Given his long and eclectic resumé, Ewan McGregor has developed a reputation for choosing interesting, original film projects. But even he admits he’s made a few missteps, including an early dalliance into the world of Jane Austen adaptations. “I remember after ‘Trainspotting,’ I made a film called ‘Emma,’ which was a very fine film, but I was terrible in it because I felt like I decided to do it because I should be seen to be doing that,” he admits. “I’d just played a heroin addict, so now I should be seen to be doing the English guy in a period drama. And as a result, I was just shockingly bad in it.”
In the 15 years since McGregor shot to stardom in “Trainspotting,” he’s fared a bit better, and the key has been basing his work decisions on how much he likes the script in question — usually. “Occasionally you get offered a lot of money to do a film and you think, ‘Well, I have to do that one,’” he says. “I can honestly say I’ve never done a job just for the money, but sometimes you’ve got some independent scripts and a bigger one, and you think, ‘Well, I’ve made three or four independent films…’ So sometimes that factors into your decision-making a little bit. I think that’s all right, isn’t it? Does that make me a bad person?”
McGregor’s latest, the delightful “Beginners” from writer-director Mike Mills, definitely skews more independent, which is right where he likes to be. McGregor stars as Oliver, a graphic designer whose 75-year-old father (Christopher Plummer) comes out of the closet after the death of Oliver’s mother. The role called for some unusual getting-to-know-you exercises for McGregor and his onscreen father.
“We met and had lunch in The Beverly Hills Hotel, and then Mike sent us off to Barney’s. He gave me $200 and he said that I had to buy Christopher a scarf,” McGregor remembers. “I’m not exactly sure what he told Christopher, but Christopher became obsessed with skinny jeans, that’s all he wanted to buy. He said, ‘What are those?’ I said, ‘Well, they are just black jeans, Christopher.’ He said, ‘They are very tight.’ I said, ‘Well, those are skinny jeans. The people call them skinny jeans.’ So he became obsessed with skinny jeans. And as I was trying to drag him back to the scarves, he kept disappearing over to the jeans section. I did eventually get him a scarf, after having put about $1,200 worth of black skinny jeans on my credit card.”
And the new fashion choices apparently stuck for his 81-year-old co-star. “I haven’t seen him since we finished the shoot, but I’m pretty sure that he’s still knocking around in them,” McGregor says. “God knows he had enough pairs.”