Entertainment

Ewan McGregor: ‘I was reduced to being the sober, naked actor’

Ewan McGregor says it’s “a great shame” when roles are reduced to surface level characteristics.

The Emmy and Golden Globe winner recalls how early on in his career he constantly faced questions about being naked on film – and rarely the deeper meaning behind his artistic choices.

In 1996, just after Trainspotting, the Scottish actor starred in The Pillow Book, which featured numerous intimate scenes.

“I was only ever asked questions about me being naked,” he tells Sky News.

In 2000, the line of questioning shifted slightly, but not in the way he had hoped.

“Once people knew I was sober, then it was a period where people only asked me questions about being sober, or being naked and sober and sort of being the sober, naked actor”.

He adds: “I was sort of reduced to those two things, which was slightly depressing”.

More on Ewan Mcgregor

Similar to McGregor early in his career, recently for Saltburn star Barry Keoghan much of the media focus has been on one aspect of his career – his decision to strip off.

The Scottish actor, who is now 52, says that when the media focuses on the minor attributes of a character, it can feel like they didn’t get the point of the story the actors are trying to tell.

He says: “When you’re an actor, there’s this great meaning behind the things you do to serve that story and when it’s reductive like that, it’s sort of a little demeaning in a way for us.”

McGregor with his wife, actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Pic: AP
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McGregor stars in A Gentleman In Moscow opposite his wife Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Pic: AP

McGregor’s most recent project is A Gentleman In Moscow, a mini-series based on Amor Towles’s best-selling novel of the same name.

‘Still and chill and quiet in each other’s company’

He plays Count Alexander Rostov in the Paramount+ series, an aristocrat who is stripped of his title and wealth and placed under indefinite house arrest at the Hotel Metropol.

He says, despite the show featuring themes of freedom, social classes and relationships, his media run in the US focused mainly on the fact that he grew his own moustache for the role.

Set in post-Revolutionary Russia, McGregor stars alongside his wife Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

The Fargo actress says it’s “such a relief” working together because they get to be “still and chill and quiet in each other’s company” in between takes.

She points out that they have a toddler so when they get home from a day of work “it’s pretty full-on energy”.

Pic: Ben Blackall/Paramount+ with Showtime
Image:
Pic: Ben Blackall/Paramount+ with Showtime

Winstead plays Russia’s “favourite actress” Ana Urbanova – an independent leading lady who has survived countless regimes in a country led by men.

‘My mind was kind of blown’

A fictional character, the Ahsoka star says she researched Russian actresses from the era of the series and grew particularly attached to Alla Nazimova.

“My mind was kind of blown by what she was doing and accomplishing and how brave she was and how full of passion and desire and the confidence to actually follow that passion regardless of what the kind of press or public was saying.”

The series shows Urbanova faced with the misogynistic truth of the time in the industry – ageing out of her career because she’s a woman.

Winstead says: “I do feel that there’s been that shift where things are only getting better and parts are only getting juicier.”

Ewan McGregor agrees and says Hollywood “feels healthier” now compared to when he was first starting out in the 90s which felt like a “boys club”.

He adds: “It’s not for me to say whether we’ve got there yet – probably not – but we’re definitely on the right track”.

An intimacy coordinator was used for the love scenes in the show.

Pic: Ben Blackall/Paramount+ with Showtime
Image:
Pic: Ben Blackall/Paramount+ with Showtime

The role sees a person, separate from the director, who speaks privately with the cast about what they’re comfortable doing on camera.

‘Oh my God, I wish I hadn’t done that’

McGregor says they’re a brilliant and important addition to the industry.

“When I was younger, I didn’t have somebody to talk to about what I was happy to do or not do. I was speaking with the director”.

Conversations about intimate scenes now only happen between the cast and the coordinator.

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McGregor says intimacy coordinator are a great step forward

McGregor says it’s a safeguard that can help young actors voice their honest opinion about what’s being asked of them.

He explains: “If you’re a young female actor, 22 year old, working with an amazingly famous, say 65 year old director, and he wants you to do this in a sex scene or show this and do that, of course, as a young actor, you’re going to, because you want to do well in that role.

“And then a couple of years later, you might look back and go, ‘Oh my God, I wish I hadn’t done that, I don’t feel happy that I did that’.

“Now there’s somebody [there]… There’s a safeguard, and a very important one. It’s changed a lot.”

A Gentleman In Moscow is available to stream now on Paramount+.

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