Thursday 22 February 2018

Ewan McGregor reveals he drew on crazy experience with Charlie Boorman for role in new thriller

Ewan McGregor takes on the Russian mafia in his new film, based on John le Carre's Our Kind of Traitor. In real life he's not averse to taking risks too, he tells our reporter

Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris in Our Kind of Traitor
Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris in Our Kind of Traitor

Anne Marie Scanlon

The last time I met Ewan McGregor he was wearing a full beard and a chunky jumper. The beard did little to disguise his handsome features but it gave him an air of gravitas and maturity (aided no doubt by the fact that the facial hair was for a role and not a bewaxed hipster statement.)

This time the Scottish actor bounces into the room wearing black skinny jeans, a tight black sweater and a skinny black scarf, looking for all the world like a man in his 20s. I'd love to know what his secret is as he is, in fact, 45.

I doubt he's had 'work' done as, trust me, I looked, and I couldn't see any evidence. I'm left convinced he has a 'picture in the attic'.

McGregor is here to talk about his new film Our Kind of Traitor in which he plays Perry - a university professor who inadvertently becomes embroiled with the Russian mafia. Central to the film is Perry's relationship with Dima (the wonderful Stellan Skarsgård) a bagman for the Russian mob. Dima, in an effort to save himself and his family from the new boss, switches sides and begs Perry for his help.

Funnily enough, it was not the relationship with Dima which initially attracted McGregor to the script. "He's damaged his marriage," McGregor tells me referring to his character. "I thought it was a really fascinating place to start a movie from. The fact that (Perry) has hurt his wife and hurt himself by having an affair. Usually a story would start with a perfect marriage that falls apart that either does or doesn't get back together. And that really appealed to me."

Perry's wife Gail (the very beautiful Naomie Harris) is a successful barrister and it is after she leaves him alone in a Moroccan restaurant (they're on a romantic holiday attempting to rekindle their marriage) that Perry meets Dima. Stellan Skarsgård gives an outstanding performance, being attractive (to the audience and Perry) whilst giving off a palpable air of menace. Dima is in direct contrast to Perry who, at the start of the film, is a bit of an eejit.

If the audience were in any doubt about Perry's foolishness, he proves it by agreeing to accompany the obviously dangerous Russian and his equally dangerous cronies to a party after just meeting them.

You get the impression that in real life McGregor would have more sense. He's not a star who appears in the headlines for the 'wrong' reasons and has been married to Eve Mavrakis for 21 years. The couple have four daughters and with McGregor's lithe figure and glowing good looks, it's near impossible to believe the eldest is 20.

Instead, I'm astonished to hear that McGregor did something similar to Perry. The incident happened just over a decade ago when he was filming a motorcycle trip from London to New York with his good friend Charley Boorman. "We were crossing the Ukraine (and) we got stopped by a policeman because we were going too fast," the actor recalls.

The policeman asked the pair in a mixture of mime and broken English where they were staying. "We were heading towards a town that was just a dot on the map," McGregor continues. "We didn't know anything about it. We said we were looking for a hotel or camp site. The policeman started pinching his arms to indicate that the local hostelry was, quite literally, a fleapit."

As instructed, McGregor and Boorman followed their new acquaintance. "He guided us back through this town, through very impoverished streets, tiny houses, mud - it was not a place with any wealth at all."

Finally, the small convoy arrived at a shop. "Outside," McGregor says laughing, "looked like the extras cast of Goodfellas, all these guys in leather jackets, like in a mob film. They parted and this guy walks through them. He had a black moustache and his name was Igor; he pointed to his black BMW and the policeman waved goodbye to us."

McGregor and Boorman followed the BMW until it arrived at a big house with "big metal gates and there's two guys outside wearing more leather jackets. They swing the gates open, we drive in and they close the gates behind us."

I have to keep reminding myself that this isn't the plot of one of the actor's films and I'm waiting for the bit when he says that he and Boorman saw sense and gunned their bikes into the distance. But no, as if to compound the 'you couldn't make it up' factor, the pair settled in for the night and their host, Igor, said in broken English "My house. Your house," which any fan of mob movies will know as "mi casa es su casa." (I can't help but wonder what McGregor's wife said when he told her this story.)

That evening their host threw a party in their honour. A lot of men arrived wearing shoulder holsters with guns. "One guy arrived in a three-piece pinstripe suit," McGregor elaborates, "I'm not joking!"

McGregor was able to draw on this experience when it came to making Our Kind of Traitor which is based on a John le Carre novel. When Dima asks for his help in getting information to Britain, Perry has no hesitation, even though it means he's putting his own life at risk.

McGregor tells me that he would probably make the same choice as Perry. He refers back to Igor. "I definitely got the sense that (he) was a very dangerous man and I'm sure there would be many things in his life that I wouldn't approve of, but (having met his wife and kids) if he'd come to me and said 'my family will be killed unless you help me,' I would have helped."

The actor shot to international fame two decades ago playing heroin addict Renton in Trainspotting (based on the novel by Irvine Welsh) and he is now getting ready to make Trainspotting 2.

Isn't he worried about damaging the legacy of the first film which is a cultural touchstone for so many? "The danger is if you make a poor sequel," he agrees, "but I think ... well you can never know 100pc, but I think if there was any doubt once we saw John Hodge's script ... none of us were in any doubt that we were going to do it."

McGregor looks far too fit and healthy to be a convincing heroin addict, but no doubt, when the time comes he will look the part. He always does.

Our Kind of Traitor opens on May 13.

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