29 November 2016

Ewan McGregor

Scottish actor Ewan McGregor (1971) first received worldwide acclaim with his role as heroin addict Mark Renton in Trainspotting (1996). Later, he played the young Obi-Wan in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, and poet Christian in the musical Moulin Rouge! (2001).

Ewan McGregor
British postcard by Editions Limited, no. PRT-019.

Energetic, powerful and photogenic

Ewan Gordan McGregor was born in 1971 in Crieff, Scotland, just a few miles north of Edinburgh. His parents were the schoolteachers James Charles Stuart McGregor and Carole Diane Lawson. His uncle is actor Denis Lawson. He also has a brother Colin, who became a RAF pilot.

As a child, Ewan did little acting, but enjoyed singing, and became a soloist for his school's orchestra and choir. At age 16, he left Morrison Academy in Crieff to join the Perth Repertory Theatre. His parents encouraged him to leave school and pursue his acting goals rather than be unhappy. Ewan worked as a stagehand and had small roles in the productions of the Perth Repertory Theatre. Then, he studied three years at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

Six months prior to his graduation from Guildhall, he landed a major role as Private Mick Hopper in the excellent TV series Lipstick on Your Collar (Renny Rye, 1993), written by Dennis Potter. McGregor then starred in the miniseries The Scarlet & The Black (Ben Bolt, 1993), an adaptation of Henri Beyle Stendhal's 1830 novel.

In that same year, McGregor made his film debut with a bit part in the American drama Being Human (Bill Forsyth, 1993), which starred Robin Williams. The film undeservedly flopped and closed almost as soon as it opened, which limited McGregor's exposure. He continued to make television appearances in the United States and Britain, including Family Style (Justin Chadwick, 1993), Doggin' Around (Desmond Davis, 1994) and an episode of the crime series Kavanagh QC (Colin Gregg, 1995).

He got his first major film role in the Noir Shallow Grave (Danny Boyle, 1994), which was received well by the critics. Samuli Launonen at IMDb: “A great modern thriller containing all the necessary ingredients of a decent suspense story: constantly growing tension, sly humour, and genuinely surprising plot twists. (…) The three leads are all great, but there's no question about who the movie belongs to: Ewan McGregor is energetic, powerful and photogenic in his portrayal of a young journalist.”

In 1995, McGregor married, French production designer Eve Mavrakis. He continued to work in British films as the surfing parable Blue Juice (Carl Prechezer, 1995) with Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book (1996).

Then he had his big break with Trainspotting (1996), his second film with director Danny Boyle. McGregor shaved his head and lost 30 lbs to play the main character and heroin addict Mark Renton. The film, an adaptation of Irvine Welsh's novel, and McGregor's role received worldwide critical acclaim.

Following this success, he took a completely different role as Frank Churchill in the Jane Austen adaptation Emma (Douglas McGrath, 1996), starring Gwyneth Palthrow. His next films included Brassed Off (Mark Herman, 1996), The Serpent's Kiss (Philippe Rousselot, 1997), A Life Less Ordinary (Danny Boyle, 1997), and Nightwatch (Ole Bornedal, 1998). He also acted opposite Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Christian Bale in Velvet Goldmine (Todd Haynes, 1999), as a 1970s-era glam rocker in the mode of Iggy Pop.

Ewan McGregor landed the largest role of his career when he signed on in 1998 as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. McGregor already had a connection with the iconic movie series as his uncle, Denis Lawson, appeared as Wedge Antilles in the original three films. He studied Alec Guinness' films in preparation for his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi to ensure accuracy in everything from his accent to the pacing of his words. Star Wars: Episode I–The Phantom Menace (George Lucas, 1999) was a box-office blockbuster, which launched the then 28-year-old actor into mega stardom. The next two instalments of the trilogy would follow years later.

Ewan MacGregor
British postcard by Heroes Publishing Ltd., London, no. SFC 3096.

Ewan MacGregor
British postcard by Pyramid, Leicester, no. PC 2111.

Another challenging role

In the early 21st century, Ewan McGregor started his own production company called Natural Nylon. He founded it with fellow actors Jude Law, Sadie Frost, Jonny Lee Miller and Sean Pertwee. The group's first film was the biopic Nora (Pat Murphy, 2000), which dramatised the real-life relationship between Irish author James Joyce and Nora Barnacle. McGregor starred as Joyce opposite Susan Lynch as Barnacle.

McGregor took on another challenging role in the musical Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, 2000), set in Paris in 1899. McGregor starred as the young poet Christian, who falls in love with the terminally-ill courtesan Satine, played by Nicole Kidman.

Perry Seibert at AllMovie: “A bold artistic statement, Moulin Rouge is Baz Luhrmann's first masterpiece. Frantically edited, paced, and photographed, the film is not an easy undertaking; it forces the viewer to accept it on its terms. The sets, costumes, and sound are stylish in the extreme. The greatest risk the film takes is having the characters speak predominantly in song lyrics. The young writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) and the doomed performer Satine (Nicole Kidman) argue about whether they will fall in love while telling each other, 'Love lifts us up where we belong' and 'I will always love you.' When they aren't speaking in song lyrics, they sing to each other, with McGregor doing a better than credible job with Elton John's 'Your Song'.”

