May 2003
Down with Love : An Interview with Ewan McGregor

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

Down with Love: An Interview with Ewan McGregor

To be a good actor and get as many roles as possible is to have range. There aren’t that many actors in the business who can sing, dance, and act at the same time or star in many films of different genres. Ewan McGregor is one of the exceptions. Since his breakout hit years ago with the crime thriller Shallow Grave, he has starred in the period film “Emma”, the urban black comedy Trainspotting, the sci-fi film Star Wars: Episode 1, the musical romance film Moulin Rouge, and the war film Black Hawk Down. Well, you can romantic comedy to his list of credits. In an interview with, Ewan McGregor talks about his role as Catcher Block in the film, Down With Love, directed by Peyton Reed (Bring It On).

WM: Will you ever do an album because you seem to love singing?

EM: I don’t know. It’s a very tricky thing to pull off as an actor. You’d like to think that there was a way to just do it so that it was kind of your own. I have recorded some stuff with Marius de Vries, who recorded all the music for Moulin Rouge. I discovered that recording songs is just fantastic. It gives me as much as a buzz as acting cause it’s ultimately the same thing. You are telling a story but you are using one facet of yourself, the voice. I find it difficult to see a way to do it without it being cheesy.

WM: Were you familiar with or a particular fan of the Doris Day – Rock Hudson films?

EM: Yeah. It was funny because when I read the script for the first time, I knew exactly what it was about. I was very familiar with the style. When Peyton (Reed) had sent me movies to do research on, I had seen them all. I realized I had watched them all as a child. I wasn’t alive in the 60s but for some reason I was more interested in watching these films as a child than watching kids television or anything. I must have seen them during a matinee special on television during the weekend. As a kid, I was thought New York was fantastic, which it is.

WM: How did you try to get into character?

EW: I think the whole process was about kind of reliving the films that I’d watched as a kid. I watched all these films when I was young, and I don’t know why because I wasn’t born in the 60's but I remember them all. I knew them all and I’d seen them all many times so it was just about getting in touch with that. I had the references I suppose and then it was getting a chance to be all my favorite actors on the screen like Cary Grant. As a guy from now it’s quite hard to play a playboy. Every fiber of your body is going you can’t do that. We’re not programmed that way anymore. After awhile it’s quite fun to be that way on a film set than to be that way in life. I was never a playboy because I could never afford the suit and stuff. I had my day I suppose when I was up to no good.

WM: Did you ever wonder if you could pull it off?

EM: The process into it was really hard and I’m finding this more and more as I go along, that it’s become part of my process to not imagine I’ll be able to pull this one off.

It’s more or less every time I start a job now I really think, ‘Oh I can’t f**kin’ do this one.’ I’m not gonna be able to do this one. I had to realize that that’s becoming part of it and in a way that’s what makes it so exciting, hopefully a couple of weeks later when you find there you are on set pulling it off!

WM: Did you think you could do an exaggerated comedy?

EM: Here I was playing a character that demanded you kind of slapped it on from the outside. The comedy in these 60's movies is much more played than we would play in a kind of contemporary romantic comedy, where you don’t play the comedy. That seems to be a rule when I started acting that you must never play the comedy. Here I was on set really f**kin’ playin’ the comedy, you know. For the first week of rehearsals I couldn’t get into it. It did take an awful lot of effort to find this because it’s a style if you like that hasn’t really been explored since the 60's. I was delighted to see that it doesn’t look like it’s hard work.

WM: Do you think the film is a parody of those films from the 60s?

EM: It’s a stab at doing a sex comedy set in the 60's and we made it to look like one. We certainly acted like we were in one but I wouldn’t like to think that we parodied one. That would’ve been much easier to do. I think the reason it was very difficult to get because we were trying to recreate that style. When I saw it there were two or three moments where I suddenly felt like I was eight years old again leaning on my elbows watching the television on the weekends, watching one of the original films. I think we were trying to make a 60's sex comedy and be really accurate.

WM: Before you settled down and had a family, did you have your own bachelor pad?

EM: I did have a swinging bachelor pad once, yes. When I did my very first film, a television series called ‘Let’s Dig a New Color.’ It was my first job and I was living in the very far outer reaches of eastern London at the time when I got the job. It was the first time I’d ever been paid to act and I rented a small one bedroom flat in a really nice area of London called Primrose Hill and it was right next to the park and it became the apartment where all parties would begin and end. Very often my friends and I would meet there on a Friday and it would be off and they would leave sometime on a Sunday night. However, it was much more of a realistic small New York kind of flat, than the one in the movie.

