Last Updated May 23, 1997
Ewan McGregor is young. He's hip. He's beautiful. He's managed to get himself into some of the coolest, swingingest flicks around. For all intents and purposes, Ewan McGregor should be well on his way to heart-throb city. However, when you look closely at the roles Ewan has taken recently, it becomes more clear that he's a stodge at heart, more interested in taking roles of intellect and
Ewan's defining, establishing role was, we admit, Trainspotting. Sure, there are those that will say Shallow Grave put him on the map, just as it put director Danny Boyle on the map. And sure, Shallow Grave was a good flick in it's own right. Not great, but pretty cool. Looked good, too. But I think history will probably look back on Shallow Grave as a dress rehearsal for Trainspotting. I hear that Danny Boyle is working on another flick to complete the "big score" trilogy, called A Life Less Ordinary (rumor has it Ewan will be in that too).. I also hear that there are movies being made for Irvine Welsh's other books, Marabou Stork Nightmares , The Acid House and Ecstasy. (Of course these are just rumors). Seems unlikely that films are being made for all three, and since none of these have a big "score," if I recall, skimming them over quickly in my mind, I guess Danny Boyle probably won't be making them. But perhaps Ewan McGregor will be in them as well.
But I don't think he should, because, as we see it, Ewan McGregor, despite all his swarthy good looks and indie-credibility, is heading down the road of stodginess. And I don't mean the sort of "I'm getting old and I want to establish my credibility" stodginess that is so common amongst old, pallid Hollywood standbys. Ewan McGregor is young and vibrant. His roles, even early on in his career, and his acting are both of the highest caliber. He has yet to kow-tow in any way to populist sensibilities. As he matures, and as success comes to him, he will continue to become more esoteric, more compelling and more academic in his work.
Sure, you can point to his cameo on E.R. and there is the forthcoming medical thriller, Nightwatch. But I see these as the anomalies in his oeuvre, and I firmly believe that despite the occasional commercially acceptable work, the stodginess will keep on coming.
Now, some of you may be thinking that I am basing this purely on his boyish, impish, comedic role in the not-very-stodgy but still pretty damn frumpish Emma. I don't see this role so much as evidence of Ewan McGregor's academic tendencies, but rather a manifesto on his beliefs in the inherent good of stodginess.
The outmodish can illuminate. It can entertain. It can enliven and illuminate. We all know that. That is the very core of this page. And while the stodgy is, perhaps, by it's very nature not wildly popular and a bit behind the times, there is no reason it couldn't use a little modern polish. And that is what Ewan McGregor, and indeed the cast and crew of Emma accomplish. That was half it's point. To show the cleverness of the classics, to show how they can be applied to modern life. I firmly believe that is a large part of why Ewan chose the role: because it was a classic something he admired in some way yet it wasn't mired in "evil stodge." It wasn't slow, it wasn't pallid, it didn't have it's head up it's own ass.
In a way the role could be said to be similar to his role in Trainspotting. Both roles challenged the genre. Both roles expanded bounds in some way. I'll be the first to admit that Trainspotting went further and was more successful. I'm not claiming that the films are equals. I just believe that Ewan's roles had similar aspects to them. It's clear that Irvine Welsh, and probably Danny Boyle as well, approached their subject unapologetically. They wanted to expose a side of it that the propaganda has muted. Welsh's novel is absolutely unapologetic on all fronts. It exposes the good, the fun, the benefits, and doesn't elicit sympathy when the characters pay the price for their "vices." As a film, Trainspotting, while less challenging than the novel and not supremely successful on all fronts, challenged the notions of drugs in cinema. It didn't glamorize, it didn't demonize. But it did show the good, the bad and the ugly, and it did it with style and wit. And much of it was done through Rents, Ewan's character. Rents is unlike any other cinematic interpretation of a druggie. He lacks the flair and glamour of the Tarantino school, and he isn't a complete loser like the Hollywood/Family Values complex would portray. He wrestles with moral questions, circumstance, the evils of society, both individually and politically inspired. He is complicated and he's by no means an archetype.
Having digressed a bit here, let's point out also the often arcane and verbose dialogues between Rents and Sick Boy, where they, too, indulge in the academic and the unpopular, but on a supremely pop-culture level. We appreciated the inclusion of such academic delights in the movie, and here I use it to point out the stodgy overtones of even McGregor's most "accessible" role to date.
Right. That being said. At this point, after his appearances in Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and Emma, McGregor's choice of roles definitely pointed towards prime stodge material. We could see the appreciation of the classic, we could see the delight in academics, and we could see his refreshing ability to blow away the dust and make us appreciate a good costume drama. But still, it was all conjecture. We could have been wrong. McGregor could have gone the way of many a neophyte star full of potential and sold out to Hollywood. But it did not happen. Instead, Ewan took a role in Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book.
Here we hit the heights of stodginess. Peter Greenaway's always been a stodge, for better or worse. And in The Pillow Book, he takes Ewan down a road filled with bad calligraphy, and the lord's prayer written on the body of a nude woman. Ewan does an unprecedented number of nude scenes in this movie (well, nothing compared to Julia Ormond and Ralph Fiennes in The Baby of Maçon.. I mean unprecedented for McGregor) and every one of them is preposterously artistic. While I highly recommend The Pillow Book and I think it comes off as a remarkably successful and compelling work. Yet who can deny that scenes of Ewan McGregor nude floating in water, or covered in calligraphy are without a doubt so esoteric that it's clear there's very little hope of Ewan McGregor ever becoming completely commercialized.
And what about Brassed Off? Such an absolutely esoteric, random, completely unattractive movie. And by that I don't mean bad I simply mean not the average formula for commercial appeal. From here on out it's stodge city. On the Internet Movie Database, no less than two of Ewan's upcoming roles are full on stodge. There's the adaptation of Henry James' Wings of a Dove - super duper stodgy and also starring that stodgy seal-of-approval darling Helena Bonham Carter. There's also Serpent's Kiss, which looks pretty damn stodgy as well.
Of course there's the much-rumored casting of Ewan McGregor as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the next Star Wars trilogy. I won't go into that too much but I don't think it will necessarily lessen Ewan's frumpish potential. In fact, if all goes smoothly and the trilogy is as much a mega-hit as the previous trilogy, I think it will serve to make Ewan's arcane film interests unstoppable.