|lily||Дата: Суббота, 12 Ноября 2016, 21.56.12 | Сообщение # 1|
Ewan McGregor interview: 'I don't live in a Hollywood bubble'
11 NOVEMBER 2016 • 12:00PM
It’s the grin, of course. The thing that everybody recognises inEwan McGregor – a wide-open and wide-eyed smile that suggests an abundance of good humour and more: that he’s up for anything.
A thing so familiar that the film site the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) lists it as one of his ‘trademarks’ – ‘mischievous smile’ – along with ‘Scottish accent’, ‘red hair and blue eyes’ and ‘mole on his forehead, until he had it removed’, which is a particularly strange choice of identifier, and of which there is now no trace.
Along with the grin is his dominant characteristic, geniality – a boyish enthusiasm, for film, family, motorbikes, charity work – whatever he talks about, and McGregor talks a mile a minute.
He is sitting in the restaurant of a London hotel, a pot of tea on the table, dressed in a black T-shirt, and a tight, short-cut black jacket, his hair – I wouldn’t describe it as red – freshly cut in a high fade, a youthful look for a man who is 45, and one that suggests if not quite amidlife crisis then at least a careful rethink of his wardrobe.
After more than 20 years as an actor, McGregor has directed his first film, American Pastoral, based on the Philip Roth novel, in which he also stars, and he has been on a whistle-stop tour of Europe, talking it up.
‘My eyes are still being opened to the other side of the curtain,’ he says with a laugh. ‘Having to sit with producers and talk about distribution and marketing and reviews and all this shit...’ He sighs. ‘I thought I understood the film business, but I’m realising I’ve still got a lot to learn.’
Set in the 1960s, American Pastoral tells the story of Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov, a Jewish businessman whose seemingly golden and imperturbable middle-class life is violently disrupted when his 16-year-old daughter, Merry, gets swept up in radical politics and blows up the local post office, before going on the run.
American Pastoral’s big theme is the betrayal of the promise of the American dream, of which, to all appearances, The Swede is the very embodiment: a handsome, fair-haired (hence the nickname) high-school sporting hero and former Marine, universally loved and admired, who inherits his father’s glove-making business and marries a shiksa – a beauty queen, no less.
But there is a worm in the apple. His adored daughter, Merry, suffers from a speech impediment, which her therapist ascribes to feelings of inadequacy beside her all-too-perfect parents. As America becomes ever more deeply embroiled in the Vietnam War, so Merry turns against her government, her country and everything The Swede holds dear, waging her own war of violent personal rebellion.
Roth describes an America rent by social and political upheaval, a time of race riots and the activities of the militant left-wing group the Weather Underground, which between 1969 and 1973 was responsible for the bombings of government buildings and banks across the country.
Incredibly, the only people killed in their campaign of violence were three members of the group, who died in a Greenwich Village ‘safe house’ when a home-made nail bomb they were constructing exploded suddenly. In Roth’s book Merry becomes a bomb-maker, responsible for four deaths.
As a film, American Pastoral has had a difficult history. McGregor was first approached to play the part of The Swede some six years ago, but the script, by John Romano, was circulated through a number of directors without ever getting off the ground.
In 2014, McGregor was in New York, stuck in traffic, on his way to perform in Tom Stoppard’s play The Real Thing, when he got a call offering him the job of director. He was thunderstruck. He recalls spending a day with the script, envisioning himself going through every step of the acting – and directing – process, asking ‘Can I do it? Can I do it? Can I do it?’, finally concluding that, yes, he could.
Roth’s work has proved notoriously problematic to film in the past. So much of its power lies in the writing, with its great unspooling, meditative sentences and digressions (huge tracts of American Pastoral are given over to descriptions of the techniques and history of making leather gloves; fascinating in Roth’s telling, but hardly cinematically compelling).
The film is therefore necessarily a work of boiling down – even more so given that the original budget of $30 million was cut, as McGregor points out, ‘because I was a first-time director’, taking several scenes from the original script with it.
The film has had a mixed response from critics, but it does a highly creditable job of conveying the drama of Roth’s book, conjuring a strong sense of period and place, and drawing some powerful performances from Jennifer Connelly, as The Swede’s wife, Dakota Fanning as Merry, and McGregor himself as The Swede.
McGregor has not met Roth, but the author has let it be known that he likes the film. McGregor says he has always felt like a film-maker; having acted in some 55 films over the past 22 years, he has been around enough sets and directors to get an idea of how it works.
Roth wrote the novel in 1997, but as a film it takes on particularly contemporary, and unintended, resonances. At one point, The Swede is seen barricaded in his glove factory at the height of the race riots that swept through Newark in 1967 leaving 26 people dead. ‘I was watching documentary footage from 1967, and as we were prepping the film there were exactly the same pictures on the evening news – black men with their fists in the air, armoured vehicles going by; National Guardsmen in the streets.
