British actors. I mean. no one confuses liwan McGregor with Laurence Olivier or Alec Guinness (although he did attempt to ape the latter's Obi Wan mannerisms for The Phantom Menuee). And yet liwan has consistently taken challenging and varied film roles.
I ask him about the range of these. ‘Playing the character in little Voiee around the same time as the character in le/ver (;()/(/I)Ifllt’. they‘re hugely different. I couldn‘t he more blessed.’ he says. ‘I don't get pigeonholed as such. and l’ve been lucky enough to be offered the parts I‘d like to play. I remember watching the ()scars about five years ago. something I rarely do. believe me. Kirk Douglas got a Lifetime Achievement Award and they played a five-minute film of all the different characters he‘d played. I‘d be interested to see mine one day..
What would he like to see on that show reel'.’ Does he have any favourites'.’ 'They‘re all completely different. I wouldn‘t have any favourites or anything.‘ he says. ‘Well. not that lid tell you. Ha. ha. You can probably imagine.~
and the rest of the cast to a point where they could switch from the film's spoken dialogue to singing lyrics without jarring the audience. However. the filming of key song and dance scenes was an immensely complex undertaking. Some of the songs were sung live to camera on sets that were built on five enormous sound stages in the Fox studio in Sydney. lilsewhere the actors lip-synched to playbacks they had recorded weeks before.
‘11 was like theatre.‘ says Ewan. ‘We would be tip on stage and the crew would hear what we were singing. As soon as the music kicks in. it gets you in the right place. There’s something about doing it on set. because the playback we had was incredibly loud and powerful. Sometimes we would be singing bits to the playback and the playback didn‘t suddenly feel right: the way we had sung it didn‘t match the way we were playing it. Baz had this booth that had a glass window and a door. soundproof with a mic. which they would wheel from set to set. You‘d just run into
the booth and re-record
I suggest he‘s actually referring ‘The rea something. and then run back on to his least favourite. The Phantom set and Bax would cut that into the .llenuee. a film which liwan has dancers “Sad playback. So we were pushing previously sounded off about. to danCe back the boundaries of sound
Now. and perhaps with some distance from the experience of working against (ieorge l.ucas’ endless blue screens. he says evenly. ~’l'lte l’ltuntoin .Wenuee is incredibly challenging technically and sometimes because of its lack of performing challenge very difficult. Making everything up. there’s nothing there.‘
On the other hand. Noni. the story of the romance between James Joyce and Nora Barnacle. is very close to liwan‘s heart. ‘.\’om is very emotional and very cerebral. and brilliant because it was done on a much smaller scale. and quickly. I can’t think of two more different lilms. And working with Susan [.ynch. I've never experienced a better relationship with an actor.’ Noni was also liwan‘s first move behind the camera. as co-producer. He saved the film after its American backers twice withdrew the money. taking the production to Natural Nylon. the company he fortned with fellow actors Jude Law. Jonny Ice Miller and Sean Pettwee. ‘We finally got it done. It was a trial. though.‘ says liwan. ‘We decided not to use any American money. “l‘uck them" was the term we used at the time.‘
Won/in Rouge was a much happier experience. ‘I never felt tnore satisfied at work. It was about as good as it gets as an acting challenge. because you’re having to use singing and dancing and acting to tell the story. Those things are challenging enough on their own. Baz. pushes you so hard. stretches you one way and then another and demands complete commitment.~
After the initial workshop. Luhrmann got the cast together for four months of rehearsals. Days passed with hours of singing. dancing and working on individual scenes. The aim was to get liwan. Kidman
themselves to death in this Absinthe frenzy, doing the cancah”
recording. It was unlike anything anyone had ever done. It was. it fucking was.‘
Here‘s the third thing about Ewan McGregor: his enthusiasm is infectious. I'm so keyed up listening to him rave about working with Luhrmann — ‘Baz was sucking us into his world‘ — and then the original Moulin Rouge — ‘the real dancers used to dance themselves to death in this Absinthe frenzy. die on the dance ﬂoors doing the can-can: it was quite out of control' — that I forget I’ve decided to be jealous of liwan. The guy is impossible to hate.
And now. I'm feeling son‘y for him. We are talking about what is to be his next film. an adaptation of (ilasgow beat generation writer Alexander Trocchi‘s novel Young Adam. ‘lt‘s a really erotic. dark piece. Most of it takes place on the barges between lidinburgh and Glasgow in the 50s. Tilda Swinton is going to do it. which is fantastic. It's going to be small and quick — [just long for that Nora experience again. Also. I haven‘t worked in Glasgow since 'Ii'uinsporring.’
But liwan won't be for sotne time yet: due to production problems filming of hiring Adam has been postponed indefinitely. Still. can‘t feel too sorry for the lad. J ust need to remind myself of what Ewan said earlier about Black/tank Down: ‘There was no acting required. Ridley would just call action and the world would start blowing up. It was wicked. I can’t tell you how much fun 1 had doing that.‘
I want a big toy gun too.
Moulin Rouge goes on general release from Fri 7 Sep. See review, page 23.
' i—What they say . about Moulin Rouge
I ‘lt's a myth about idealism and adulthood, and the recognition that life throws up things beyond our control: the death of loved ones, relationships that don’t last.’ Director Baz Luhrmann
a ‘We employ a constant device that reminds [the audience] they are watching a film in which they are impelled to participate. This constant reminder in Strict/y Ballroom is the use of dance; in Romeo + Juliet. the 400-year-old language of Shakespeare. in Mouli'n Rouge. our contract with the audience is song.’ Luhrmann
'As writers. we're intent on not simply making the songs an adornment. but integral to the storytelling. so that there is no better way to convey a story point than with a number. The scenes have to build with the characters getting so high on the energy. that they can't do anything else but sing.‘ Co-writer Craig Pearce
‘Satine's a courtesan who works in the Moulin Rouge. But Satine doesn't want to be a can- can dancer her entire life; her dream is to be an actress. But when Christian [Ewan McGregor] weaves his magic on her through song. he brings out her dreams and that makes him intoxicating to her.’ Nicole Kidman
fit ‘We had to find two people who were actors first and foremost. but who could also sing. Once we got Nicole and Ewan together, they fired off each other beautifully.‘ Luhrmann
‘Ewan and i had a tacit agreement that we’d support each other throughout. taking risks. and be willing to make complete tools of ourselves in front of each other.‘
m “Craig Pearce and I created a device where our young poet channelled the great popular songs of the 20th century. in early drafts we would say "The times are a changing" or “We can't go on together with suspicious minds"; from here we started using whole songs as a storyline text, eg ‘Roxanne' or 'Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend'.’ Luhrmann
(3—20 Sept 2001 THE LIST 19