By Martin Owens
With one of the most diverse filmographies around, ranging from musicals to thrillers to animation, Ewan McGregor really is a Jack of all acting trades. It comes as no surprise then that 2012 will see the Perth born star play a number of different roles; from a fly-fishing expert in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen to a giant slayer in Jack the Giant Killer.
One role McGregor enjoyed playing more than most, however, was as a secret agent in Steven Soderbergh’s new film, Haywire.
“I loved the part of Kenneth,” he explained. “He’s this special operative agent. He’s a real scumbag, so it was really interesting to play him.”
Haywire is Soderbergh’s brilliant espionage thriller, which sees McGregor play the boss of a tough female Black- Ops super soldier, played by real life ex-American gladiator, kick boxer and mixed martial arts champion, Gina Carano. “There’s something really intriguing about her,” says Ewan. “I really like her. She is such a sweet girl with a gentle soul but when she’s in the ring, she’s capable of being incredibly tough. She’s an unbelievably brutal fighter.” Certainly, McGregor feels the film benefits from having an actual fighter in the lead role.
“It’s a fight film with the slight difference that the main fighter in it is a woman,” he points out. “In the movie you get to watch a real fighter in the fight scenes. It’s really unusual and realistic, as we’ve got someone who actually knows what she’s doing.”
While filming one particular fight scene with the former World number 3 MMA fighter, things got a little too realistic for McGregor’s liking. “Yeah, I accidentally hit her full force on the side of the head. She immediately asked me if I was ok, though.
“It didn’t bother her that much,” laughs McGregor, “but it certainly almost cracked my fingers.”
McGregor was drawn to the role for more reasons than playing a scumbag and having the chance to work with Gina Carano. The director, Academy- Award winner and twice nominated, Steven Soderbergh, has been an inspiration to McGregor for quite some time.
“I’ve really wanted to work with Steven for years. I almost had a chance to work with him a long time ago on a movie but it didn’t work out for one reason or another. Sometimes when that happens a director doesn’t come back to you, but I was delighted he did with this.
“He’s incredibly experienced and very well practiced at what he does. He shoots everything himself, he operates the camera and he lights the scenes – which is very unusual from a director. He’s just ever present on the set. Occasionally on some movies, you’re not even sure the director’s there but with Steven; he’s right in the middle of things and gives you a lot of freedom as an actor. There’s not a great deal of discussion about character or motivation, but he gives you freedom and then guides you if he needs to.”
As one of the most in demand actors in Hollywood, McGregor has seen his CV grow year after year. 2012 will be no different and the Scot seems genuinely excited when discussing the films that will be added to his ever-expanding filmography.
“In the spring, there’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which is a film I made with Emily Blunt and directed by Lasse Hallstrom. That’s a really sweet, funny film. In the summer, there’s a big 3D Hollywood extravaganza that I took part in called Jack the Giant Killer.
“Near the end of the year there’s a film coming out called The Impossible, which I made with Naomi Watts and Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona.That’s a true story about a family who were caught by the Tsunami in 2005 in Thailand.”
One of the more unexpected projects undertaken by McGregor this year is his first foray into a major TV series as a leading character.
“I start shooting HBO series, The Corrections, in February, which is an adaptation of Jonathan Franzen’s novel. It’s an incredibly well written series and has a really good cast, too, with Chris Cooper and Diane Wiest. It’s a really nice cast and has a brilliant director, Noah Baumbach, who did The Squid and the Whale and Greenberg. We’re in New York filming that at the moment.”
When it comes to deciding which roles to accept and which to decline, McGregor is well known for not conforming to the usual Hollywood big budget blockbusters. He reveals that it’s the script rather than director, cast or budget that attracts him to films.
“I don’t complicate it. I just look to be engaged when I’m reading it, you know. I think there are different elements that make up a film; an interesting director attached, for example, can change the way you read it. At the same time, though, if you don’t feel connected to the script, then somehow you won’t be able to do your best work. I just look for a story that fascinates me and a character that I don’t feel like I’ve played before. I keep it simple like that, really.”
As one of the hardest working actors in film, McGregor cherishes his time off – whenever he gets some. “I’ve got four children now, so any time off I get, I spend quite a lot of it with my kids and my wife. I also ride my old motorbikes, which is my hobby. They are my passion. I’ve got a collection of old oily British and Italian bikes. I like to keep them going and ride them whenever I can.”
One motorbike McGregor will not be riding any time soon, however, is his BMW R1200GS used in the popular documentaries The Long Way Round and The Long Way Down.
“There are no plans in place at the moment. I don’t think it’ll happen. It takes such a lot of work and time and I’m already away a lot with my work so it’s difficult to use my spare time to go away again for another three or four months. Especially now that I’ve got a little baby at the moment and I don’t want to miss her baby years.
“I ride my bikes almost every day but apart from personal trips that I make now and again and trips with my dad or my brother, I don’t plan on doing any big ones again.”
Staying in L.A and filming in exotic locations around the world, McGregor admits that Scotland will always hold a special place in his heart.
“I always try to spend as much time in Scotland as I can. I try and spend my summers between Scotland and France [Ewan’s wife’s country of birth] so the kids can see their grandparents and I get to be home. It just depends on my schedule, though. It’s not easy to organise school holiday breaks and my breaks.
“If I’m ever filming in Britain, I’ll always make it up to Scotland.”
And he could be coming back to his homeland soon with a third project planned with acclaimed Scottish director David McKenzie.
“I’m speaking to David about another project at the moment. I love working with him. Perfect Sense, which we made together, is a brilliant piece of work by him, as was Young Adam
“He’s not just a great Scottish director but also just one of the great, great directors in the world. He’s got such a unique, dark vision and I like working with him. We’ve been talking about doing a film that, if not Glasgow based, will certainly be Scotland based.”
Haywire is in cinemas now