‘In terms of Merry’s being politicised, that’s just a story that Roth writes, but of course it’s horribly accurate compared to some of the stories we’re hearing today with Isis, but it was never my intention to make it so; it just is.’
In Roth’s novel, The Swede is ‘a man who did everything right up to the moment when he did everything wrong’. But when was that moment? He looks back over his relationship with Merry in a desperate search for reasons for her mutation from loving daughter to violent revolutionary.
Two moments are defined in the film. First, the family gathered round the television watching the evening news when suddenly the image comes on the screen of a Vietnamese monk setting fire to himself, appalling the young girl and, it is implied, harshly awakening her to the injustice in the world.
Yet more charged is a moment at the end of an idyllic weekend that he and his daughter, then aged 12, have spent together, when she turns and asks him to ‘kiss me like you kiss Mommy…’
McGregor says he had to ‘fight like hell’ to keep the scene in the film as it was written in the book. ‘In the script, it had been transformed into a scene in their back garden, where The Swede is having a picnic with Merry on a blanket. But for me it was so important that they go away together; a romantic weekend – a romance in her mind… And she asks him to kiss her.
‘It’s never felt to me that throughout the book he’s writing about an incestuous relationship between a father and daughter, so it’s an oddity that Roth should have written that particular scene. But that was something I really felt had to happen in the film, that they go away together.
‘In the novel, when she says “Kiss me…” he leans over and he does kiss her like he kisses Mummy, and it says it might have been five seconds, it might have been 10 seconds: well, that’s a long time for a father to be kissing his daughter in that manner – or at all. I didn’t feel it was necessary to do that in the film – and if I had done, the film would have become about that kiss, do you know what I mean?
‘Instead, when she asks that, I lose my temper with her. But what I think we’ve achieved in there is that you can feel the taboo of incest that Roth suggests, but without The Swede actually kissing her. He recognises it.’ The young Merry is played by a 12-year-old actress named Hannah Nordberg, who gives an astonishingly assured performance.
‘She absolutely plays that scene,’ McGregor says. ‘And I’ve no idea how, because I didn’t discuss it with her. I don’t know about her understanding of those things, and her development, and I didn’t want to put that in there. But she played it perfectly in the rehearsal, and there was nothing else to say.’
McGregor says that it was the relationship between father and daughter that first drew him to the script. He and his wife, Eve Mavrakis – a French-Greek production designer whom he married in 1995 after meeting her on the set of the TV series Kavanagh QC – are the biological parents of two daughters, Clara, 20, and Esther, 14, and have two adopted daughters, Jamyan, 15, and Anouk, five.
‘It’s about a father losing his daughter, but the whole thing could be seen as just an extreme story of children growing up and pushing away from their parents, and the fact that you have to let them go to become their own adult person – that’s the way that I feel about it.
‘I remember reading the script for the first time in a hotel room in New York City, and being really moved and upset by it. Clara was 14 or 15 at the time, and I’m sure that subconsciously I was thinking that in two or three years she would be leaving home and going off to university. So I lost my daughter in a very normal and routine sort of fashion, but off she went and I don’t wake up in the same house as her any more; so maybe that’s what grabbed me about it.’
A child leaving home – it’s like ‘a little death’, he says. ‘But even before that. Our last, she’s five-and-a-half, but because we don’t intend to have another child, every stage she goes through, from getting out of nappies, or off the potty, we’re like, “Oh, it’s the last time we’ll be doing this.”’ He laughs. ‘She’s got this enormous pressure on her shoulders, doing everything for the last time in our house.’
McGregor moved from London to Los Angeles eight years ago. He was spending a lot of time in America, and it seemed to make sense to move there, although ironically few films are made in Hollywood, and he has little to do with the film community there.
A goodwill ambassador for Unicef, he was recently in Iraq, visiting refugee camps. ‘Somebody asked me yesterday, did you feel you needed to go to Iraq to get out of the Hollywood bubble? I don’t live in a Hollywood bubble. There’s this idea that living in LA is a bit like being in a 24-hour hip-hop video. I’ve never been to a hip-hop party in my life.’ He laughs. ‘I’m waiting for the invitation.’
Brentwood, the area where he lives, is suburban, in both geography and temperament. ‘Our life totally revolves around our kids,’ McGregor says. ‘It’s children, school… the kids’ friends’ parents become your acquaintances and sometimes your friends. I like it.
‘There’s a neighbourliness, an old-fashioned sense of community that is almost more like my childhood in Scotland than living in London was, in a weird way. I’ve got friends who will just drop by, and come in the house, and get something out of the fridge or put the kettle on and make themselves tea.
