So what do you do if you’re watching an absolute stinker of a film and tomorrow you are interviewing its star?
Lucky me. I’ve got an advance copy of the new Woody Allen film, Cassandra’s Dream, so I invite friends around for tea and a private screening. We’re all Woody fans, and as usual there is a starry cast, this time including Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell. We turn down the lights, and sit back in expectation.
And it is an absolute shocker. One of the worst films I’ve ever seen. This was supposed to be a treat, and I feel embarrassed that I’ve made people sit through it. The lights come up, and nobody knows what to say.
Cassandra’s Dream is set in London, but for all Allen’s understanding of London and the nuances of Londoners’ language, it might as well have been Mars. In the film, McGregor and his brother, played by Farrell, find a way out of their financial problems by becoming hit men. The characters are toilet-paper thin, the story ridiculous, the coincidences and portentous allusions to Greek tragedy even more so.
Unfortunately, I’m interviewing McGregor the next day. As my friends leave, one by one they ask if I’ll tell him what we thought about the film. I tell them it would be dishonest not to, but I’ll try to be tactful.
McGregor shakes my hand firmly. He’s dressed in black, blessed with lovely teeth, and a handsome, laddish face. He doesn’t appear to have aged since he made his name in the Danny Boyle films Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. He just looks cooler, more sophisticated.
McGregor was born in 1971, in Crieff, Scotland, to teacher parents. He moved to London to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1988 and was six months short of graduation when he was given his first television role in Dennis Potter’s Lipstick on Your Collar. He made a wonderful start to his movie career: within a year of Trainspotting, he was stripped and covered in Japanese calligraphy for Peter Greenaway’s erotic love story The Pillow Book, and headed up a poignant story about the last days of a colliery band in Brassed Off. McGregor seemed an adventurous actor, keen to stretch himself with both populist and arthouse movies.
At the end of the 1990s, he won the part of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequel series and since then there have been any number of forgettable movies — Rogue Trader, Eye of the Beholder, The Island. Still, he became even more famous as a motorcycle adventurist in two TV series with his friend Charley Boorman: The Long Way Down and The Long Way Round. The motorbike adventures made for successful TV and books. In The Long Way Round, he and Boorman traveled more than 30,500km from London to New York via Europe and Asia, and then in The Long Way Down they went more than 8,000km from John O’Groats, on the northern tip of the Scottish mainland, to South Africa. One episode began, perhaps ironically, “apart from two trucks and a camera crew, we’re on our own.”
Would McGregor prefer to have done it without a camera crew? “The actual crew don’t get in the way because we just travel with our mate Claudio [cameraman Claudio von Planta], just the three of us, and we just meet the other crew every now and again. I never felt it got in the way. I do trips on my own, but I’ve never done one as long as that on my own. But I will do one day, I’m sure of it.”