Skywalker's journey as he pursues his dreams and confronts his fears in the midst of a galaxy in crisis.

Shooting the lengthy Phantom Menace on location in Tunisia, the very Scottish McGregor had to find the younger Guinness persona, which was no mean task. "I watched a lot of Guinness stuff and became very fond of his acting. I worked primarily on his voice, trying to get it right. What was fascinating about that, was taking an old man's voice and youthening it, yet as I discovered, the voice in fact doesn't age very much. So what I was using, was a voice that I knew was an old man's voice as a young man; whether it works or not I won't know till I see the damn thing." Indeed, McGregor sighs, "after a three and a half month shoot, there was a further 18 months of post-production to go. Quite amazing."

"After my initial excitement, the filmmaking process turned out to be the epitome of tedium,"

Though excited to be a part of American pop culture at its most extreme, doing Phantom Menace was not all fun and games - from an acting perspective, it was not exactly soul-wrenching. "What bothered me most was that everything was so deliberate. There was no spontaneity. Your job, as an actor, was just to get it out. I was frowning a lot. It just became a frowning exercise," he admitted. "After my initial excitement, the filmmaking process turned out to be the epitome of tedium," he said. "The work was so complex with all the special effects and stuff that I found myself hanging around for days."

Young Ewan was nothing but a wee lad in the tiny Scottish village of Crieff where he grew up, when Star Wars first made its galactic appearance in his neighbourhood cinema. McGregor recalls he "wanted to be an actor from age nine, " possibly to resemble his now famous uncle Dennis "who'd come up from London with all his fancy costumes." Ewan was born March 31, 1971. He had a poster of Elvis Presley on his wall, and used to saunter around imagining he was Elvis. But when he became a teenager, he changed heroes---to Billy Idol. He'd spike his hair before going to school, listening to "White Wedding" and "Rebel Yell." He even played drums in a band, the Scarlet Pride, with red paint in his hair and bandannas knotted around his knees.

As well as music, McGregor had this perennially youthful fascination with the idea of cinematic make-believe and was beguiled by the world of Hollywood cinema "and those classic movies from the twenties to the forties. I love them to this day. My biggest regret was that our local cinema disappeared by the time I went to school, because I used to go every Saturday afternoon."

"I tell anyone who broaches that with me, to f… off."

"I just love to act," he says - yet, despite his upcoming incarnation of Obi Wan, McGregor hates Hollywood with a passion - but is continually being asked the proverbial question: When are you moving to LA, which he hates "as if you're not really big until you're big there, so I tell anyone who broaches that with me, to f… off." He often talks candidly about his animosity towards that city, but these days he tries to be more careful. "I forget when I'm talking like this that it's going to be written down and read by thousands of people. I'm always rude about people and I slag off Hollywood really badly." Ewan hasn't run screaming from the prospect of American stardom, but neither has he courted it; he lives eight time zones away from Beverly Hills, doesn't have a publicist, and, as he points out, rarely passes up the chance to slag off Hollywood as a cultural desert.

Now, as the world awaits The Phantom Menace, McGregor has to prepare for next major swag of interviews for the film's release in a cinema not too far, far away, after all this time since shooting the movie, to all those eager journos? "I guess I'll repeat what Guinness said about doing the films: 'There's really not any psychological depth to this character; I basically just say the words and hope that the backgrounds are there and are right.'"

(This is a revised version of the interview previously published on Urban Cinefile.)

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