Scottish actor Ewan McGregor first came to film fans' attention in the bleakly brilliant 'Trainspotting' (1996) and has since refused to be typecast (except, maybe, as the actor voted most likely to go full frontal). His many roles range from androgynous rock star to ardent lover to Jedi Knight.
How did you prep for the role of the Pope's right-hand man, the Camerlengo Patrick Mckenna?
I had to get a sense of his world. So I had to get all the background on the Vatican and being a priest, but that's quite difficult to do. We weren't allowed to film in the Vatican, [and] we didn't get any help from them in terms of background, so I had to look at some documentaries about the ... workings of the Vatican and Swiss Guard and stuff. But to be honest, they're very boring to watch ... really quite tedious in fact, so I watched as much as I could. But I had a very good adviser that was a father from New York who was my priestly adviser. He was on set all the time whenever we had to do any of the ceremonial stuff, or any of the ritual stuff, things in the Catholic church, because I wasn't really familiar with those. And then also he was on hand to talk to me about being a priest and fill me on the kind of pecking order between cardinals and priests and high priests.
Did the controversy surrounding the movie affect your decision about taking on the role?
No, because I didn't think that there was any. I didn't feel like when I read the script there was anything controversial about it; there's nothing that's anti-Catholic. If there had been anything that I felt kind of dissed someone else's religion, I wouldn't have been involved in it. I'm not interested in doing that kind of thing. I just thought it was a really good thriller, a fast-paced kind of edgy thriller set in the world of the Vatican, which is a world we don't know much about, and it's a high-powered world, so that makes the stakes quite high. The people in the Catholic church in the movie who are the evildoers get their comeuppance in the end, and it's quite clear that the Catholic church shuns them and punishes them and isn't condoning their behavior in any way. In any walk of life there are people that are good people and there are occasionally people that do crazy things for whatever reason, you know?
You didn't film in the Vatican, but did you film in Vatican City?
I didn't film in Rome at all, sadly. I've wanted to work in Rome for a long time, but ... I didn't shoot any of this in Rome. I shot for a couple days in Caserta, [Italy,] where there's an old palace. All of my stuff was done in L.A. really, because we couldn't film in the Vatican building, and my character is mainly inside the Vatican, so they built the Sistine Chapel in a soundstage at Sony, and they built the huge exterior to St. Peter's Square [in the Vatican City] down in a racetrack in south L.A.
You mostly act in smaller or independent films, but 'Angels & Demons' and obviously 'Star Wars' were huge studio productions -- how do the experiences differ?
As actors, we don't have low budget performances and big budget performances ... And I think you'd find that [we actors are] enormously committed no matter who's making the film, or what the budget is. I love my job and ... I just pick scripts [based] on the story and the script and if I think the character would be interesting to play. That's really it ... and I'm lucky enough to go from small independent films to big studio pictures, you know ... it's the same job at the end of the day.
In one of your smaller movies, 'I Love You, Philip Morris,' you kiss Jim Carrey. How does he rate as an on-screen kisser?
Full oral penetration with Jim, yeah ... Jim's a very sensitive but firm lover, you know? And I think that's what makes him such a great actor and such a great man [laughs].
There's been more talk of a 'Trainspotting' sequel -- would you be interested in participating in it?
I don't think I would, for several reasons. The first one is that I didn't think the book was very good. The novel of 'Trainspotting' was quite fantastic, it was beautiful, quite moving and disturbing writing, and then I find that the sequel ... the book that Irvine Welsh wrote was called 'Porno,' and ... it didn't move me as much ... He'd written a good sequel to the film as opposed to a sequel to his book. It's also a similar story, you know, the betrayal of trust ... Renton walks away with all the money at the end again. And I thought I don't want to make the same story again. And, also, I think just the idea of getting the cast together again 10 to 15 years later isn't good enough, you need more than that. I wouldn't want to damage 'Trainspotting''s reputation, because it was an amazing film and a very important film of its time, a very important film for me and ... a very important film for British cinema. I wouldn't want to leave people remembering a poor sequel rather than leaving its reputation where it sits at the moment, which is kind of a phenomenal film.
Have you been in touch with Danny Boyle since he won the Oscar for 'Slumdog Millionaire'?
No, I haven't spoken to Danny for years, I'm afraid. But I thought it was very well deserved; I liked 'Slumdog' very much. I thought it was an excellent film, and it was nice to see him getting all those accolades; it was great.
Would you do another musical, like 'Moulin Rouge'? Or might you ever release an album?
No ... I think it's quite tricky for actors to release albums. It's difficult, because I'm an actor, you know, I'm not a musician. I love singing, but I don't have a big repertoire of songs that I've written; I mean, I've got a few, but nothing that I could fill an album with, and I don't want to do it just for the sake of it. I don't know, we'll see. I certainly would be very happy to do another musical; I loved it. It would just have to be the right thing.
You did a film with George Clooney, 'The Men Who Stare at Goats.' How was that experience?
I loved working with him, and he made me laugh a lot ... I admire him very much, because I think he's a great man, he's a great actor -- and I admire his commitment to his work that he does in the Sudan; he really puts his money where his mouth is, and he goes and he takes himself to the Sudan and Darfur, and I admire him for that. He doesn't do the lip service to it, he really is quite instrumental, going to meet high-powered figures around the world, using his status as an actor to get access to presidents and prime ministers to try and get them to help as well, which is really admirable.
You play Gene Vidal in the upcoming 'Amelia' -- because he's a real person, did that affect how you played him or how you prepped for the role?
It does in a way ... I've found a great many photographs of him and read about him ... but I [had to] trust that he was in the script. Whenever I've played somebody that's real, I find that photographs ... are really telling to me. When I played James Joyce [in 'Nora'], the pictures of him were very important to the way I acted physically, and I suppose with Gene Vidal it's the same.
Megan Fox reportedly said that you have a tattoo sleeve, is that true?
No. I have a tattoo ... but who's Megan Fox?
She's an actress who's in 'Transformers.' She supposedly was talking about getting a tattoo sleeve herself and she said that you had one.
I have a really large tattoo on my right arm ... It's about my family and where I come from in Scotland ... but it's not a sleeve, no ... not quite a sleeve, but maybe half of one.
You are known for your propensity for on-screen nudity, but it seems like maybe you're stepping back from that ...
[Laughs] It's extraordinary how it comes up. No, not at all, I mean ... I've done nudity when it's been relevant in the films I've been making, you know? I've made films about sexuality, and the sex in the films has been very instrumental to explaining or showing where a character's at ... In films like 'Young Adam,' the sex scenes are really sort of instructive of this young man's moral demise. I'm interested in sexuality and sex as much as anybody else and I find it a part of art, as part of filmmaking and acting because it's a part of life -- a big part of life, I suppose. I've never had a problem with nudity in that it's been relevant to the work that I've done, but I've never gone out of my way to do films with nudity, nor certainly haven't decided not to, or stepped away from it in any way. I mean, I haven't made a film for a while, you know, as centrally focused on sex as I have done in the past, but not for any reason. It just hasn't cropped up, I guess.