Some actors are very flash in the pan in their career: their hits are gone just as quickly as they came. Whilst they may still appear in films, nothing will recreate their one shining moment of greatness. Other actors have a career full of hit films and whilst they may end up in some terrible films, their hits and their talent ensure a healthy and glittering career. One of these such actors is Ewan McGregor, a veteran Scottish actor with a career spanning over three decades. The nephew of actor Denis Lawson who appeared in the original Star Wars trilogy and Enid, McGregor has forged a stellar career on the merit of his own talent and determination. A man who does not appear desperate for the limelight at every move, he's received a lot of critical acclaim even when appearing in less than appealing films.
As we prepare for two films starring McGregor released within a week of each other with Mortdecai then Son of a Gun, here are some of his finest performances:
Shallow Grave follows the story of three young professionals whose housemate dies of a drug overdose and leaves a conspicuous suitcase full of money that causes all three to unfold in some way. This is one of McGregor's first films and a gem of Scottish cinema. It's a wonderfully tense psychological horror directed by Danny Boyle and it's beautifully written with all three actors playing their protagonists (and that term is used very loosely) very well. The chemistry between McGregor, Christopher Eccleston and Kerry Fox works and the audience is drawn to them especially to McGregor's Alex. How on Earth can one not love a man who says to his housemate: "But you're a Doctor, you kill people everyday!"
Another Danny Boyle directed classic that's a stand-out in Scottish cinema history is Trainspotting. This film revolves around a group of heroin addicts but mainly focuses on Mark 'Rentboy' Renton played by McGregor who goes through the motions of being deep in drug addiction and the issues surrounding it whilst offering some very scathing and honest commentary about the cleaner society. This film expands on the visionary and unique film-making style previously seen in Shallow Grave with psychedelic imagery that remains iconic to this day. McGregor shows that he is a multi-faceted actor who is bigger than the dreamboat sex symbol he seemed to be garnering at the time. His narrating protagonist is relatable even though he spends most of the film doing morally questionable things. The memorable "Choose Life" monologue at the beginning of the film to the music of 'Lust For Life' by Iggy Pop is possibly one of the best introductions to a film ever done.
Okay so honesty time: not a big fan of this film. There are several issues within the loot and narrative that can be tough to get past including the fact the film seems to think it's saying something new when it's simply rehashing old and hollow philosophies. Now that this reviewer has just made herself quite unpopular (Ed: You're fired), it is worth noting there are some good points to this film and one of them is the performance of McGregor as Christian. Whilst his character is definitely flawed, his performance isn't. This is a film that really pays homage to the dreamboat: an impeccably beautiful man who is passionate and has a singing voice full of freedom, beauty, truth and love.
Before everyone reading this starts to assemble an angry mob armed with pitchforks, read the explanation. The Star Wars prequels were generally pretty bad but there are a few redeeming qualities that deserve some credit and a lot of that is down to McGregor's performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Despite some of the rubbish dialogue and plot holes, McGregor took on an iconic role made famous by Alec Guinness and made it his own whilst still honouring his late predecessor. McGregor is incredibly detailed and precise in his delivery and the hard work is clear to see whether he's in a dialogue-heavy scene or in a light sabre battle with any of the foes he comes across. The Kenobi vs Darth Maul battle is still one of the best choreographed sequences in film.
This British classic shows the story of a timid and reclusive woman called LV who has a sweet and beautiful voice. As she prepares to go through an event she doesn't want to perform at, she meets a shy, pigeon-racing telephone engineer called Billy played by McGregor. The relationship between the two characters are wonderfully done as they experience their own tender journeys away from their comfort spaces to help each other. McGregor plays Billy with sweetness and an underlying sense of wanting more in life. It's a great performance in a film full of great actors including Michael Caine, Jane Horrocks, Brenda Blethyn and Jim Broadbent. The image of Billy on a crane rescuing LV from a house fire is one that'll stick in the mind.
What Do You Think?
Or is there more?
Read Jo's review of next week's Son of a Gun.
Mortdecai is out now!