The Hot Seat: Ewan McGregor
This Scot would make a model prisoner.
Mon Nov 29 2010
Illustration: Rob Kelly
Ewan McGregor has nearly circumnavigated the globe by motorcycle, done full-frontal nudity on screen (a lot) and wielded a lightsaber as Obi-Wan Kenobi—now he can add "made out with Jim Carrey" to his list of accomplishments. Carrey and McGregor's film I Love You Phillip Morris was delayed several times in postproduction before getting a U.S. release date; Internet chatter suggests that it was because the two play, respectively, a flamboyant gay con man and the convict he adores. The comedy finally scored a distribution deal and hits American theaters this week, so we asked McGregor to dig up memories of a long time ago, at a film shoot far, far away.
RECOMMENDED: Full list of Hot Seat interviews
We're talking about I Love You Phillip Morris—I don't know if you can recall that far back.
I know, it was a long time ago, wasn't it?
It was filmed in 2008—a simpler time, before we had Jersey Shore and President Obama. You ever nostalgic for those days?
Ha, no. Are you?
No, no, certainly no. The film's been seen everywhere else in the world. I think it's been in Europe and on airplanes and stuff, but now it's coming out here.
We're a little slow in the U.S., but we eventually get there.
Yeah, I don't think it was due to, you know, the gay subject matter.
It wasn't too risqué for Americans?
I don't think so. I think the film's important because there is still major homophobia in the world. But I don't think it's too risqué. I was really careful myself to make sure that the humor isn't coming out of the fact that they're gay.
Is it campy?
I don't think so. Though there's something quite campy about Phillip, and he's written very much that way. I wanted to have a bit of camp in his character, but the challenge was to incorporate that and not look like I was doing the stereotypical straight-guy-playing-a-gay-guy character. It's not...I haven't seen it for so long, I'm trying to remember.
It's not the film with the spaceships.
No, no, not that one. Exactly.
Could you ever break someone you loved out of jail, like Jim Carrey's character does for yours?
Well, I've never had a call like that. But yeah, sure, I could. I don't imagine anyone I know would be in jail....
And if you yourself were stuck in prison, would you use trickery to get out or dig a tunnel, Shawshank-style?
It depends how long you were facing, you know? Steven Russell, who Jim plays [in the film], is just an incredible con man, an incredibly good cheat. He's so skilled at it that he literally walked out of prison dressed as a doctor. He just had a knack. It was his absolute ballsiness.
But I think he's really the exception to the rule. Touch wood, for the grace of God, I hope I don't end up in prison, because it is absolutely miserable. I think it's really, really fucking awful in there. If I were to find myself in there, I think I'd have to just accept it and do the time.
Had you ever played a character in jail before?
No, I think that was the first time I've done that. We shot at Angola prison—a very depressing place up in Louisiana—and we would work with extras who were in fact prisoners. Good-behavior prisoners, I'd like to think. They really liked it because it was something different; something like 85 percent of the men in Angola are there for life.
They got to take a break from digging their tunnels under the wall?
I don't think they do that—it's really tightly run, that prison. I've never seen anything like it. I've never been in a prison where all of the prison guards are on horseback with rifles and stuff. Totally out of a movie, you know?
Horseback? That seems so old-fashioned. They should use, I don't know, Segways now.
I guess they can run faster on their horse than a prisoner can on his legs.
Looking forward, you've been known for doing nude scenes—would you do them again?
How could you be done with it? I never understand that question. I've always thought that films reflect real life, and in real life we're naked lots of the time. So why would you not be in movies?
I Love You Phillip Morris opens Fri 3.