Sex star, movie star, family man, Scot. These are the basic elements of the Ewan McGregor legend.
While the “sex star” reputation merely derives from having enjoyed some full frontal exposure during his illustrious career, and he admits to being a “lousy” movie star, McGregor is defined by his absolute commitment to his wife Eve and their children. Next July will mark their 20th wedding anniversary and Ewan has no hesitation in saying that meeting his wife made him give up an admittedly “wild and raging” lifestyle that followed his early success in films like Shallow Grave and, of course, Trainspotting.
Over the years, the handsome, ever-smiling McGregor has worked in over 50 films, including working with noted directors Peter Greenaway (The Pillow Book) to Woody Allen (Cassandra’s Dream) to Ron Howard (Angels and Demons) and Roman Polanski (The Ghost). Although he earned healthy paychecks for playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in three Star Wars films, some of his best work has come in smaller productions like Beginners (with Christopher Plummer) and Perfect Sense (with Eva Green).
His new film, Mortdecai, an action-comedy co-starring Johnny Depp and Goop girl Gwyneth Paltrow, is a tribute to McGregor’s chameleonic ability to shift into virtually any role. Ewan plays the determined and dapper Inspector Martland, who has been assigned to track down Depp’s oddball “international man of leisure,” Charles “Charlie” Mortdecai, who himself is hunting down a stolen painting linked to a bank vault containing stolen Nazi treasures.
McGregor and his French wife, Eve (pronounced “ev”) Mavrakis, a former set decorator, make their home in Los Angeles, having moved to the sun and surf of California six years ago. They have four daughters: teenagers Clara (18), who has just begun her university studies in New York, and Esther (13), and adopted girls Jamiyan (12) and Anouk (3). He still admits to a fondness for motorcycles, following his fabled cross-continental motorcycle journeys of years gone by, and spends much of his spare time tinkering and building motorbikes in his garage.
In October, McGregor made his Broadway debut in “The Real Thing”, co-starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, in a revival of the Tom Stoppard play that was previously performed by Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close in 1984.
McGREGOR: It’s hard to say exactly why... I grew up watching old black and white movies and just fell in love with the whole process and creating that kind of fantasy world. I think when I was around 8 or 9, I was already pretty set on becoming an actor, because I knew instinctively that it was something I wanted to do with my life. Obviously my Uncle Denis was a pretty famous actor and that gave me some encouragement and inspiration, because we both came from small towns in Scotland. I always knew that I would find my way into the business somehow.
STRIPLV: You were anxious to leave school to pursue acting studies, weren’t you?
McGREGOR: Yes. I was dealing with a situation where I was unhappy because I was fed up at school. It was difficult for any creative or artistic-minded people at my school (Morrison’s Academy) to develop, because it was geared to feeding people into business and commerce. I wasn’t that way—I wanted to do music and art and my school didn’t allow me to do the things I wanted to do. They told me I had to choose one way or another, but of course, I didn’t have that choice at that school, so I left to study at the Perth Repertory Theatre.
STRIPLV: How did your parents feel about your wanting to become an actor?
McGREGOR: My parents supported me, they believed in me, and that made it much easier for me. They knew I loved performing, and so rather than try to convince me to go in some other direction and find a proper job with more stability, which most parents would probably do, they just stood behind me. They told me that they wanted me to be happy and that I could quit school and study acting. And it all worked out in the end, so I guess they knew what they were doing!
STRIPLV: Your parents had originally thought you would follow your brother’s academic path?
McGREGOR: There was a void of expectation when my brother left home at 17, because he was very good at school. He was the head boy and the teachers all loved him. When he left, there was this expectation that I would take his place, but I wasn’t like that.
STRIPLV: Did you grow up with the sense of rebelliousness that you sometimes get to show in your work and life?
McGREGOR: I grew up in a very conservative setting. But it was also a very beautiful childhood, simply because of the setting. The open spaces and the nature really gave me a love for life that you just don’t get, I imagine, if you grow up in a big city surrounded by concrete. So I think that helped feed my fantasy life and gave me some sense of adventure. I don’t know. I think I always had some natural sense of fun and mayhem. I would never want to curb that. It’s who I am.
STRIPLV: You became a star in your early twenties. How did that impact your life?
McGREGOR: It was fantastic in a way. I was living out my dream of being an actor and I was doing a lot of wild partying. The success and recognition were also a lot for me to deal with and it was a very chaotic time for me.
STRIPLV: It was at that point that you met Eve Makrakis, who became your wife...
McGREGOR: I was 23 when I met my wife, and she has been with me through all of that. It took me a while longer to realize what makes you happy and what doesn’t make you happy at the time when you’re riding a wave of success and you’re drinking and partying and you think you’re happy. But then I saw that those things weren’t making me happy—it was my wife and my child at the time, the things that were right in front of my eyes, which were making me happy. It’s not a unique story, but I was lucky in that I understood that about myself early on and didn’t waste more time indulging myself. I had done enough! (laughs)
STRIPLV: Your marriage is a great success story, going on for nearly two decades now. But you prefer not to think of it in those terms, as if it were an accomplishment?
