Ewan McGregor's Beginners is a visually stunning experience that packs a major emotional wallop thanks to some of the bravest performances you'll see all year. But more than anything else it's a wholly unique creature -- something that clearly attracted McGregor.
"I'm not interested in making movies that feel like retreads of other movies," he told ETonline. That's why I was equally interested in another one of his upcoming projects, Jack the Giant Killer -- a retelling of Jack & The Beanstalk, which reunites the writer and director of The Usual Suspects.
In addition to getting the scoop on that film, McGregor revealed the decision-making process that goes into selecting his roles, and that nearly all those characters stick with him forever ... if chosen correctly,
ETonline: What was it about Beginners that appealed to you?
Ewan McGregor: I had a good idea that it would be very interesting because of Mike Mills [writer/director]. Based off his other movie, Thumbsucker, I had a good sense that he was someone with a vision. I didn't know from the script if it would necessarily be something we'd seen before or not, but it was just such a truthful, honest script and a way to tell the story that was exciting. I fell in love with the story – both stories. They're equally fantastic.
ETonline: The movie was shot chronologically with lots of rehearsal time. How much of that was actually spent on the script?
McGregor: Very little of it. Over those four or five days, we hardly touched upon the dialogue – we maybe read one scene a day. The time was really spent doing stuff. Melanie [Laurent, who plays Anna] and I went to a theme park, rode rollercoasters, did exercises hanging out with our film friends, went roller-skating – fun exercises that bonded us.
ETonline: Does that make breaking up, even if it's fake, that much more taxing?
McGregor: It was a nightmare [laughs]. The first thing we had to do was break up over and over again, which is a horrible thing to do. But thanks to that, by the time we got in front of the camera, we were pretty tight.
ETonline: Given the two separate timelines, the dog is pretty much the only co-star you worked with the entire time.
McGregor: Yes, Cosmo. That was his real name. I loved him, fell very much in love. In the first story, he's my dad's dog but I still had a lot of scenes with him so we bonded. During the second part of the shoot, I think it's safe to say the dog got slightly jealous. He felt a little left out around this pretty French actress.
ETonline: This is the latest in a long line of amazing characters you've brought to life. If given the opportunity to revisit one and tell the second chapter in their story, is there one that you'd like to attempt?
McGregor: Oh, there are lots of them. I feel completely invested when I play a role. It's very rare for me to not get something out of it. If it does happen, I find that incredibly difficult because it's not what I'm about. I like to feel fulfilled in what I'm doing. It's funny, I was doing an interview in London recently and they showed clips from movies I'd done a long, long time ago and I still remembered every line like it was yesterday. We're talking 15 years ago, but I remember how I felt saying the lines, what they meant to me – it was crazy. I feel invested in all of those characters and I would be very interested in playing some of them again.
ETonline: Like Trainspotting?
McGregor: There's been talk of doing a Trainspotting sequel, which I've always been so reluctant of because I have so much love for that movie, I wouldn't want to tarnish it by doing a bad sequel – plus, I never read a script for it. But I love playing the character in Young Adam. That was a fantastic film and I'd love to see what happened to him next. It wouldn't be pretty though [laughs]. I have a very strong connection to my roles, I can't explain it, but there's no other way for me to do it. I can't phone it in. If I don't feel connected and committed, it just feels like bad work to me. I don't know that it ever goes away – lines that you may have done go away after time, but as soon as you pick up the script, those lines come right back to you. They're in your bones. You can't get rid of them.
ETonline: Given that, how important is the first read of a script to you?
McGregor: It's everything. The first reading is the only reading in a way – everything you do after that links back to that first time you read a script. That's the first time you have knowledge of a story or a character. Every time you read it after that, it goes back to the experience of reading it the first time. I think it's the most important read of any.
ETonline: What was it about the first read of Jack the Giant Killer that attracted you?
McGregor: That was a character I felt like I hadn't ever played before. I thought he was very amusing. I'm not sure how amusing [director] Bryan Singer thought he was [laughs]. Once we got on set, I'm not sure we quite had the same read on it, but I certainly saw him as the very gang-ho head of the knights. He's very cool and always saying "come on, let’s go" like a British captain in a WWII movie. But he's not the one who actually solves any of the problems [laughs]. Jack comes along behind him and tidies up the mess, which I thought was amusing – I could see him in my head.
ETonline: Is that the number one attraction, a character you haven't played before?
McGregor: Mostly, yes. I never wanted to be "a type." If you feel like you've done it before, you wonder what's left to explore. It's like acting on stage – you play a character for years and years, but if it's a rich character like Iago, you'll never get to the end of exploring him, really. Movies can transport you, the same way reading a book can when it fires up your imagination. That's when I get excited.