Now Ewan is drunk on sobriety
The Trainspotting star tells Evan Fanning why he gave up alcohol seven years ago and never looked backDREAM TEAM: McGregor's latest film sees him team up with director Woody Allen for 'Cassandra's Dream'
EWAN McGREGOR is at a loose end. It's a Monday afternoon and the 37-year-old doesn't know what to do. For the past three months he has been playing the villainous Iago in Othello, performing eight shows a week at the Donmar Warehouse in London. The run came to an end just two days before we meet and now, with the relentless constraints theatre places on an actor lifted, McGregor can't think what to do with a free Monday evening.
Once, a schedule vacuum such as this would have meant one thing. Drinking had become such a part of his routine and his life that, as he revealed on the Parkinson show last November, he was a borderline alcoholic, showing up on sets drunk and continuing to drink between shooting scenes. Seven years ago he made the decision to give it up.
"It was quite a big decision at the time," he explains, "but it was quite clear that it was something I should do. It was getting in the way of everything I was trying to be. It was getting in the way of my work, being at home with my wife and kid. It was quite clearly not good for me and didn't work for me. I drank too much and it made me really unhappy, so I just thought, 'I won't drink and then I can be happy'."
But on days like the day we meet, or the previous Saturday when the gruelling stretch of performing on stage night after night came to an end, surely they are the days where he misses it; where a few drinks with cast members would provide a release from all the stresses and strains of a show which he described as "the hardest thing I've ever done".
"No, I don't miss it for one minute," he says, "because you learn how to live your life without it. You have to, so it's not important. I'm glad to be shot of it to tell you the truth. I was f*****g miserable for most of it. I don't ever miss it. If I found myself in a situation socially where I feel like I'm missing it, then I would just go home. I'm obviously not in the right place. If I can't deal with a situation sober, why would I want to deal with it at all?"
There's a certain irony in the fact that McGregor, whose first flush of fame came playing a heroin addict in Trainspotting is now teetotal. When he burst onto the scene in 1996 playing Mark Renton in the film adaptation of Irvine Welsh's novel, Britpop was at its height and McGregor became to British cinema what the Gallagher brothers were to music and Kate Moss to fashion.
Whether or not he deserved it, McGregor became one of the poster boys for the Britpop generation. For a young man cast into an established scene, the temptations would have been plentiful, and McGregor, by his own admission, lived the life of a rock star. "I've never really felt like I belonged to any scene," he says looking back. "I fell in and out of other people's scenes now and again, but I was never really in one of my own."
While Trainspotting -- his second film after Shallow Grave with director Danny Boyle -- changed his life, and gave a middle-class boy from Crieff in Scotland a chance to live the London high-life, there's every chance that the massive sense of upheaval this brought may well have led to the sustained period of indulgence in his life.
"For a long time I was in denial that anything had changed," says McGregor. "The truth of the matter is that everything had changed for me about that time, because I met my wife, I became a father, I bought my first flat, I got married and Trainspotting came out all around the same time. Everything happened all at the same time so there was huge change in my life."
His wife is Eve Mavrakis, a French production designer whom he married in 1995. They have two daughters together, Clara, 12 and Esther Rose, seven. In 2006 they adopted a four-year-old Mongolian girl called Jamiyan.
Trainspotting was only the first big jump of a career which catapulted further after Moulin Rouge! and further still with his role as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the three Star Wars prequels. There have also been roles in Tim Burton's fantasy Big Fish, what appeared to be a James Bond audition in Down with Love (McGregor was reportedly asked to play 007 before Daniel Craig, but turned it down for fear of being typecast) and in Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down.
He also did two series of the TV documentary Long Way Round where he and Charley Boorman travel around the world on motorbikes. He received some criticism for the second series when his wife joined him for a leg of the trip in Africa. Critics said that this was an unnecessary risk for McGregor to take. They claimed the idea of travelling through parts of Africa was dangerous enough without being joined by his wife, leaving their young children at home.
It was a strange departure for McGregor, who usually goes out of his way to keep his family -- in particular his children -- out of the limelight. "It's just private," he says when I ask why he feels the need to be so protective. "It's as simple as that. It's no business of anyone's what I do with my kids and my wife. I don't see why, just because I'm an actor, I have to share every detail of my life. "I choose not take my kids anywhere where they can be photographed. If there's a premiere of a film that they invite me to with my kids, I never go to it. I'll go to see it with them at the cinema on my own. I can't understand people who take their kids to those things. I look at them and think, 'What the f**k's are you doing?' I really don't understand what anyone gets out of it. 'Look at me with my kids'. For f**k sake, go home." He knows, too, that should he let a little light shine on his family, then the insatiable public appetite for what he terms "celebrity bullshit" will demand more and more.
His latest film, Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream, puts him on screen with an actor with whom he shares many similarities. Both come from comparable Celtic countries, and gained reputations for hell-raising behaviour as soon as they hit the big-time.
In Cassandra's Dream McGregor plays Ian, an ambitious young restaurateur who wants to break free from his father's business by investing in a Californian hotel empire. Colin Farrell plays McGregor's brother, Terry, a mechanic with a serious gambling problem. Together they discover what lengths they'll go to in order to achieve their goals.
From the outside, the similarities between McGregor and Farrell seem to be plentiful. It's something that McGregor himself was aware of. "I've always been interested in Colin even before I met him," he says. "I recognised a lot of stuff I read about him in me, and I wondered if one day I might meet him or work with him. I thought that for a long time."
Working with Allen gave the two plenty of time to become acquainted with one another. The legendary director's lack of interest in rehearsal meant that McGregor and Farrell got together each morning to run through their lines. It gave McGregor an insight behind the public persona of the Irish actor.
"I think he's lovely Colin, really lovely," he explains. "A lot of people's interest in actors is very rarely about what they do in front of a camera and it focuses on the other sides of their life, but I think his acting is quite brilliant."
Though it's hard to argue a case for Allen's recent films, although Cassandra's Dream is a marked improvement on Match Point and the never released Scoop, it's evident that the legendary director still holds massive draw for actors like McGregor.
There's genuine affection and wonderment as he describes his first meeting with Allen; a brief encounter in the cutting room in Manhattan where Allen bustled in late. "He came with his chinos and his ox-blood shoes and his glasses and his cap and he literally said, 'We're making a film in London, there's a part I think you'd be really nice for. I just wanted to meet you in the flesh. Thanks for coming in'. That was it. I think he came to see a matinee of Guys and Dolls, and that's what he'd seen me in. I don't think he'd seen any of my films." He would have been one of the very few.
'Cassandra's Dream' is on release in selected cinemas nationwide from May 23