Acting for Britain; Ewan McGregor Swings Both Ways - Big-Budget Hollywood Extravaganzas and Dark British Dramas Made on a Shoestring. but, He Tells Neil Norman, His Heart Is with Homegrown Movies

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Ewan McGregor is in buoyant mood. But then, rarely is the occasion when he is not.

And with good reason. The 32-year-old Scot is one of the very few British actors who bestrides the Atlantic like a Colossus, plying his trade in big-budget Hollywood movies as well as the more provocative British films.

Since making his mark in Trainspotting, he has become the biggest thing to have come out of Scotland since the Flying Scotsman.

This is the man who went from sticking needles in his arm on a Glasgow housing estate to serenading Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge, from dodging bullets as a US Army ranger in Black Hawk Down to wielding a lightsabre as the young Obi Wan-Kenobi in Star Wars. He has even managed to fit in portrayals of James Joyce, Iggy Pop and rogue trader Nick Leeson.

His most recent outing is as the morally atrophied protagonist of Young Adam, David Mackenzie's bleak and brilliant movie based on Scottish beat writer Alexander Trocchi's 1957 debut novel. It is a tough, rewarding movie to watch - it was even tougher to make.

'I was actually desperate to work in Britain,' says McGregor, bristling with energy even after a long day of interviews. 'I am a huge believer in the British film industry. But the current climate makes it very difficult to make provocative, interesting movies. We seem to have got stuck in the romantic comedy mode.

David is a brilliant director and Jeremy Thomas is a kind of god among British producers. There isn't anything he doesn't know about making films.

But the problems he faced trying to finance Young Adam were unbelievable.

It's a miracle the film got made at all. Something's wrong.' The nature of the film was never going to make it an easy sell. Based on a version of Trocchi's novel, it is a grimly explicit exploration of one man's descent into the hell of his own spineless character. As Joe Taylor, the would-be writer turned bargee in Fifties Glasgow, McGregor gets to bed most of the female cast, notably the demure Emily Mortimer, who is covered in custard and a variety of bottled sauces in one outlandish scene. McGregor sighs when I mention it.

'We're actors and we acted,' he says with mild exasperation. 'The sex scenes are part of the fabric of the story, but there is nothing much erotic about them. Some of them are horrible.

It's the opposite of Hollywood, where everything is nicely lit and works perfectly - that is more pornographic, because it sets out to titillate. The scene where I'm shagging the girl up against a wall is frankly horrible.' In other words, it's a dirty job but somebody has to do it. Naturally, there are compensations.

Playing the young Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the concluding Star Wars movies was a sort of juvenile dream come true. But however much fun he appears to have had as a Jedi knight, the reality of filming is somewhat different. 'Quite often in these films, you are talking to empty space,' he says. …


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