Pro­lific ac­tor Ewan Mcgre­gor vir­tu­ally has his pick of roles these days but when he stum­bled upon the wist­ful com­edy/ drama Be­gin­ners he couldn’t be­lieve his luck, writes James Wigney

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page - Mcgre­gor re­cently fin­ished shoot­ing Bryan Singer’s BE­GIN­NERS Now show­ing State Cinema Re­view: P5

Act­ing’s trav­el­ling road­show man.

DI­REC­TOR Mike Mills wanted more than any­thing to con­vey the ex­pe­ri­ence of ad­ven­ture on his new movie Be­gin­ners.

Cast­ing Ewan McGre­gor in the lead role of Oliver – es­sen­tially a ver­sion of the di­rec­tor him­self – was the per­fect start.

Since his break­through roles in the mid-’ 90s in Danny Boyle’s Shal­low

Grave and then Trainspot­ting , the Scot­tish ac­tor ( pic­tured) has been one of the most un­pre­dictable and ad­ven­tur­ous ac­tors in Hol­ly­wood, mov­ing be­tween stu­dio movies, edgy in­die fare, TV doc­u­men­taries and the stage with ap­par­ent ease.

For ev­ery high-pro­file part such as Obi Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars pre­quels or clone Lin­coln Six Echo in Michael Bay’s brain­less block­buster

The Is­land, there have also been roles as Jim Car­rey’s gay lover in I Love You Phillip Mor­ris, gritty dra­mas such as Young Adam and stints on the Lon­don

stage in Othello and the mu­si­cal Guys and Dolls.

Then there are his thrill-seek­ing ex­ploits away from act­ing. With his friend Charley Boor­man, keen mo­tor­cy­cle en­thu­si­ast McGre­gor made two cap­ti­vat­ing TV se­ries, The Long

Way Round, which chron­i­cled their trip from Lon­don to New York and

The Long Way Down, which fol­lowed a sim­i­lar jour­ney through Africa.

With his air force pi­lot brother Colin, he made a doc­u­men­tary on the Bat­tle of Bri­tain, with an­other one in the works on RAF Bomber Com­mand.

So was he raised by his teacher par­ents in small-town Cri­eff with a thirst for ad­ven­ture?

‘‘ If you asked my mum she would say ab­so­lutely not,’’ McGre­gor says in his still Scot­tish-sound­ing burr as he ne­go­ti­ates the streets of his adopted city, Los An­ge­les.

‘‘ She goes spare, the poor woman. My brother is fly­ing fast jets and I am rid­ing mo­tor­bikes around the world.

‘‘ My old man is on mo­tor­bikes now and is also a pi­lot and she de­spairs. But I don’t know whether it was some­thing that was in­stilled in us other than that we some­how in­her­ited it from some­where.’’ In Mills’ largely au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal

Be­gin­ners, McGre­gor’s char­ac­ter is also faced with the un­known and new be­gin­nings, as his fa­ther Hal ( played by Christopher Plum­mer) first comes out of the closet at the age of 75 and fi­nally tastes free­dom and hap­pi­ness be­fore be­ing di­ag­nosed with ter­mi­nal can­cer.

McGre­gor was first of­fered the part while on a chair­lift at the Sun­dance Fes­ti­val and, in­trigued, found the script wait­ing for him along with a hand­writ­ten let­ter from Mills when he re­turned home.

‘‘ He was won­der­ful to work with and al­lows the ac­tor the space to ex­plore and sets a very nice tone on set,’’ McGre­gor says of Mills.

‘‘ He is very quick and ef­fec­tive and eco­nom­i­cal and we all would have done any­thing for him.

‘‘ I have worked with great direc­tors and had won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ences with all of them but with Mike I just felt that ex­tra con­nec­tion that made me go and want to work with him for as long as he wanted me for.’’

While McGre­gor asked Mills to record all his di­a­logue to get the flavour of his voice, and watched him closely to mimic some of his move­ments, McGre­gor says he never wanted to do an im­per­son­ation of the di­rec­tor. Nor did he feel pres­sured by the di­rec­tor to do so.

‘‘ The fact it was his story never be­came like a bur­den be­cause I re­ally like him and re­ally got on with him,’’ McGre­gor says.

‘‘ He was al­ways there if I felt like I didn’t un­der­stand some­thing but it was so clear and the script was so well writ­ten that it never re­ally felt like an is­sue. He never asked me to play him.’’ Crit­i­cally ac­claimed fes­ti­val favourite

Be­gin­ners was made for a lit­tle over $ 3 mil­lion and was shot briskly in about eight weeks, do­ing sev­eral scenes a day.

Jack and the Giant Killer, a big bud­get, 3D fan­tasy ad­ven­ture, which he de­scribes as fun, but also ‘‘ like watch­ing paint dry’’. Also coming up for Mcgre­gor is the film

Im­pos­si­ble, which re­unites him with Aussie Naomi Watts after the two co-starred in the 2005 thriller Stay.

‘‘ It’s a true story about a Span­ish family who were caught in the tsunami in Thai­land in 2004,’’ he says.

‘‘ Naomi and I play par­ents and we have three lovely boys – Tom Hol­land, a 14-year-old kid who was one of the Billy El­liots in Lon­don, and two other wee boys – and it was their story.

‘‘ But Naomi is great, it’s our sec­ond film to­gether and we live very close to­gether here in LA, so it was very nice to work with her again.’’

Mcgre­gor’s con­nec­tion with Aus­tralia is strong. Not only did he spend sev­eral years in Syd­ney mak­ing the Star Wars pre­quel, he also starred in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, which re­mains one of his ca­reer high­lights.

‘‘ It was re­ally just won­der­ful and still one of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary movies I have been in­volved in,’’ he says of the ex­pe­ri­ence a decade ago.

‘‘ I loved work­ing with Baz and I think of him and CM [ Luhrmann’s wife and pro­fes­sional part­ner Catherine Martin] as a team in that Baz has the ex­tra­or­di­nary vi­sion and CM some­how puts it on screen with the de­sign of the cos­tumes and the sets. ‘‘ They work ab­so­lutely hand-in­glove and I don’t know that ei­ther would be as great without the other. I would hope very much to work with them again some day.’’

For now, McGre­gor con­cedes he will have to pur­sue his ad­ven­tur­ous streak on film or in the moun­taineer­ing books he so en­joys.

With a grow­ing family – about which he is fiercely pri­vate – of two bi­o­log­i­cal daugh­ters and two adopted daugh­ters with his wife Eve, he says he can’t jus­tify tak­ing off on his mo­tor­bike for months now, when some­times his work re­quires him to be away for long pe­ri­ods of time any­way.

‘‘ With my kids and ev­ery­thing I can’t re­ally rec­on­cile that in my own heart,’’ he says.

‘‘ Maybe we will do some later or I would love to do some trav­el­ling with my family – not on bikes ob­vi­ously – but in campers or Land Rovers or some­thing.

‘‘ I would cer­tainly like to be mak­ing some kind of tele­vi­sion show like that be­cause it’s quite fun and I do like in­spir­ing peo­ple to go and travel be­cause I think it’s a wor­thy thing to do.’’

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