IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE IT’S ALMOST 20 YEARS SINCE HIS ICONIC ROLE IN TRAINSPOTTING, BUT EWAN McGregor HASN’T EXACTLY FADED FROM THE LIMELIGHT. THE VERSATILE ACTOR TALKS SUCCESS, FAMILY AND STAR WARS WITH PATRICIA DANAHER
Ive slagged off big budget blockbusters in my time, but I saw my wanting to be in Star Wars to be a different kettle of fish
If Ewan McGregor is suffering exhaustion or sleep deprivation from making at least two movies a year and being a father of four young girls, there’s no way you could tell when he sits down with A-men at the Regency Hotel in New York.
His youngest daughter was born barely a year ago, his eldest is 16 and, if anything, becoming a dad again at 41 has made McGregor even more relaxed and mellow.
Married for 18 years to the French production designer Eve Mavrakis, McGregor finally moved his family to LA two years ago, after years of commuting from London to jobs and auditions.
Listening to him describe his home life with four daughters and his wife makes McGregor sound like a slacker, but beneath that everyman exterior beats a determined heart.
“I’m a better actor because there’s a lot of emotional drama in my house — there’s not so much football, but there’s a lot of drama and as an actor, that’s a good training ground,” he says, with a smirk.
“You become a different guy when you become a parent. I think of my life as two halves — the half before my children and the half after. I remember coming back from the hospital with the first one and walking into my flat and feeling like it was from another life.
“Everything was where we left it when we ran out the door to the hospital, but I felt it was a different me walking back in.
“I’m a different father to my one-year-old than to my 16-year-old, because I’ve more experience and I’m less worried. Eldest children will tell you they get it in the neck because they’re the first with everything — from changing nappies, to taking them to school, to disciplining them to first boyfriends.”
When he’s not away on set, McGregor says he loves hanging out at home, has no routines and hates to exercise.
“My habits are really boring,” he says. “I don’t have a regimen or routine. I’m really lax about exercising. I’ll go for a run or ride my bike but I find it hard to stay focused in the gym.
“I often meet people who have book clubs or movie nights or bands, but I can never do anything like that, because I’m always travelling around. I’m never in one place for very long, so I don’t have any kind of routine.
“I’d love to be more of an artist. The things I liked at school were music and art and when I do either of these now, I find great peace of mind. But I don’t do it consistently.”
McGregor was born in Crieff in Scotland to two teachers. One of two boys, his older brother Colin is an RAF pilot.
He dropped out of school at the age of 16, with the blessing of his parents, and worked at a series of odd jobs from dishwashing to trout farming, before making his way to the Perth Repertory Company, where he studied drama.
By 1993, he landed a couple of British TV drama series (including Kavanagh QC, where he met his future wife), before his major breakout movie part with Shallow Grave in 1994.
Trainspotting the following year was his second successful collaboration with director Danny Boyle, as the role of charming junkie Mark Renton launched him on the world stage.
Initially inclined to look down on Hollywood movies in favour of more edgy, indie projects, by 1999 he was accepting work from George Lucas, playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first of three Star Wars movies. This role made him a major international star, with his pick of roles.
“I’ve slagged off big budget blockbusters in my time, but I saw my wanting to be in Star Wars to be a very different kettle of fish. It wasn’t some shit like Independence Day or Godzilla. Star Wars is like modern fairy tales and fables,” he said.
He often plays writers or journalists, even starring as James Joyce in biopic Nora, which he also produced with a company he
established with Jude Law and Sadie Frost.
“I remember some of the movies I’ve done incredibly fondly,” he said. “Shallow Grave was 20 years ago, but I can remember the dialogue, like it was only yesterday. Trainspotting was an amazing experience because of Danny.
“What that film became and how important it was for my career, when Britpop was just kicking off — it was a great time to be young and British. The last time I shot in the Scottish Highlands was on Trainspotting, when we get off the train and look at the mountain and say the shit about being Scottish.”
When he’s not filming, he’s reading scripts at home in between school runs.
“I don’t have a preference for types of roles, because I think it’s all the same game,” he says. “A lot of people say it’s harder to play comedy, but I’m not too sure that’s true. You’ve always got to try and play situations as though they are real and that’s something you learn over time.
“I’ve worked with actors like Jim Carrey in I Love You Phillip Morris and seeing him work something to be funny was a skill I realised I just don’t have. I am not a comedian.”
We’ll next see McGregor in the oddly-titled romantic comedy Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, where he plays an expert angler hired to popularise fly-fishing in the Middle East.
Sounds like all that trout farming he did as a teenager could finally come in handy.