EDITORíS NOTE: The following interview originally
appeared in the March 11, 2010 edition of the Santa Monica Mirror and
the edited version is being reprinted as a courtesy of that publication.
Ewan McGregor stars in Roman Polanski's The Ghost
Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment
Art Imitates Life in His Latest Film
By Beverly Cohn
n case you havent read the newspaper ads or watched the trailers
being aired on television promoting Roman Polanskis latest film,
The Ghost Writer, starring Ewan McGregor, heres a tip: Go see
the film for despite the fact this is not a perfect film, the performances.
given by McGregor and the rest of the cast, including Pierce Brosnan
and a surprisingly different Kim Cattrall, more than forgives the fact
that Polanski failed to create the kind of dramatic tension weve
come to associate with his work
Q: Marthas Vineyard was so
authentic, that its surprising to learn that the film was actually
shot on an island off the coast of Germany. Did you visit Marthas
Vineyard to get a feel of the location?
McGregor: Ive never been there. I would like to
go very much. I hear its very nice. But I think they spent a lot
of time finding the right place to shoot the film that would represent
it well and have the right feeling. More than looking exactly like Marthas
Vineyard, Im sure Polanski was looking for a setting or a place
where the characters are isolated and claustrophobic-sized, if thats
a word. Its quite a good word to say, but I dont know if
its really a word. Maybe that was more important than actually
shooting on Marthas Vineyard. But I believe we accomplished that.
Roman Polanski. Photo Credit: Summit
Q: Were you familiar with Polanksis films before
McGregor: The films of his that I knew very well were
Chinatown, Macbeth, Rosemarys Baby, Papillon, and The
Fearless Vampire Killers. Of course, once I knew I would be working
with Roman, I went off and watched most of his films, including The
Tenant, Cul-de-sac, Knife in the Water, and Repulsion. Sitting
down and watching these films was a nice job to have.
Q: How did his directing style differ from other directors
with whom you worked?
McGregor: Hes very brusque when youre
on set, and very direct. I think its fair to say he doesnt
sugar coat his direction in any way. So youre left with no doubt
with what he wants. Occasionally, hell act out for you or take
the script out of your hands and read it to you. For actors, we never
like to be given line readings. Its just not a good way to be
directing and we certainly dont like to have a scene acted out
for us because then youre copying someone else as opposed to finding
it and making it your own. However, hes Polanski and you cant
take that out of the equation. Hes an iconic, legendary director
and his direction is extraordinary.
Roman Polanski given direction on the set of The
Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment
Q: Youre an incredibly gifted actor so how did
you handle his style of directing?
McGregor: Were sensitive souls as actors and we
dont like to feel like what we tried is wrong, but you soon realize
this is just the way he is and is like that with everybody. I was on
all the time and had the luxury of watching him from the first day of
shooting to the last and saw how he directed the crew and technicians.
Hes the same with everybody; theres nothing personal. He
sees it in his head and wants it to be the way he wrote it. If its
not the way he sees it in his head, then its not right. So, he
works everyone until he gets what he wants.
Q: How much of him do you think is in the story?
McGregor: I think theres no question that all
filmmakers are depicting something of themselves in their characters.
Its their art and their comments and the entire film is filtered
through their heads. That said, we never felt that Polanski was making
a comment about his own life. Theres a scene where the British
Prime Minister becomes aware that he is now going to have to stand trial
and defend himself in The Hague for war crimes and his lawyer tells
him that as long as he stays in America, hes safe because America
doesnt recognize the International Criminal Court. His attorney
rattles off some other countries where he would be safe and its
a very small list. Of course we know Polanski has lived in that situation
since the 70s where hes been able to travel only to a few specific
countries where he wont face extradition to the States.
Q: Do you think the novel written by Robert Harris had
Polanski in mind?
McGregor: It seems like it was written as a comment
about Polanskis life. However, Harris wrote the book long before
anyone dreamt that Polanski might direct this film. Because we know
about Polanskis life, it seems like a loud comment, but on set,
he never personalized anything to us. He never said, this is a
bit like my life.
