Ewan McGregor Tells the Fantastic Story of How His Famous Uncle Taught Him to Act

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I just finished up THR‘s wonderfully candid interview with first-time director Ewan McGregor (American Pastoral), in which he speaks passionately about his family, life in America, traveling the world with his best friend, and, of course, making movies. With Fargo upcoming (shooting this fall), as well as T2: Trainspotting, what better time to get reacquainted; hear a few good stories? I know we say it so often about celebrities: this one or that sounds so down-to-earth or laid-back, as if they aren’t just people like the rest of us; McGregor truly reads friendly and humble, thoughtful in his responses and modest, but not in that Hollywood way that really means “modest for a big name actor.” When you read Ewan’s interviews or watch him speaking, it’s clear that he’s genuine; just being himself. On to the good stuff, but do yourself a favor and read the whole piece (you can also watch below, about how Ewan embarrassed himself the first time he met George Lucas).

He’s known he wanted to be an actor since age 9, and his uncle — who you might know from a little franchise called Star Wars — taught Ewan exactly how to do it.

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I said to my uncle Denis who’s an actor, Denis Lawson [Wedge Antilles in the original Star Wars trilogy], my mother’s brother. And I grew up in a very small town in Scotland, a little place called Crieff which is beautiful and it’s at the foothills to the highlands. It’s a very beautiful part of the world … And my Uncle Dennis had become an actor. He wanted to be an actor, gone and become one. And so I grew up with this amazing character who was my uncle who I’d meet. He lived in London. We’d go to visit him in London now and again and he would come to Scotland. He was a color character not like anybody else I knew in my sort of immediate surroundings I suppose. And from a very early age, I just wanted to do what he did and I guess probably because I wanted to be like him I think. I’m not sure what my concept of acting was at the age of nine but that’s when I said to him I want to do what you do, I want to be an actor. And he said you know, if you still feel like it in 10 years, come back and talk to me, you know.

At 16, Ewan’s parents let him leave school and work with the backstage crew at the Perth Repertory Theatre, where he got his first acting job as an extra on A Passage to India, then did auditions, running lines with his uncle. He tells the story of an unpleasant train experience that led to a breakthrough lesson.

… I’d been to Glasgow with some mates in my night off. I don’t come from Glasgow. Like I said, I come from a small town. And then we went into the big city and we got a little bit drunk and we went on the train. And somebody got on the train and bumped into a pole, you know, the poles you hold on to. And I made some comment like, ‘Oh, watch the pole, mate,’ or something. And then I thought I was being funny. And he didn’t think I was being very funny. So when we got off the train, he followed us and he suddenly had a bunch of mates with him. And they’ve chased us and I got beaten … I was so humiliated as well as being beaten up. I felt so emasculated by this experience. So when I was running through these audition speeches with my uncle, it was shortly after that and probably still had a bruise or two here or there … I was doing a speech from a play called Road by Jim Cartwright which was a really good play. And there is a skinhead character in it. And the speech started: ‘I feel like England’s forcing the brain out of my head.’ That was the opening line of the speech …. And it was an angry speech. It was a very well-written speech. And, as I was doing it, I was doing it like I’d approach any acting to date. Bear in mind I was only 16. And while I was doing it, my uncle stopped me and he said, ‘Okay, I want you to stop now.’ And he said, ‘All right, I just want you to think about what happened in Glasgow.’ I went, ‘Okay.’ He said, ‘And think about being punished by that guy. Think about what it felt like.’ I was like, ‘Okay.’ But he could see I wasn’t really. He said, ‘No, really, think about it.’ And I said okay. And I started thinking about it and how it felt and that feeling of being emasculated and humiliated and hurt. And then he said, ‘Okay, now I want you to just swear at him.’ And I went, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘Just imagine that I’m that guy. Just fucking what do you want to tell that guy?’ And I was a bit embarrassed at first but he pushed me and I just suddenly found this connection to my anger and I was raging at my uncle. And he went, ‘Okay, now do the speech.’ And I started doing the speech. ‘I feel like England’s forcing the brain out of my fucking head.’ And I was suddenly connected to the speech emotionally. And I understood what acting was, that that’s it.”

Brilliant. You can’t do much better than having your starfighter pilot uncle give you the lay of the acting land. Now, GO, read the whole piece (or watch below). It’s full of great stories, like how, whenMcGregor and his friend were traveling in Kazakhstan, a car full of men pulled up, a guy jumped out and pointed a gun at them …

(photos via GQ Germany)

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis has been writing about the entertainment industry for ​over seven years, and is the ​Editor-in-Chief at Oohlo, where she muses over television, movies, and pop culture. Previous Senior News Editor at Pajiba, and published at BUST.

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