WM: This role is a departure from that of the soldier part you played in Black Hawk Down.

EM: I’m still fascinated by soldiers and I thought one of the reasons I wanted to play in Black Hawk Down was discover what makes a soldier able to do his work. How a man or a woman can keep their head together and operate and fire. I got a flavor of what that might be when I trained at Fort Bening with The Rangers for a while. Then I got further idea about it when we were on set because it was very realistic with all the special effects; the fact that the helicopter crashes were achieved in front of the camera. So you got a real sense of what it might be like. I suppose I keep finding myself reading about it. I’m reading Hackworth’s book about Vietnam at the moment, ‘Steal My Soldier’s Hearts.’ I think what fascinates me is my generation has never had to be involved in it other than by choice. I suppose it’s something that mankind has always done and yet my generation, nor my father, my grandfather’s fought in the war. I suppose more than anything else in the world I can’t imagine myself being able to pull it off in a real situation. My brother is a fighter pilot, whereas when I was younger I was very dismissive of it in that kind of youthful way. I was a drama student, so I wasn’t really into the war. The older I get the more fascinated I become by it.

WM: Having played a soldier on film, did you have an interest in the war?

EM: My wife kept reminding me that I’m not a soldier while I was watching the war coverage. I spoke to one of the other actors from ‘Black Hawk Down’ while the war was on (he lives in New York) and we were talking about some of the room clearing we’d seen not being up to scratch! Some of the weapons weren’t skied when people were crossing. I said, ‘did you see that shot’and he said, ‘yeah, yeah terrible room clearing!’ And we were experts. We trained with the Rangers for about five days, I think but the Rangers went in with the Seals to that hospital and saved the American soldier, Jessica who was injured and dug up the other soldiers’ bodies. They were the guys we trained with and we knew what weapons they used and how they went about their business a tiny little bit.

WM: Did you try speaking with the character’s accent off set?

EM: I can’t talk like my character off the set. I take my work very seriously but I can’t seem to do that. I feel a bit silly. I feel self conscious doing it. I work very hard on the accent and I do it when the cameras turning and not in between. There are actors who stay in character all day long and I admire them for having the stamina to do that but I’ve never been like that.

WM: How did the song and dance routine with Renee come about? Was that in the script?

EM: We shot the little dance at the end in a day in Atlanta not very long ago. We kept hammering the producers to let us do a song. I can’t believe we had to persuade them to let us do one. I was going, ‘I did ‘Moulin’ Rouge’ and Renee did ‘Chicago,’ shouldn’t we do a song.’ They said, ‘we’ll see.’ We’ll see. What the f**k are you talkin’ about. Let us do a song! Eventually we ended up persuading them that it would be a good idea to do a song. We recorded it in L.A. and ended up shooting this beautiful dance number for it. It was great fun and we shot it like a sixties TV show so it was all fun playing to different cameras and trying to find the right camera to play into.

WM: Has Star Wars changed you?

EM: Nothing has changed. I think what’s been very interesting about it is very little has changed. To my relief I suppose because one of the things I spent a lot of time wondering about before I decided to do ‘Star Wars’ (because it’s not my bag although I might have gone along with it) and I wouldn’t want to get nailed down to playing one kind of part, I’m not particularly interested in having fans and a lot of the baggage I figured would come along with it worried me. However, the more I got to getting the part the more I wanted to do it in my gut so I went after it. There’s been precious little change which has been great. I love being in the films. The only big thing that’s changed is the children that have seen me acting. Whereas I don’t think many of them had seen the films I’ve made up until that point. I certainly hope not. I love when kids come to talk to me about ‘Star Wars’ and ask me how the light saber works and did I really cut Darth in half and all of that stuff and I enjoy that. The impression is that for like six or seven years of your life you’re kind of ‘Star Wars’ bound and if you’re lucky you can get other jobs.

The reality is that I spent four months making the first one and then three or four months making the second one and I’m just about to start making the third one in three weeks; I haven’t even seen the script yet!

WM: What’s next for you?

EM: I’d love to do theater whether it be musical theater or not. I’m not sure I’d be interested in doing ‘Moulin Rouge’ in that I’d done it already. I find it difficult the idea of going back, returning to a character in the same story; I don’t know what I would get out of it. In 3 weeks, I start shooting the next installment of “Star Wars”.