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McGREGOR, EWAN: A Life Less Ordinary

WHOSE LIFE IS ORDINARY
Speaking exclusively to Paul Fischer in New York, Ewan McGregor admits to the thrill 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 to finding it easy to play lover to Cameron Diaz in A Life Less Ordinary.

What do Ewan McGregor and little-known Scottish actor Dennis Lawson have in common? They both hail from the Scottish village of Crief, 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. "I mean, it might not be rewarding in terms of acting but it's fucking 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 fuckin' light sabre; can you imagine?"

"What was fascinating ... was taking an old man's voice and youthening it," on Star Wars

McGregor had to find the younger Guiness persona; he explains. "I watched a lot of Guiness 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 for a couple of years." Indeed, McGregor sighs, "after a three and a half month shoot, there's a further 18 months of post-production to go. Quite amazing."

"My biggest regret was that our local cinema disappeared by the time I went to school,"

What is equally amazing, is that young Ewan was nothing but a wee lad in that tiny Scottish village of Crief, 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 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 met poncy actors and good actors, and also started learning about the world,"on working back stage in the theatre

Except for his uncle, there were no other actors that hailed from Crief or that McGregor knew during his formative years. His parents were both teachers, [his mother taught learning difficulties, and his dad PE] so it's ironic, that given this sociological background, his parents actually encouraged Ewan to leave school at age 16 in pursuit of his desire to act, so he left home to work with Scotland's Perth Repertory Theatre. He has no regrets about leaving school at a young age, and recalls that it afforded him the rare opportunity to learn about life, which he sees as his greatest education. "I started learning about people, and the way they lived their lives. I immediately started working back stage in the theatre, where I met gay people and people who were having affairs. I met poncy actors and good actors, and also started learning about the world, which are the things I'd never come across before in my small, conservative town."

He migrated to London where he studied acting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He had no idea what kind of actor he yearned to be, and expected it to be in the theatre. "I studied four years in the theatre and have only done one play since I left." It was television and film that beckoned. Success came quickly for the young Scot. An early break came with the TV series Lipstick on Your Collar (1993), written by Dennis Potter.

"It was so new and done with such gusto, care and passion," on Trainspotting

That same year, McGregor made his feature film debut in Bill Forsyth's Being Human. He continued his streak, landing the leading role of Julien Sorel in the BBC miniseries adaptation of Scarlet and Black. But it was as the cocky young journalist Alex Law, who becomes enmeshed in murder in Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave (1994), that McGregor was made a bona fide movie star, followed by his portrayal of one of several old friends returning to Cornwall in Blue Juice (1995). His reteaming with Boyle for the controversial but successful Trainspotting, brought him further international stardom. The film’s dramatic look at the street culture of Glasgow in which McGregor essayed a charismatic heroin addict, struck an extraordinary chord around the world. "It was so new and done with such gusto, care and passion." Despite him admitting to being a lazy actor, in terms of research and preparation, the world of Trainspotting was opened up to him in all its glory. "When doing a film like this, you have to get over that slightly glamorous feeling of playing a heroin addict, which I did after I got to Glasgow and started meeting some real addicts. That immediately knocked any sense of glamour out of me, which was very important." Despite his lack of a rigid secondary and tertiary education, McGregor's experiences on his films, he says, "were my biggest education."

"Drinking with all those ex-miners was the best research in the world," on Brassed Off

A further case in point is Brassed Off, another cinematic gem which further cemented his leading man status, and which is STILL going strong in Oz theatres. "As I got to that mining town in the north of England, drinking with all those ex-miners was the best research in the world, and the band we were playing with in the film were the people whose story it was. They were all there and we could talk to them about the actual pit closures. Even now I still get pissed off about what happened there - it was such a fucking disgrace." Further recalling the experience of shooting in that depressed part of the world, McGregor pauses, sips his drink and with quiet anger recounts what a sad place it was to work in. "They closed the pit, immediately filled it with concrete and left. The only reason that people are living in this former colliery town is because their families are all miners. There's nothing much left except a couple of pubs. People are trying to sell their three-bedroom houses for 9000 pounds. Now it's being used as a dumping ground for housing estates all over the north of England. The people there are amazing, funny yet so incredibly sad."

"None of them are like me, because none of them ARE me."

McGregor's other high-profile roles have included playing the demon-lover of Vivian Wu in Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book and as one of the male leads opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in Douglas McGrath's winning adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma (1996).["I didn't think I was much good in that one."]

His latest film, A Life Less Ordinary, marks his third outing with the creative team behind both Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. Looking now at all three characters, McGregor is adamant that none of them are particularly close to the actor. "I read the script for the very first time and the character in that story that I end up playing means something very different to me with each one. None of them are like me, because none of them ARE me."

"I'm so excited by this romantic thing, "

In A Life Less Ordinary, in which he plays an unemployed cleaner who kidnaps the snooty, wealthy and man-hating Cameron Diaz, McGregor loves the fact that he's being seen in a romantic light, though this film is hardly your conventional romantic comedy. "I'm so excited by this romantic thing, because Britain's such a cynical place that it's so much easier for us to shy away from romance." Life Less Ordinary is a dark comedy and one, McGregor explains, that puts a different take on the battle of the sexes. "What was always in the script, was that he was always weak, while she was always strong. What happened as we started to shoot, was that he became very feminine, while SHE became very masculine, and in the process, he became very, very sensitive, and would be deeply hurt by things she said. There was SO much for me to play there, that I just fucking loved it."

"Let me tell you: it's easy to pretend to be in love with Cameron Diaz"

McGregor not only shows his 'sensitive' side in this movie, but in one of the film's most memorable moments, sings and dances up a storm, alongside co-star Diaz. "I love dancing and I've always enjoyed singing, and here I do both with one of the best. To me, it kind of replaced the love scene in it, and was a refreshing thing to do in the middle of a shoot." The first day he met Diaz was the first time they rehearsed this musically romantic moment. "Let me tell you: it's easy to pretend to be in love with Cameron Diaz", he adds with a twinkle in his Scottish eye. So having sung and danced so effortlessly, what's next, a Hollywood musical? "I'd love to do one, but they made Evita and fucked it up."

To add a different string to his diverse bow, McGregor was also seen last year in the hit US TV series ER. It was his favourite show and just asked to be on it, so a role was written for the actor. "I thought it would be so funny to be surrounded by all those people," he recalls smilingly. Including Julianna Marguiles [nurse Hathaway] with whom he worked extensively. "I rode in on a gurney with her on top of me; I was just in heaven."

"You're not really big until you're big in LA, so I tell anyone who broaches that with me, to fuck off."

Scotland's busiest actor since Sean Connery has a number of films awaiting release before biding his time. He is continually being asked the proverbial question: when are you moving to LA, one that he hates "as if you're not really big until you're big in LA, so I tell anyone who broaches that with me, to fuck off." Perhaps McGregor's next major swag of interviews will be in mid-1999 for the release of the Star Wars prequel. But how will he possibly remember the experience in a junket, so fa, far away. "I guess I'll repeat what Guiness 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.'"

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


"Ewan had this perennially youthful fascination with the idea of cinematic make-believe"


"He has no regrets about leaving school at a young age; it afforded him the rare opportunity to learn about life, which he sees as his greatest education."


"What was always in the script, was that he was always weak, while she was always strong."


"I love dancing and I've always enjoyed singing, and here I do both with one of the best."


"A Hollywood musical? "I'd love to do one, but they made Evita and fucked it up."


Brassed Off:"Even now I still get pissed off about what happened there - it was such a fucking disgrace."


See Paul Fischer's interview with
CAMERON DIAZ


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