Playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in the ‘Star Wars’ prequels made him a hot movie property. But now the £6m-a-film career has been put on hold to play Sky Masterson eight times a week in a new theatre production of ‘Guys and Dolls’.
Life is a crap game and the devil is using loaded dice, observes Sky Masterson, the inveterate New York gambler and fast-talking star of the musical ‘Guys and Dolls’. But few people would bet against him and much the same could be said for Ewan McGregor. The Scottish actor, best known for playing a junkie in Trainspotting and a Jedi knight in the Star Wars prequels, took his own gamble this week when he made his debut as Masterson in a new West End production of ‘Guys and Dolls’. McGregor could have fallen on his face — literally, considering the amount of dancing required — but he did not. The Independent’s Paul Taylor praised his “easy charm and seductive glamour” while the Times’s Benedict Nightingale wrote: “Give this Sky a dramatic climax and he’ll gleam, like his namesake in high summer.” There were a few brickbats among the bouquets. One critic found McGregor “sexless” and several were underwhelmed by his singing voice. But the consensus was overwhelmingly positive. McGregor
had taken on a role made famous by Marlon Brando and pulled it off.
McGregor has described his return to the stage as an antidote to the tedium of film-making, in particular the special effects-led ‘Star Wars’ movies. The rehearsals for ‘Guys and Dolls’ were “more fulfilling than any movie. Movies are so draining. They pull away from the actor, but theatre just fills you up. I needed my fix”. It is a familiar line and one that often sounds disingenuous in the mouths of Hollywood actors treading the boards in an attempt to revive a wilting movie career. But McGregor, who began as a stagehand at Perth Repertory Theatre and won rave reviews for his previous turn on the London stage — a lead role in the 1998 production of Little Malcolm and his Struggle Against the Eunuchs — hardly needs a career boost.
At 34, he is already the most successful Scottish movie actor since Sean Connery. Plucked from his final year at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to play an Elvis-fixated nerd in Dennis Potter’s 1993 television drama ‘Lipstick on Your Collar’, he has made almost 30 films. A few of them — ‘A Life Less Ordinary’, ‘Rogue Trader’ and ‘Eye of the Beholder’ — are best forgotten. But McGregor has played at least two roles that can be considered generational touchstones. In 1996 it was Renton, the junkie antihero of ‘Trainspotting’ who plunged headfirst down The Worst Toilet in Scotland. Three years later he picked up a light sabre to play Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first of three ‘Star Wars’ prequels. McGregor relishes diverse projects and still alternates between Hollywood pictures, smaller films and projects such as Long Way Round, a television documentary about the three-month, 20,000-mile motorbike journey he made with his friend Charley Boorman. When he returns to films next year, it will be in a British comedy directed by fellow Scot Peter Capaldi. McGregor will play four roles: a 1930s Hollywood star, his stand-in, and both of the 18th century characters they are playing in a movie.
Danny Boyle, who directed him in ‘Shallow Grave’, ‘Trainspotting’, and ‘A Life Less Ordinary’, has said: “He’s dependable and friendly. He lets the film happen around him.” Grandage describes him as egoless and “a really, really nice man”, and Boorman praises his loyalty:
“When the chips are down you can turn to him and he’ll be there for you.” McGregor is no saint. He was a hellraiser in his 20s, but went on the wagon five years ago to strengthen his relationship with his wife, the French production designer Eve Mavrakis, and their two daughters. Earlier this year he kicked his 30-a-day smoking habit. “I remember doing interviews, drinking and smoking, just saying, ‘I am never, ever going to fucking stop!’” he has said. “And I said it with real pride, you know, because I wanted to be the best drinker as well as everything else and that’s a really slippery slope.” — The Guardian