McGREGOR: Our marriage has been a wonderful journey and I’m very lucky that we found each other. I don’t like to think of it as an achievement or accomplishment, because there’s an implication that it’s required some great effort or something. I’m in love with my wife. We have a beautiful time together and I love being a father.
STRIPLV: You’re a very devoted father. Did that come naturally?
McGREGOR: Some of it is natural, but you also have to take your responsibility as a father seriously. You have to make time to get to know your children, spend afternoons shopping with them and just trying to build that closeness with them, instead of just being a parental figure. I’ve tried to make sure that my daughters felt that they were each very special to me and that I would always make time for them.
STRIPLV: How is it dealing with your two teenage daughters?
McGREGOR: Teenagers are quite strange. They’re odd people. And they don’t know why they’re so strange, and of course, they always think that they’re right. I like my relationship with my eldest daughter, Clara. Though I have to say that she wasn’t that happy when I told her that I was coming to New York (to do “The Real Thing”) and that I would be phoning her every night after the play was over. That didn’t go down too well with her. (laughs)
“There’s a little village in Ethiopia, where we stopped (with friend/actor Charly Boorman during one of their fabled motorcycle adventures), and these people took us into their little hut. This woman had one small root of ginger. And she made us this ginger tea that I’ll never forget—it was a fantastic tea—in her little hut. And I’m pretty sure that was her only piece of ginger. They also gave us bread and were extraordinarily good people who fed us and sent us on our way. You come back very inspired by that act of human kindness—it’s something that you have to go out there and discover, because we can’t be like that with each other in cities, even though it’s in our nature.”
“I’ve got some lovely, lovely old motorcycles that date back to 1929. There’s about 15 of them, and I’d be quite happy to just stand and look at them all day. I have a very basic mechanical knowledge, and I like tinkering with them. And then I love to ride them, of course. It’s like meditation for me.”
“I enjoy going to Chinese restaurants and ordering the most extreme thing you can find. Chicken feet are pretty strange to chew on—fat and cartilage, lovely!”
COSMO, THE DOG
“There was this lovely little dog called Cosmo, who worked on Beginners with us. I got very attached to him and it was so hard for me to leave him when the film was over. Then when I was doing these packaged EPK (electronic press kit) interviews at the end of the shoot, I started to cry when I was talking about saying goodbye to Cosmo. It was really embarrassing. I was saying, ‘It’s been lovely to work with (co-stars) Melanie (Laurent) and Christopher (Plummer), and next week I’ve got to say goodbye to Cosmo,’ and I started crying.”
“I love those films. When I was a kid, I was much happier watching old movies than kids’ TV, and I ended up watching all the old Ealing comedies. I would marvel at how great Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers were. Sadly, I never got to meet Alec Guinness, even though I watched all his films, preparing for Star Wars.”
“I was terrible, academically. I was also expected to live up to my (older) brother’s legacy. He was the captain of the rugby and cricket teams and he had the most beautiful and spectacular girlfriends. So I resented school and started behaving badly. I didn’t burn anything down, but I wanted to.” (laughs)
STAR WARS FANS
“I’ve never been to one of the conventions. The people I meet are the fuckers who want me to sign Star Wars photos so they can sell them on the Internet, or the people at premieres who are crushing children against barriers to get me to sign their fucking picture of Obi-Wan Kenobi. They’re not fans—they’re parasitical lowlifes and fucking wankers! For them, I’m the naked, nondrinking guy, from a galaxy far, far away: That’s me.”
VELVET GOLDMINE SEX SCENES
“I did have a sex scene with Christian Bale, which I did to the best of my ability. I was playing an Iggy Pop-type rock star and we have a shag on top of a rooftop. We heard, ‘Action!’ so we started to slowly (simulate sex). Then it went on and on. Then I thought: ‘I would have come by now,’ so I went round to Christian’s ear and went, ‘I think I would have come by now. I’m going to have a look.’ I looked over and they were packing up the cameras! They must have said ‘cut’ really quietly. I think they thought it was a sensitive thing, and they should just leave it to us. There (would have been) nothing wrong with screaming, ‘Cut,’ (though)!”
THE TIME HIS PARENTS WENT TO SEE THE PILLOW BOOK
“I remember my parents sending me a fax, saying: ‘We’re going to go and see The Pillow Book tonight in Edinburgh, son. We’re going with the farmer and his wife.’ They live in the middle of nowhere, next to a farm, and they wanted to take the farmer. And I suddenly thought: ‘God, do they have any idea what’s in the film?’ (McGregor is naked for much of the film and has sex with men and women). I tried warning them and told them that it was quite racy, but they still went and saw it. The next day my father sent me a fax: ‘I’m glad you inherited one of my major attributes.’”