13 December, 2010

Interview: Ewan McGregor

This article, by Federico Grandesso, was originally published in Bespoken Magazine by Scabal, and is reproduced here with their kind permission. To enjoy your copy, subscribe at

Scottish actor and icon Ewan McGregor, who was awarded Best European Actor at the 2010 European Film Awards for his performance in The Ghost Writer (2010) talks about his acting adventures.

Known across the galaxy since his role as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Ewan McGregor has gone from strength to strength as an actor. Moving from sharp, unforgiving interpretations in Shallow Grave (1994) and Trainspotting (1996) to seductive romantic roles in Moulin Rouge! (2001) and Down With Love (2003) he has seldom been off our screens, and has worked with some of the world's finest directors, including Danny Boyle, Tim Burton, George Lucas, Woody Allen, Ron Howard and, most recently, Roman Polanski in The Ghost Writer (2010), which was adapted from the Robert Harris novel.

McGregor plays 'The Ghost', the writer of the title, who lands the opportunity to write the memoirs of renowned UK former prime Minister Adam Lang (and any similarities to Tony Blair are mere coincidence, of course) played by Pierce Brosnan. But writing for a living can be very dangerous, as 'The Ghost' is about to discover.

Amid all the acclaim, we caught up with Ewan for a chat.

Bespoken: Does the location of a prospective movie play an important part in your choice of scripts, as you are well known as a man who loves to travel? Also, what was your best recent on-set experience?
Ewan McGregor: I have never had the opportunity to choose the locations for my movies, and no, it's other considerations that determine my choice. Yes, I love to travel, but I do have to say that I would be glad sometimes to have the opportunity to work at home, because it can be hard to be on location far away for so long. In The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009) the atmosphere on set was great because the director Grant Heslov loves to work at a certain rhythm and doesn't go for megatakes - two or three are enough, which is good, because I have had bad experiences in the past when I have had to work for an entire day on a very short scene. I loved working with George Clooney, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey. We laughed a lot, had a lot of fun and, don't forget, we also worked with professional goat actors, who were fantastic! [laughs]

How do you feel about your profession?
I've always loved this job, and my passion for what I do is actually growing. What I don't like are the moments when you have to wait - not only when we are actually working on set, when make-up has to be done or when a scene is being set up, but also the gaps between a great movie and the next one. You have to wait a long time to achieve a perfect interpretation and, in our job, the chances to work on ambitious and interesting projects are rare. Sometimes, you have to wait for years.

Some of your fellow actors, such as Sean Penn, are politically engaged. What about you?
Not really. To begin with, I have never been in the army, but I have a brother who, until two years ago was in the RAF, flying Tornadoes in war zones. My only experience of conflict was the 48 hours I once spent in Baghdad Airport. I met a lot of soldiers, and I was very surprised at how young they were, but I also left that airport feeling very proud, as these guys were doing something I could never have done. I didn't want to stay in that place one minute more than was absolutely necessary.

Was there anything about Roman Polanski's methods that particularly stood out?
One day on set, and we had been shooting for some weeks at this point, Roman came up to me and said: 'I have an idea for the ending,' and he described it to me, and I thought it was just amazing. It's a beautiful, very clever shot, in which I don't think the camera moves apart from following my character through a door and then it's static. It's a beautiful piece of storytelling, classic filmmaking, classic Polanski. You can imagine other directors needing 50 shots for the sequence in question, and he just pans the camera and leaves us to imagine what's going on offscreen, which is marvellous.

In The Ghost Writer, you also had the chance to work with Pierce Brosnan. How was that?
Pierce is an actor I've always followed - there's a handful of other actors that you wonder if one day you might work with, and Pierce was always one of those. I've always enjoyed watching him. My experience in The Ghost Writer was unique, in that I was there from the beginning to the end, and I was always there, ­I was always on set. I became like one of the crew, really, whereas other actors would come in and out. But for the first week or so, I was mainly on my own. I just did all the stuff with 'The Ghost' on my own, before Pierce arrived, and he was tremendous to work with, simple as that.

