SCENES OF A SEXUAL NATURE - Q&A with EWAN McGREGOR
Movie Interview by Neils Hesse
So Ewan did you ever think that you'd be working for 'Equity minimum' again?
Yeah. Yes I suppose it didn't take me by surprise - yeah. If you want to work on good stuff I think the worst thing you could do is kinda set yourself up any kind of limits. I have never tried to do that. I have tried always not to do that in terms of the characters I play. My choices are based solely on the script, the writing, the story and the character and never anything else. That way you can have great variety and as a result great fun in your work. The second you think, okay I'm only going to make films in Hollywood, or I'm only going to make independent films, then you're giving yourself boundaries which I don't think should be there. No boundaries - is the short answer! (Laughter).
You were starring in Guys and Dolls at the time you did this movie, so how was that transition of going from stage to film and then back to the stage?
In many ways it was wonderful because my boyfriend in the film is played by Douglas Hodge, he was also my co-star in Guys and Dolls, so we were on stage and we'd rehearsed together for I think 6 weeks and we'd been on stage for about 5 months, so we had this great working relationship anyway. Then when we were sent the script, we were both sent it at the same time, we discussed it and we thought it would be a great scene-by-scene film. Everyone's story in this film is a long scene and it was exciting to think that we would be doing that together. Once we committed to doing the film we were able to work on it before we shot it because, in our experience when you have 12 to 13 pages of dialogue in two days it is quite a tall order. We thought that the best way to make it achievable was to have the whole thing down. We didn't know if Ed was going to cut it into sections or shoot it from start to finish but because we did some work on it we were able to start at the beginning of the scene and play it right through to the end, and that's in fact how we shot most of it. Most of the angles that he set up were played from start to finish. It was more like theatre in that respect than anything else, it was great.
It's kind of an actor's film, the script being as good as it is I imagine should have given you a lot of opportunities to actually act as opposed to something like STAR WARS where you are kind of just involved in the whole thing?
They're all different from each other, I think that your job as an actor is to try and maintain the integrity of the scene regardless of the surroundings. It can be very tricky like in a blue screen environment it can be difficult, but it can also be difficult if you are shooting on location in the streets and there's paparazzi everywhere and you want to kill the paparazzi and you're still having to do your acting! It's fair to say it's all a challenge, but in this respect we had a very enclosed area of Hampstead Heath so there was no worry about that kind of thing, we had privacy so we were able to just play the scene. We had such a great scene to play because it was such a lovely piece of writing.
So how long did you actually spend on set in Hampstead heath doing your bit?
I think we had two and a half days.
Did you actually get to mix with any of the other cast members?
No, Adrian Lester walked through our scene and it was lovely to meet him because he's a great actor and a nice bloke. Apart from that we were just self contained but we did manage to get a lot of the extras from Guys and Dolls, a lot of the guys around us in the scene were dancers and actors from Guys and Dolls, because a lot of them had never been on a film set. They wanted to know how that worked so Douglas and I spoke to Ed and it turned out that I think he was having problems finding extras so they came in quite handy!
Were you apprehensive about working with a first time director?
No, I think it's exciting working with a first time director because very often you get someone like them at their most passionate and their most committed and I think I'd met with Ed and he was so passionate about it. Another draw for me was how he'd set up the film, he'd been so frustrated trying to get films made in Britain and not getting to the point where they were made. He kind of cut out all the middle men of which there are hundreds swanning around Soho [London] doing lunches and snorting enormous amounts of cocaine and not making any films at all! They are kind of self - grandising arseholes! So he cut them out of the picture and he and the writer took the script to agents and the agents sent the scripts to their clients because it was good writing and that's why you've got that great cast list. Then we shot it and now it's going to have quite a large release in November. It was fantastic to be involved in that project just because of that, the only way to create a healthier British film industry is to create more films and to have them seen. We've too many films sitting on shelves that are never going to be seen.
Is it good to find a project like this where it kind of lasts two days and has such a fantastic script?
