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