Tell us how it was, really, to work with Polanski?
I only spoke to Roman on the phone before I met him in Germany, because he was in Switzerland at the time and I was shooting The Men Who Stare at Goats in New Mexico and Puerto Rico, and I was unable to get to Europe, so we didn't actually meet before I turned up. That day, I was doing costume fittings when he came in, and as you know he's an iconic man and a legendary director so, for an actor, it was quite nerve-wracking to meet him. He's like a perfect host before you get on set, but he's two very different men [laughs]. When you're off set, he's preparing you coffee and making sure everyone's alright and then when you start working, be it on the text or actually on set, he's very direct. His direction is not guarded or sugar-coated in any way, ­he's really quite brusque with it. But his style is always very interesting, and it's no coincidence that he's considered to be a great movie director. On set, you just have to listen to him and, more often than not, in fact all the time, he is right. It's kind of annoying, but when you follow his instructions, it's like 'Oh, yeah, he's right about that.' Actors are quite sensitive, myself included, and when I tried something out, if Polanski didn't like it, he wouldn't worry about hurting your feelings. But I have to say that I realized very quickly he's like that with everybody - he directed the props guy, the painter and the set dresser in exactly the same way. In fact, all of our camera crew was Polish, he often hung out with them between scenes and you could hear them telling jokes in Polish. They were his buddies, but he was toughest with them when he was directing! [laughs]

05 December, 2010

The 23rd European Film Awards: The Winners

Well, for a change, I didn't go to the trouble of predicting the winners this year (which, considering the hash I made of it last year, is probably a very good thing) but there is no doubting, to my mind, that the right film won, across six major categories.

It only remains for us to congratulate Roman Polanski, whose quite excellent film The Ghost Writer (2010) did so very well, as may be seen below. The European Film Awards are increasingly becoming a good indicator for how the US Academy Awards may play out - we shall see.

Anyway, the more than 2,300 members of the European Film Academy (EFA), filmmakers from across Europe voted for this year's awards and, at the ceremony in Tallinn, European Capital of Culture 2011 on 4 December, the following awards were presented:

The Ghost Writer, France/Germany/UK
Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Robert Harris and Roman Polanski
Produced by Robert Benmussa, Alain Sarde and Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski for The Ghost Writer

Sylvie Testud in Lourdes

Ewan McGregor in The Ghost Writer

Robert Harris and Roman Polanski for The Ghost Writer

Giora Bejach for Lebanon

Luc Barnier and Marion Monnier for Carlos

Albrecht Konrad for The Ghost Writer

Alexandre Desplat for The Ghost Writer

Written and directed by Samuel Maoz
Produced by Moshe Edery, Leon Edery, David Silber, Uri Sabag, Einat Bickel, Benjamina Mirnik and Illan Girard

Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the Light), France/Germany/Chile
Directed by Patricio Guzmán

The Illusionist, by Sylvain Chomet

Hanoi, Warszawa (Hanoi – Warsaw), Poland
by Katarzyna Klimkiewicz

Zeynep Özbatur Atakan, producer

Bruno Ganz, actor

Gabriel Yared, composer

PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD for Best European Film 2010
Mr. Nobody
Written and directed by Jaco van Dormael
Produced by Philippe Godeau

04 December, 2010

The 23rd European Film Awards: Guests and Presenters

When the doors at the Nokia Concert Hall in snowy Tallinn open for the 23rd European Film Awards this evening (Saturday, 4 December) winners, nominees and EFA Members – altogether 1,400 guests - will be welcomed by German comedy star Anke Engelke and Estonian actor Märt Avandi who will lead us through the evening as the show’s hosts.

There will be an impressive line-up of European actors and actresses presenting the individual awards, among them EFA Ambassador Maria de Medeiros (Portugal), Jean-Marc Barr (France), Hannelore Elsner (Germany), Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Denmark), Miki Manojlović (Serbia), Amanda Ooms (Sweden) and – adding a bit of a local flavour to the event – Lembit and Juhan Ulfsack from Estonia. With them on stage will be some of the actors and actresses from the European Film Promotion’s 'Shooting Stars' programme: Agata Buzek (Poland), Kryštof Hádek (Czech Republic), Edward Hogg (UK), Michele Riondino (Italy), and Pihla Viitala (Finland), all of them Shooting Stars 2010, and Alba Rohrwacher from Italy (Shooting Star 2009).

The list of presenters is completed by Russian director Victor Kossakowsky, Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou and EFA President Wim Wenders.

Among the guests this year will be Zeynep Özbatur Atakan (European Co-production Award – Prix EURIMAGES), the recipients of the honorary awards Bruno Ganz and Gabriel Yared, and some special surprise guests.

Watch the 23rd European Film Awards live here.