Pierce Brosnan as former British Prime Minister
Adam Lang in a confrontational moment with his ghostwriter played by
Ewan McGregor in Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer. Photo
Credit: Summit Entertainment
Q: The British Prime Minister, as played by Pierce Brosnan,
bears a striking resemblance to Tony Blair. What are you thoughts on
McGregor: I think theres no question that its
resoundingly like Tony Blair. However, Pierce asked Polanski how much
like Blair he should be and Polanski told him that he shouldnt
think that he was playing Blair and should not try to mimic him. However,
all the facts point to that character being Blair.
Q: How about recent parallels in the UK?
McGregor: In terms of British politics, some of the
themes in the film have been reflected in the real world. In our movie,
the former Prime Minister is accused of war crimes and in real life,
Tony Blair had to sit in front of a panel a few weeks ago and try to
explain his decision making about taking Britain into the Iraq war.
Theres lots of talk in the news about Britains involvement
in rendition flights and questions about did they or did they not touch
down on British soil, and were British forces involved in torturing
or interrogating prisoners on behalf of the American government, all
of which would be considered an illegal act. So there are many things
in the film that seem to be reflective of real life events.
Q: What do you think will be the outcome of Blairs
McGregor: I dont know what will happen as a result
of his testimony. I dont know if will make any difference and
certainly not to the families whove lost kids over there and certainly
not to all the people lost in that war, but maybe its right that
he still has to answer hard questions. Here in America, it seems that
former President Bush is never going to have to be accountable for his
decisions and will probably never have to appear before a panel.
Q: Ghostwriters are unsung heroes as they dont
get any credit for their work. Did you research the psychology of this
breed of writers and was it reflected in your character?
McGregor: In a conversation I had with the author of
the book, Robert Harris, he talked about the ghostwriter as having an
inherent sense of failure as his name is not attached to his words.
I think it rings true in the way I played the ghost. Hes
kind of given up a little bit. I didnt think I had to do any research
because it was quite clear in both the novel and the script. Also, I
published a couple of travel books that were written from diaries so
I had worked with two ghost writers, both entirely different from each
other, and that gave me insight into the interview process.
The Ghost Writer, played by Ewan Mc Gregor with
Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment
Q: Looking back on your career, was there a pivotal
moment in your training?
McGregor: Acting is very instinctive and youre
always learning but it would be very difficult for me to put my finger
on a certain thing. My path is something Im very glad of. I left
school when I was just 16 and started working in the theatre. For six
months I was part of the stage crew and was in the world I always wanted
to be in since I was a kid, when I first saw Star Wars with my
uncle. After that I did a one-year theatre arts course in Scotland followed
by a three-year acting course in Londons Guildhall School of Music
and Drama. That, for me, was a perfect way to enter the business and
all of that learning is part of my acting.
Q: Was there one scene that was particularly difficult
in this film?
McGregor: No, I dont think so. I dont ever
find acting difficult. I try to make it as uncomplicated and as natural
as possible. I like very much for my characters to be real people. Because
I was in all of the film, I was able to underplay my character. Sometimes
in acting, its not the scene you imagine is going to stumble you
or you find difficult on that day. Its very often not the big
emotional scenes because usually they take care of themselves. You come
on set and the atmosphere is set for you.
Q: What is the message of the film?
McGregor: Ultimately the film is showing a situation
where our politicians, even those who hold the highest seats in government,
have to be accountable for their actions and their decisions. I think
thats a very strong message and one thats as clear as day
Ewan McGregor is a screen icon in his own right,
beginning with his break-out role in Trainspotting, followed by a long
list of amazing performances in such films as Emma, Angels and Demons,
Cassandras Dream, and his most dazzling performance as the smitten
writer in Moulin Rouge. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of his career
is when he came full circle to play Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, the
film that launched his dream of becoming an actor when he was six years