The celebrated Scottish actor explains why not having a macho bone in his body makes for great acting and what it was like working with director David Mackenzie
Ewan McGregor’s explosive role as Renton in Trainspotting kicked off an illustrious Hollywood career – he went on to portray the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in three Star Wars prequels, but has never forgotten his independent roots. His latest film, Perfect Sense, took him to Glasgow, for a reunion with his Young Adam director, David Mackenzie. In it, McGregor plays a chef who falls for a doctor (Eva Green), as humanity literally loses its senses. Dazed caught up with him in the midst of filming the new Bryan Singer feature, Jack and the Giant Killer, to speak about the effects of alcohol on acting, sex scenes, and homophobia.
Dazed Digital: What appealed to you about your Perfect Sense character?
Ewan McGregor: It's always fun to play somebody that's got something that they're hiding or they're ashamed of, and he has a dark secret about his girlfriend. On the surface, though, he seems like an optimist, and I liked that.
DD: Was reuniting with David Mackenzie part of the draw?
Ewan McGregor: Yeah, Young Adam is one of the films that I'm most proud of. It marked a move out of the young lead parts into more interesting men for me. I was getting older and it's marked in my mind as being where the parts I played slightly tipped into a more mature character, just because he was complicated and not like the kind of young leading roles that I had played before.
DD: Mackenzie extracts raw emotions from his actors, and several directors have praised your emotional availability. Were you encouraged to be emotionally open growing up?
Ewan McGregor: I don't think a rural Scottish environment is necessarily a breeding ground for people expressing their emotions [laughs]. It was probably because of the lack of it that I've gone into this business. Also, I don't have a macho bone in my body, so I'm not worried about not looking cool, or not looking macho.
DD: I Love You Philip Morris, in which you played Jim Carrey's lover, struggled to get a release in America. Is the attitude to films with homosexual themes different there?
Ewan McGregor: I've had homophobic reactions in Britain, where people go, “Oh, saw that film you're in…”, and make faces and stuff. So it's not purely an American thing.
DD: Sex scenes, gay and straight, don't seem to faze you.
Ewan McGregor: I'm not afraid. I've done a lot of stuff about sex and Young Adam is a classic example of a film where the sex scenes are absolutely part of the storytelling. It's so cheesy when you see a bad, Hollywood-type, glisteny sex scene in a movie. But if you see a sex scene in something like Young Adam, where it's really cold or weird and nasty, it's telling you something about those characters.”
DD: You've recently talked about your drinking days and how bad it got. You drank before you did the big concert scene in Velvet Goldmine, where you spit and flash at the audience. Could you have done it completely sober?
Ewan McGregor: Yeah, I could have done. And I haven't had a drink for the last 10 years.
DD: But could you have been that uninhibited?
Ewan McGregor: It is an interesting point. The truth is that the action came out of my understanding of that character, Curt Wild, and whether I had been drunk or not, I don't know that it would have made any difference. I know for sure that when you’re sober you’ve got far more choice. The trouble is when you’re drunk and acting, it’s very limiting. You find a way to play the scene and you grab hold of it with both hands and you kind of white-knuckle your way through the scene, but you've lost your choices because you're pissed.
DD: Talking of ingesting things, in Perfect Sense you eat mouthfuls of mustard and soap. What were you actually eating?
Ewan McGregor: It was all edible. I think the mustard was custard. But there was other stuff that was just lying around. I think Ewan [Bremner] guzzling olive oil is the most horrendous moment [laughs].
DD: You've been working with Ewan again on Jack the Giant Killer. What's it been like returning to big moviemaking?
Ewan McGregor: It's a long, long, long haul. We're moving into our fifth month and we've had days where we'd come home literally having done two shots. You're just snatching moments here and there, never quite sure how they're going to fit together in the bigger scheme.
DD: You've said you want to go back on the London stage. Some actors say that film drains them while theatre fills them up. Is that your experience?
Ewan McGregor: That's a quote from a theatre actor, clearly [laughs]. Someone who's just fucking jealous they're not in movies. I don't like the snobbery from theatre to film and vice versa, and I feel it sometimes when I'm doing a play: “Oh yeah, fucking movie actor trying to cut it on stage.” The truth is I come from the theatre. I was on stage when I was 16. I just think we're actors and we should be allowed to act wherever we choose.
Perfect Sense is out now