It’s hard to talk about how fierce Ewan McGregor is in the flawed Angels & Demons. His role as the right-hand holy man to the just-dead Pope is tied into plot details that lead to spoilers. But in a movie in which most of the actors, led by Tom Hanks, hold back — McGregor lets it rip. The Scottish actor has a reputation for taking risks. And yet McGregor, 38, is traditionally the forgotten man when it comes to winning Oscar nominations. He was the romantic soul of 2001’s Moulin Rouge, but Nicole Kidman got the acting nomination. Nothing for Ewan. I’m not saying that anyone connected with the deadly Star Wars prequels deserves credit. But McGregor, as the young version of Alec Guinness’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, was the only one to emerge from the Jar-Jar trilogy with his dignity intact. It’s time to make up for past insults. So let’s look at the roles for which McGregor deserved his share of award glory:
Trainspotting, director Danny Boyle’s balls-out 1996 film version of the Irvine Welsh novel about Scottish heroin junkies, makes a good start. McGregor played Renton and from his opening run through the streets to a surreal dive down a toilet it was a performance of ferocity and feeling. Trainspotting was the second of three films McGregor would do with his mentor Boyle, freshly Oscared for Slumdog Millionaire. But after Boyle gave the role meant for McGregor in 2000’s The Beach to Titanic box-office prince Leonardo DiCaprio, McGregor refused to speak to Boyle. He still hasn’t. I recently interviewed McGregor on my Popcorn show on ABC News NOW, and asked him if there was any chance of a reconciliation. I even offered to do an intervention. McGregor addresses this issue and more in this clip from the show:
Velvet Goldmine, Todd Haynes’ swooningly sexy 1998 tribute to Seventies glam rock, cast McGregor as an Iggy Pop-ish rude boy in mascara whose suck-my-cock swagger transfixed the David Bowie-ish figure played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. McGregor threw himself into the makeup, the clothes, the drugs, the bi sex and the blazing music with a dynamism that is never less than mesmeric.
Moulin Rouge, the above mentioned spectacle from Aussie director Baz Luhrmann, features McGregor as a penniless poet named Christian, crooning an elephantine love medley with Nicole Kidman, referencing — among other tunes — All You Need Is Love, I Will Always Love You, Silly Love Songs and Up Where We Belong. On my “Popcorn” show, I begged McGregor to sing a snatch of the medley live. He refused, dammit! I just dared Craig Ferguson to get Ewan to sing on his show tonight. We’ll see. But McGregor’s unbridled emotionalism as Christian is, I believe, the secret of the film’s continuing appeal.
Young Adam, a 2003 tale of adultery and murder directed by David Mackenzie, won McGregor the Scottish equivalent of an Oscar. The movie found him playing an amoral drifter on a barge navigating the waterways of Glasgow, and having an affair with fellow Scot Tilda Swinton as the wife of the barge owner. In the U.S., McGregor’s nude scenes got as much attention as his acting. “I have no problem with nudity,” he told me. “Nudity, sexuality and sex are all part of life.” Maybe McGregor’s willingness to go commando onscreen (catch The Pillow Book) hurts his chances at Academy attention. McGregor, admirably, goes his own way. In the upcoming I Love You Phillip Morris, McGregor shares hot love scenes with costar Jim Carrey. “He’s a nice kisser, Jim, tender but firm,” McGregor told me. His only regret? “Jim doesn’t call and doesn’t write.” Neither does Oscar. But it’s a time for a change.
Stay, a 2005 film from director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, The Kite Runner), is the unfairly neglected film that McGregor told me he’d most like audiences to find on DVD. It’s a tough, uncompromising story, with McGregor as a Manhattan shrink treating a suicidal art student (Ryan Gosling) in ways that unhinge them both.
So what do you think? What’s the Ewan McGregor movie that you’d most like to call to attention? “