Ewan McGregor forgives director's snub almost 20 years on
THERE is one question about Ewan McGregor's directorial debut American Pastoral that McGregor gets asked all the time and which can't help but make the Trainspotting star bristle.
Did he, as a Scottish actor and filmmaker, feel he was in any way trespassing by making a movie based on such quintessentially American material? The film is adapted from Philip Roth's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1997 novel about a seemingly happy and successful all-American family man whose daughter turns into a terrorist.
"I don't think it has ever been asked of me as an actor before. Of all my acting roles, how many of those are Scots?" McGregor protests at the idea that nationality should have any bearing at all on artistic choice.
McGregor is giving me an interview a fortnight or so after a London screening of American Pastoral, after which he did a Q&A on stage with Danny Boyle, who has just directed him in T2, the Trainspotting sequel. Boyle was very moved by McGregor's film, which he had seen twice.
What was striking about the Q&A was the admiration and warmth that Boyle and McGregor clearly felt for one another. It hasn't always been thus. Back in 2000, when Leonardo DiCaprio was cast as the lead in The Beach, McGregor was very peeved indeed.
He had given brilliant performances for Boyle in Shallow Grave (1994), Trainspotting (1996) and A Life Less Ordinary (1997) and felt he was a core part of the creative team that also included producer Andrew Macdonald and doctor-turned-writer John Hodge.
Nonetheless, on their biggest budget movie, they went for DiCaprio instead of him. I ask if his grievance against the old team is now in the past.
"Yeah... but it took a long time for it to be in the past. It wasn't just about The Beach. It's deeper than that in the way it was handled," McGregor reflects. "I felt very much like his (Boyle's) actor and I felt very involved: part of this new piece of British cinema. I felt we stood for something. I felt part of something bigger than just my acting career, part of something important.
"I thought what Shallow Grave and Trainspotting did in British cinema was big and had left its mark. I felt the loss of more than just an acting role in The Beach. The way it was handled cost us our friendship for years. It was a lot to put behind us and it has taken 20 years to do it.''
Now, McGregor is back in the fold. He went off to play Renton again in the Trainspotting sequel the very day after he finished the sound mix on American Pastoral.
"I loved it," he enthuses of T2. "It was great after having this directing experience to go back and work with one of my favourite ever directors (Boyle). I loved it. It was a wonderful experience to be back with those guys: Kelly (Macdonald), Jonny Lee Miller, Bobby Carlyle and Ewen Bremner and to be speaking John Hodge's words again. I haven't worked on a John Hodge script since A Life Less Ordinary. It has been a very long time and I like the way he writes.''
I've always enjoyed the style of his writing."
As for Boyle, McGregor rhapsodises about his "gentle but strong leadership and absolute artistic sensibility ... the quiet confidence he has about what he is doing and that encourages really good work across the board."
The first Trainspotting was famous for its madcap energy. It may have been about drug-taking skaggies from Leith but it moved at the frenetic pace of the Iggy Pop music that accompanied McGregor's delirious dashes through Edinburgh's streets.
The actor warns his fans that the new film is going to have a tempo in keeping with the more advanced age of its protagonists. "We didn't try to remake Trainspotting. You'll see. It has its own rhythm and unique pace and energy but which is not the energy of 20-year-old people. The characters are no longer 20-year-old people."
Even so, McGregor makes shooting T2 sound like the perfect pick-me-up after American Pastoral. He relished his experiences on the Philip Roth adaptation but acknowledges that it was exhausting. He is in almost every scene of the film but, as the film's director, he also had multiple other demands on his time.