EWAN McGREGOR 0N STAR WARS
advised me not to do it, he figured the high-tech aspect of the recording would bore me. In the end The Empire won. The first day that I wore my costume, I really had goosebumps. I looked in the mirror and said to myself: "Jedi McGregor, not bad for a lad from Scotland”.’
Not bad indeed. But a leap that McGregor himself hadn’t ever expected making. Despite the huge success of Trainspotting, he has always leaned towards more independently spirited, low budget productions — The Pillow Book, Little Voice, Velvet Goldmine — and has serious doubts about big bucks movies.
’And this one’s the biggest bucks of all,’ he laughs, ’Years of preparation, months of recording, and about a year and a half of post- production. Yet I believe it's all very worthwhile, because Star Wars films
Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson). Reports of what it is actually like to work on set with director George Lucas are even rarer than plot details, but McGregor can be nudged into spilling a few secrets.
'lnitially you're buzzed by the mere fact that, being in a Star Wars movie, you’re making movie history,’ he says. ’But when that passed, it became a fucking boring process. When you’re acting against a blue backdrop all the time, on which the scenery and your opponent will be digitally filled in, it's not a deeply psychological challenge. Besides, the Jedi warriors are all preternaturally aware of what's happening, so they practically never panic. They just frown a lot. Well, after three and a half months of that, you're pretty fed-up. No, it's not really suitable work for honing your acting skills. Recently I saw some of the rough
‘I cannot recall any good movie ever coming out of a studio. And when you've spent some time with those arseholes in LA, you know why that is.’
are unique in their genre — they are the stuff of legend. To me as a child, they were modern fairy tales. They’re not slick studio productions, like that Independence Day shite. That rubbish should be forbidden - like most of the trash, by the way, that comes out of Hollywood. I cannot recall any good movie ever coming out of a studio. And when you’ve spent some time with those arseholes in LA, you know why that is.
’See, Star Wars movies, on the other hand, are really well-scripted movies. George Lucas produces them entirely independently and hands over only the distribution to a studio. The scripts are not processed by a team of eighteen scriptwriters; no, George writes them on his own. And he doesn’t need a screen test, because he's got confidence in his own taste.’
Everything about the new movie — titled Star Wars: The Phantom Menace — is hush-hush. What is known is that it delves more fully into the history of the Jedi Knights, while taking Anakin Skywalker down the first part of a dark path towards his evolution into Darth Vader. McGregor plays the young Obi-(E)Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness in the original trilogy) who is training under his Jedi mentor
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footage, and that brought back my interest. Man, the way I juggle that light sabre is fantastic.’
It was more of a challenge to absorb some of the characteristics of Alec Guinness, as McGregor must be credible as a younger version of a character firmly established in the mind of the audience. ’I try to speak like a young Alec Guinness, imitating that typical Oxford speech,’ McGregor concedes. ’Can you imagine, with my Scottish brogue? But a voice doesn’t really age with years. The sound of a 30-year-old man's voice is not all that different from a SO-year-old’s. Whichever way, I did my best. We’ll see if it was successful.’
The Star Wars factor can push a career in two directions: the Harrison Ford (Han Solo) ascent or the Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) nose-dive. But the feeling when talking to McGregor is that he wouldn't be bothered — might even be relieved — if, post-Phantom Menace, Hollywood decided never to pick up the phone and call him again. You can tell he's excited by the very fact he now has a place in Star Wars mythology — that six-year—old at the Odeon in Perth pops up often enough from below the surface — but, as an actor,
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McGregor is much more at home in the role of soft-spoken pigeon-fancier Billy in Mark Hermon’s Little Voice.
’I love that part, because it is so different,’ he insists. ’I am cast too often as the fast talking, racy guy, whereas the challenge of this profession is to portray as wide an array of characters as possible. That’s why I’d rather play a small, difficult part than a run-of-the-mill leading role. I don’t give a toss about my reputation. As long as my character contributes to an interesting story, I’m not worried about how I come across.’
Give him an opening, and he’s off again on the anti-Hollywood line. ’I’ve worked with too many people who are in acting for the money and the fame. For them, the most important thing is being seen at the right parties, with the right people and in the right magazines. That’s what Hollywood is all about. People are way too fascinated by movie stars. They think they must be wonderful people. Well, in my experience, most of them are not. The biggest kick for me in my work is when I’m on set and the camera is running. You can compare it to the exhilarating sensation of swimming naked.’
In 1998, however, McGregor felt that the buzz was beginning to wear off. There was a time when it seemed like he was in a new film every month, and that's not counting the ones still awaiting release or suspiciously shelved for the time being — Rogue Trader (in which he stars as jailed broker Nick Leeson), The Serpent’s Kiss (as a 17th century Dutch landscape gardener) and Eye Of The Beholder (a private detective caught up in a trail of serial killings). His solution was to get on the stage, appearing in London in his uncle Denis's production of Little Malcolm And His Struggle Against The Eunuchs.
'I was losing my passion for filming,’ McGregor admits. ’I noticed I was getting complacent. I’ve never found acting very difficult; the trick is to keep it simple. But when you lose your initial inspiration, it’s no fun any more. That's why I returned to the stage. I wanted to go back and regain that feeling of pure fear. The fear to bomb gives you wings, and in my next movies I want to fly high and fast!’
Higher and faster than an X-Wing Fighter? One glance at the rejuvenated Jedi McGregor and you know the force is strong in this one.
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace opens in the UK on Fri 16 Jul.