Brit actor on his dramatic retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk
Ewan McGregor has had what you might call an eclectic career. Finding fame with his role in gritty 1996 British drama Transpotting, he took a left-turn into lighter fare three years later when he reprised the iconic role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in reboot Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Since then McGregor, now 41, has undertaken highbrow work with master directors Roman Polanski and Woody Allen, in The Ghost Writer and Cassandra’s Dream respectively, as well as playing Iago in a West End version of Shakespeare’s Othello. Yet he’s had plenty of populist fare: as well as two more Star Wars movies, he appeared in Tim Burton’s Big Fish and took a voice role in Disney’s Robots. His latest venture Jack the Giant Slayer, based on the Jack the Giant Killer and Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tales, clearly falls into the later camp. We find out what led him to the role of Elmont the knight.
What was it about the project that made you want to do this film? I thought it was an opportunity to play a larger-than-life character and get away with it. The role demands it, really, when you’re playing a fantastical character that we all recognise; the good knight, the knight in shining armour. There was humour involved, in that Elmont is a bit of a twit. He often gets things wrong and, although he’s very brave and he leads his men into dangerous situations, he often ends up falling on his face and Jack comes along and saves the day. I thought it would just be fun.
Elmont’s hair is almost its own character in the film. I know – I loved it. I’d just come from doing pickups on a film called Haywire, where I had a really bad short back and sides. They put me in a medieval wig for this at first, and it looked awful. I hated it. But then I felt like there was an opportunity for Elmont’s hair [to change], because the costumes weren’t locked into the period. And we’re implying that it’s medieval, a long time ago in a land far, far away.
Did you see any common elements between Elmont and Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars? No. I didn’t think about any. I mean, they’re both knights and they both have an English accent, but I certainly didn’t play them the same way. If there are similarities, they’re totally unintentional. I have a line where I say, ‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this,’ which is a classic Star Wars line, but I don’t remember saying it or making the link that it was the Star Wars line.
How was it working with Bill Nighy as General Fallon? I’ve always wanted to work with Bill Nighy. And I know Bill just a tiny bit. I’ve seen him on stage. I think he’s an amazing actor. We didn’t really get a chance to work together. I watched him doing motion capture work on this, and we were there doing a little bit of motion capture too, but hopefully we’ll get something to do properly together because I do love him as an actor. And he’s a great man, a nice man.
What did you think of the 3D process, and what was it like seeing yourself in 3D? It’s quite interesting when you’re sitting for it. It struck me that they don’t need to do as many shots. It doesn’t make it any quicker, because it takes a longer time to set up. But if there are three or four of you in a shot, because you’re all there in 3D, they don’t feel the need to go around and do singles on everyone. So, there’s less editing required. There’s more of a presence of everybody on the screen. It’s quite odd seeing a whole feature film with you in 3D. I mean, I suppose that you kind of get used to iy after five or ten minutes, but it is clever. Jack the Giant Slayer is released on Thursday March 14.