Tuesday 23 July 2019

Ewan McGregor reveals he drew on his own 'magical' childhood for Christopher Robin

Ewan McGregor channels his own magical childhood on screen with help from Pooh, Piglet and Tigger

Ewan McGregor stars as a family man in fantasy comedy-drama Christopher Robin
Ewan McGregor stars as a family man in fantasy comedy-drama Christopher Robin

Anne Marie Scanlon

Meeting Ewan McGregor is always a pleasure. Despite his A-List status he's reliably warm, funny, entertaining and enthusiastic. And hip. Achingly hip. If you are ever in any doubt about what the most on-trend thing in menswear is, check out the Scottish star's latest outfit.

The last time the actor and I met, he was clean-shaven in scarves and skinny jeans. This time, to tell me about his new film Christopher Robin, he's sporting a neat beard, a beautifully tailored grey jacket and a pair of cropped trousers that would make any normal man in his middle years (he's 47) look, at best, vaguely ridiculous and, at worst, like Charlie Chaplin. Needless to say McGregor looks like a GQ cover personified.

In the movie, McGregor plays the title role of Christopher Robin, the son of the writer AA Milne and the inspiration behind the Winnie the Pooh books. The film is, most definitely, not an autobiography of the real man, who grew up very conflicted about his alter ego and the fame that came with it. This is the fictional character, all grown up, with a wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), of his own. The film is set in the post-war period and Christopher Robin is a workaholic who isn't giving his wife and daughter the attention they need. His childhood friends from the Hundred Acre Wood - Pooh (voiced by "the voice of Pooh" Jim Cummings), Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger et al - intervene to remind him of the things that matter most.

Don't be put off by the plot as Christopher Robin is a perfect mixture of smart script and slapstick, schmaltz and sentiment. I'll be completely honest, I loved everything about Christopher Robin, from the fabulous cameos (especially the trio of Matt Berry, Simon Farnaby and Mackenzie Crook) to the interiors (especially the lampshades), but most of all I was blown away by the familiar characters given life. Christopher Robin's toys are so real that not suspending disbelief isn't an option. "Some of the shots of Winnie the Pooh made me think of my little dog Sid," McGregor tells me. He goes on to say that the relationship between Christopher Robin and the famous bear reminds him of growing up with his Beagle, Juno. "She was like my Winnie the Pooh, so when I went to the woods I would take her with me, or we would knock about together and I spent a lot of my time with her."

I ask him what breed his current dog Sid is and he eagerly tells me "I did that DNA thing on him. He's like this big," he continues indicating with his hands that Sid is a largish small dog, "he's not tiny (but the results) came back that he was 75pc Chihuahua and 25pc Poodle mix," he laughs. "I thought "that's not right," he does look a little bit like a Chihuahua but he's too big. How would a Chihuahua…" he trails off. It turns out that his co-star Hayley Atwell also had her dog's DNA tested. I'd never heard of 'Doggy DNA' before and ask McGregor if this is a 'thing' adding that I recently had my son's DNA done.

"You did one on your son?" McGregor says slightly surprised and then adds laughing "Just to check?" When I explain that it was "ancestry" DNA, the actor becomes even more animated. "I've done that too, mine was so plain." I tell him that I also got my mother's DNA tested at the same time as my son and they both have similarly dull DNA too. "I don't think it's right," McGregor replies and explains that a great-great-grandfather of his left Scotland to work as an engineer on the Chilean railway lines, married and settled there. "Their son came back to Scotland, but in the DNA, there's no mention of any South American strand at all!"

The return of the prodigal Chilean son was good news for the actor. When he tells me about his childhood growing up in the Perth and Kinross area of Scotland it sounds idyllic, and was, in his own words, "fun, brilliant and magical". Both McGregor's parents were teachers; he has one older brother who became a pilot in the RAF (the pair have made three documentaries together about the role of aviation in World War II). "I had a brilliant childhood," McGregor says. "Similar to Christopher Robin in that I spent a lot of time in the woods. Crieff, where I come from, is a small town built on a hill and above the town is this big woodland, me and my friends just spent all of our time up there. I was born in 1971 and it was a very safe town so we had independence as kids from a very young age. As soon as I could ride a bike I was on my bike and off. I'd get my bike in the morning, go and get my best friend and we'd go up into the woods and we'd cycle home at night when it got dark. I couldn't tell you what we were doing (all day), we were just playing - inventing stuff, we had catapults, we built dens, we just played and it was just amazing. We had the freedom to do that. My kids (he has four daughters aged seven to 22) have never had that. The idea of letting your kids go off on their own and come home when it's dark is unheard of now but that was the way it was then." The odd time he was indoors, McGregor played Gin Rummy with his great-grandmother, "for money," he says mock shocked, "1p and 2p." There's a running joke about Gin Rummy in Christopher Robin and McGregor confesses that he "looked up the rules and (Great Granny) played a very 'Granny' version of it," and he doesn't actually know how to play properly.

The last time I met McGregor, he was still married to Eve Mavrakis, mother of his four daughters. Both fans and non-fans alike were shocked when the couple split up after 22 years of marriage. Allegedly McGregor had fallen for the charms of fellow actor Mary Elizabeth Winstead. As sometimes happens, I have been advised, repeatedly, by PR people, not to ask the actor about his personal life but to stick to the film and his experience working on it. In that spirit, I draw from the fact that Christopher Robin struggles with his work/life balance, and ask if such a thing is even possible in the acting profession. Can a successful actor 'do it all'? "You can't! That's a fallacy," McGregor replies promptly. But then he smiles and adds, "You can. Of course you can. It's an internal thing, it's about being connected even when you're not there."

'Christopher Robin' opens in cinemas nationwide on August 15.

Sunday Independent

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