Well at the time I was on Guys and Dolls for six months so in many respects I had all the time in the world but the thing about being on stage is that it takes such a massive amount of energy and you really guard your time off. It was quite interesting because with my family it sounds like a great schedule working only evenings, except for Wednesday and Saturday but in actual fact you are so knackered and you have to really protect your time off , it's trickier than you might think. So the idea of doing a film for two and a half days or three days doesn't sound like a big deal but then we went on stage that night after we'd been in the sun all day and I thought I had sun stroke and so I was really worried that I was going to blow it! All night long I kept on checking myself as I got through each bit, but in the end it was alright.
Did you research any of the gay scene on Hampstead Heath beforehand?
No I didn't, I worked with an actress who did though, dressed up as a boy and went up there with her boyfriend, but that was just for her own amusement.
So you didn't have a chat with George Michael or anything?
I didn't meet George, no. I just wanted to play it as a scene between two people. I think the idea of playing gay is unhelpful, these are gay men in the scene so that takes care of itself. I think you've just got to play the truth of the scene and that makes you a gay man. I mean what is a gay man? There are as many different gay men as there are straight men so I think we just concentrated on the themes of it, the truth of it.
It was the most convincing gay scene I've ever seen in a film, how did you do it and what was your thought process?
Well I think the themes are quite particular to a gay couple, the idea of fidelity or infidelity as being kind of part of the relationship. It would be a different scene if it were a man and a woman talking about the guy who's always sleeping around. However in the rules of these people's relationship it's allowed, however it is causing Brian (Douglas Hodge's character) to be sad. It is a particularly gay theme but then again the idea of wanting to have children, would again be a different scene between a man and a woman, so it was particular to a gay couple. I just felt that these are two people that are in love with each other, it was important to make the relationship feel like it had been lasting for a long time because they were supposed to have been together for 14 years, and I like to think we did. I wasn't aware of trying to be gay. I was trying to play the scene really.
Could you tell us a little bit about your role in MISS POTTER?
I play Norman Worn who was Beatrix Potter's publisher. He came from a family involved in a publishing house in London, and it's a love story between the two. They were engaged to be married. It was lovely to work with Renee [Zellweger] again having done DOWN WITH LOVE with her, it's always nice to have continuity with an actor and come back to work with someone a second or third time, it was lovely.
Are we going to get to hear you sing again?
I sing in that film actually very briefly, just before he asks her to marry him he has a little song, so yeah, MISS POTTER yeah.
You are going to hit the road again with Charlie Boorman on the tour?
Next year we are going to go down through Africa. It's been really successful for us in terms of credible experiences that we will never forget and it's certainly changed Charlie's life, he's now published his second book titled Race To Dakar, which is great I finished it last night. So we are off next year, same team, we should have a good laugh.
Anything you'll do differently?
We'll take less, we had so much stuff last time that we never needed, so I think it will be an exercise in taking the bare minimum. We were adamant that we'd spend as little time as possible with our support crew, but this time I think we'll meet up with our support crew more often, because why not? We have a good time when we're together, also security in Africa might be more of an issue in some of the countries we are going to like Sudan, and we're going to try and nip into the Congo, so there are some areas where we might need them to be around!
The trouble with taking less equipment is that you might end up taking too little?
Possibly, but the only things you might need are things that would go wrong on the bike, because you are travelling through generally populated areas, so as long as you've got a little bit of food, water, ways to purify water and something to sleep under. You don't really need anything else. I mean you could carry all the spares for the bike, but then you might as well just have someone else on another bike, but we'll find out if we take too little, I'd much rather have too little than too much.
I suppose that one of the great things about the whole travelling experience is when things go slightly wrong as well?
Absolutely, I did a bike trip around France once and nothing happened. I just rode around France and came home and it was slightly boring. Whereas when the bike breaks down in the middle of Mongolia and you have to buy a Russian one that doesn't work and you meet guys coming out of a truck who come out and fix the bike for you, that's what the journey's all about. It's important to remember that because you can get obsessed with time keeping and sticking to some schedule that you made up in a room in Shepherds Bush!