‘I don’t remember that ever happening in London, where it was, “We’ll come and see you on Sunday afternoon at 4 o’clock,” and you’d never dream of just dropping by. I remember that in Scotland, people would be walking the dog or something and they’d just pop in. So it reminds me of my childhood, I suppose.’
McGregor grew up in the small Scottish town of Crief. His father, James, was a PE teacher, his mother, Carol, a special-needs teacher. An elder brother, Colin, became an RAF Tornado fighter pilot. McGregor’s ambition to act was largely inspired by the example of his uncle, the actor Denis Lawson, whom he once recalled coming back up from London on a visit, ‘sheepskin waistcoat, no shoes and beads and stuff. I’d be, like, “I want to be that guy.” And the fact that he came from the same small town made it possible.’
With his parents’ encouragement, he left Morrison’s Academy at the age of 16 to join the Perth Repertory Theatre as a stagehand. He went on to study drama at Kirkcaldy College in Fife, before enrolling at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama for a three-year course.
His first notable role was in Shallow Grave (1994), directed by Danny Boyle, written by John Hodge and produced by Andrew Macdonald. The same team would go on to make Trainspotting (1996), a scabrous look at a group of heroin addicts in Edinburgh based on the Irvine Welsh novel, in which McGregor starred as Renton. The film, which was nominated for a best screenwriting Oscar, and won a slew of other awards around the world, made stars of its four principals – McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle – and established Boyle in the vanguard of British directors.
Lauded as one of the best British films of the 1990s, when Welsh published a sequel to Trainspotting, Porno, in 2002, repositioning Renton et al 10 years on in the porn industry, expectation was high that Boyle, McGregor and the other Trainspotting principals would be reuniting to make a film of it. Fourteen years on, it is finally happening – but not without a river of tears of recrimination, and reconciliation, in the meantime.
Following Trainspotting, McGregor worked with Boyle and McDonald once more on A Life Less Ordinary (1997), a black comedy in which McGregor co-starred with Cameron Diaz as a janitor who gets fired and kidnaps his boss’s daughter. But he fell out badly with the director after Boyle cast Leonardo DiCaprio in the film The Beach (2000) – a decision that McGregor found deeply wounding.
‘I felt at that time that as an actor I was part of the new wave of something,’ he says. ‘I was lucky to be Danny’s actor, and I felt part of something that was bigger than all our careers with Shallow Grave and Trainspotting – less so, perhaps, with A Life Less Ordinary. I felt we’d left our mark on British cinema.
‘So when we were approaching The Beach, I thought I was playing that role and I was encouraged to think so; I was told for many months I would be doing it; and then I was told I wouldn’t. And I was mystified and it had been handled badly, and whatever. But it hurt me very much at the time. I was rocked a bit, and my confidence was dented.
‘And I didn’t quite understand why they went down that path when I thought we were about something else. I understood when it came down to dollars. But it was a Hollywood version of something we weren’t really about.’
After that, he says, he and Boyle ‘didn’t speak to each other for years and years’. In 2002, when Porno was published, he was sounded out about appearing in a film version. ‘There wasn’t a script at that point, but I wrote to them saying I didn’t want to do a sequel to Trainspotting. I didn’t like the novel Porno very much. It didn’t move me like the novel Trainspotting had, and I didn’t want to tarnish the reputation of Trainspotting by making a poor sequel.’
Over the years, he says, he would bump into Danny Boyle here and there, and ‘even though I should have felt cross, I was always delighted to see him. We were never mates. It was a professional partnership. We didn’t hang out in each other’s homes or anything like that. But the truth of the matter is that I love Danny: he was my first director – which is a bit like being your first love, I guess, because I didn’t know what it was like to be a film actor until I was with him.
‘When I was on set with him, I would look over and see him and feel genuinely happy that he was there. I’d do anything he asked. I felt – and still feel – that he directs in a way that is wonderfully unusual for an actor; he knows what you’re about, and he took you forward in a way that led to some really extraordinary work, that you look back and go – “F—ing hell, I didn’t know I could do that.”’
In 2009, at a ceremony in Los Angeles, along with the Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel, McGregor presented Boyle with the John Schlesinger Britannia Award for Artistic Excellence in Directing. ‘I asked, is it televised?’ he remembers. ‘Because they always write you something to say and it’s always crap. But they said, no, so I said I’ll write my own thing, and there’s no need to put it on autocue. So I got there, and there were cameras everywhere! I was going on after De Niro and before Governor Schwarzenegger. I was terrified.