McGregor was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for his part and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast. Later that same year, the war film Black Hawk Down (Ridley Scott, 2001) was released with McGregor among an ensemble cast. He continued his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the second film of the trilogy, Star Wars: Episode II–Attack of the Clone (George Lucas, 2002), which was another commercial success.

McGregor was able to parlay his popularity into many more films. When Tim Burton was looking for someone in McGregor's age range to play Albert Finney as a young man in the fantasy film Big Fish (2003), he was given the part. The film was a critical and commercial success as well. McGregor also starred in the drama Young Adam (David Mackenzie, 2003). He played Joe Taylor, one of two barge workers who pull up the corpse of a young woman from a river. Also that year, McGregor and Renée Zellweger starred in Down With Love (Peyton Reed, 2003), a homage to 1960s romantic comedies.

During 2004, McGregor and his best friend Charley Boorman created a documentary about riding their motorcycles from London to New York. The pair travelled east through Europe and Asia, and then flew to Alaska to finish the journey to New York. The entire journey, entitled Long Way Round, covered over 19,000 miles and 12 countries. The project was conceived partly to raise awareness of the worldwide efforts of UNICEF.

McGregor reprised his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi for the final time for Star Wars: Episode III–Revenge of the Sith (George Lucas, 2005). He also lent his voice to the animated family film Robots (Chris Wedge, Carlos Saldanha, 2005), starred with Scarlett Johansson in the big-budget Sci-Fi actioner The Island (Michael Bay, 2005), and filmed the psychological thriller Stay (Marc Forster, 2005).

Ewan MacGregor
British postcard by Anabas, Essex, no. AP 749, 1999.

Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge (2001)
British postcard by Go Card. Photo: 20th Century Fox. Publicity still for Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, 2001)

Amazingly good

After multiple commercial and critical successes, Ewan McGregor tried his hand at two arthouse films in 2006. His first was Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Ed Blum's directorial debut about a day in the life of seven British couples. The second was Miss Potter (Chris Noonan, 2007), a biopic on the life of popular author Beatrix Potter (Renée Zellweger). McGregor portrays Norman, her editor and paramour.

He also tried his hand at stage acting. From 2005 till 2007 he played Sky Masterson in the revival of Guys & Dolls at London's Piccadilly Theatre, and for this part, he was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical in 2007. He also appeared on stage as Iago in Othello (2007–2008).

In between, McGregor and Boorman created a follow-up documentary to their 2004 trip. For Long Way Down (2007), they rode their motorcycles from John o' Groats in northern Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa. Next he appeared in the films Cassandra's Dream (Woody Allen, 2007) with Colin Farrell, Incendiary (Sharon Maguire, 2008) and Deception (Marcel Langenegger, 2008) with Hugh Jackman.

McGregor starred with Jim Carrey as a gay couple in I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, 2009), and appeared in the blockbuster Angels & Demons (Ron Howard, 2009), the sequel to the popular Dan Brown novel and film, The DaVinci Code. For the title role in Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer (2010), he won the Best Actor award at the 23rd European Film Awards.

Bruce Eder at AllMovie: “McGregor is amazingly good in a role that gives him relatively little to work with - his is a character that not only has no name, but no past to speak of and no family entanglements, so his experience shouldn't resonate much with the audience. But what should become a cipher that few can penetrate instead becomes a kind of big-screen everyman for audience members to relate to - up to a point. This is a very cold movie at its center, very distant, despite McGregor's success at fleshing out a character that is hardly more than a skeleton, in terms of what he brings to us. He's just vulnerable enough, and surprised and skeptical enough - about what he's been asked to do, and the world of politics to which he's been asked to enter - to give us something to grab on to.”

His later films include Beginners (Mike Mills, 2010), Perfect Sense (David Mackenzie, 2011) opposite Eva Green, the British romantic comedy-drama Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Lasse Hallström, 2011), Lo imposible (J.A. Bayona, 2012), and August: Osage County (John Wells, 2013).

He was awarded the OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2013 Queen's New Years Honours List for his services to drama and charity. Ewan McGregor and his wife have three daughters: Clara Mathilde (1996), Esther Rose (2001), and 4-year-old Jamiyan adopted from Mongolia in 2006.

His recent films include the Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead (Don Cheadle, 2015) and the British thriller Our Kind of Traitor (Susanna White, 2016). For 2017 is scheduled T2: Trainspotting, in which he will return as Mark Renton, again under the direction of Danny Boyle. On TV he will star in the third season of the hit series Fargo, now set in 2010.

Trailer Trainspotting (1996). Source: Movieclips Trailer Vault (YouTube).

Trailer Moulin Rouge! (2001). Source: Athena Stamos (YouTube).

Trailer The Ghost Writer (2010). Source: Movieclips Trailer Vault (YouTube).

Sources: Samuli Launonen (IMDb), Perry Seibert (AllMovie), Bruce Eder (AllMovie), Biography.com, AllMovie, Wikipedia and IMDb.

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