‘But on I went. And because it wasn’t on autocue I just said it to Danny, sitting there at his table, and I talked about how it felt to be on his set and how I felt defined as an actor by being his actor. And at the end I just said that I loved him and I missed him. And then Danny got up and talked about how his job was all about the actors, and he was lucky to have two such actors on the stage to give him this award, and he thanked Dev, and “Ewan, whose graciousness I don’t deserve.” And I just felt, that’s it. It was done.’
With the 20th anniversary of Trainspotting coming up, the idea of a sequel took on greater momentum. John Hodge delivered a script that everybody was happy with, and on a Friday last August, McGregor completed the final day on the sound mix of American Pastoral and on the following Monday flew to Scotland to begin shooting the film, titled T2: Trainspotting.
McGregor will say only that the script is ‘very loosely based on Porno. And I can’t tell you any more.’ He laughs. ‘I wouldn’t want to spoil it.’ Looking back over his career, there is perhaps some irony in McGregor’s unhappiness about Danny Boyle ‘going Hollywood’ with The Beach, as his own career would shortly take him in much the same direction, playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.
‘But Star Wars is Star Wars – it’s something I grew up with as a kid. At first, I was very reluctant to do it, because I saw myself as this urban, grungy actor doing films about heroin and stuff, and that’s who I felt like I really was.
‘But the nearer I got to it, the more I wanted to do it: and it wasn’t for money reasons, because it was back in the day – I got paid nicely for it, but it wasn’t ridiculous by any means. It was to do with being in it – and it didn’t feel like Hollywood. George Lucas hated Hollywood – he was in San Francisco following the beat of his own drum. So it felt like a good thing to do.’
Thinking about it, he says, probably ‘the most Hollywood’ film he has ever made was Jack the Giant Slayer (‘The ancient war between humans and a race of giants is reignited when Jack, a young farmhand fighting for a kingdom and the love of a princess, opens a gateway between the two worlds,’ according to IMDb). I didn’t see it, I say. ‘No. Neither did I…’ McGregor’s deadpan expression dissolves into a conspiratorial smile. ‘Let’s just leave it at that.’
He is a prolific actor, who over the past 20 years has taken only two lengthy breaks. In 2004 he did a 22,345-mile bike ride, the ‘Long Way Round’, with his friend Charley Boorman, the son of film director John Boorman, circling the globe from London to New York, via Europe, Russia and Mongolia and Canada. It was on that trip, in Mongolia, that he first met his adopted daughter Jamyan, who had been abandoned and was living in a Unicef shelter.
In 2007, he and Boorman undertook another mammoth ride, ‘The Long Way Down’, from John O’Groats to Cape Town. On that trip they were joined at the Tanzania border by Eve, who rode with them across Malawi and Zambia. Even these trips could hardly be described as ‘a break’: both produced a documentary and a book.
‘I’ve always loved working,’ he says simply. ‘It’s how I support my family, and I guess I do that very well. I don’t have to worry about school fees because I work a lot. I still get excited getting a script through the post and reading it, and if I like the part, I still get jazzed about playing it.’
It puzzles him, he says, that some of the films that he is most proud of are the ones that have performed least well at the box office: Young Adam (2003), based on the Alex Trocchi story and directed by David Mackenzie – in which he played an amoral drifter who has an affair with a woman stuck in a passionless marriage – and Perfect Sense (2011), an environmental apocalypse film, again directed by Mackenzie.
‘I made a film with Rodrigo García two years ago called Last Days in the Desert, which is a beauty, about Christ in the desert, on the way back to Jerusalem after the temptation. It was unique, slow-paced, so interesting. It wasn’t one my agents were behind me on at all, but I was like, “No, I really want to do this.” Then I got an email from one of the producers saying, “Such a shame no one saw our film.” I was, “Wait a minute, no one saw it?” My agent said, well Ewan, no one was going to go and see that film. But I’m mystified, because I really don’t think of the business that way.’
He gestures for another pot of tea. He is, he says, a happy man. ‘I always have been. And I’ve such a lot to be happy about really.’ In an earlier life he had a reputation for hard drinking and misbehaviour. But he stopped drinking 15 years ago, and has not had a drop since. He loves his work, his family, his passion for motorbikes and old cars.
When he’s not working, he says, it’s ‘a double whammy’ – he gets to be at home with the family and take the kids to school in what he calls ‘these silly old cars’ – any one of a collection of old Volkswagens or his black 1960 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud.
‘I drive around LA in this big old, silly old Rolls, like Dudley Moore. It’s the daily school-run car. I love it – just love it. And then when they’re at school and I come back and it’s, right, which bike is it going to be? And I’m off…’
He gives that big McGregor grin. His trademark, which suggests he hasn’t a care in the world. ‘Oh, I have. I’ve got three people to get to school in the morning. I’m always wondering, where are their f—ing socks?’
American Pastoral is out now; T2:Trainspotting is out on January 27