/Film Interview: Ewan McGregor Talks ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,’ ‘Jack the Giant Killer,’ ‘Star Wars’
Posted on Friday, March 9th, 2012 by Germain Lussier
Scottish actor Ewan McGregor has earned a pristine reputation by jumping between Hollywood blockbusters and small indies, all helmed by some of the best directors around. One month he’s in Trainspotting, Perfect Sense or Beginners, then he’ll do Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge, Tim Burton’s Big Fish or George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels.
His latest film, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, fits into the former category. Directed by Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules) and written by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) it’s the fictional story of how a publicity stunt aimed to paint foreign relations in a good light turns into a transformative journey for two people (played by McGregor and Emily Blunt) who are tasked with trying to introduce the geographically specific sport of salmon fishing into the unforgiving heat of Yemen.
I recently spoke to McGregor about his reaction to the film’s lengthy and specific title, what distinguishes Hallström from some of the other directors he’s worked with, how it felt to be publicly praised by Beginners co-star Christopher Plummer at the Oscars, and his thoughts on the recently moved Jack the Giant Killer. I also snuck in a Star Wars question for good measure.
Read the interview after the jump.
/Film: So you’re sitting at home, the phone rings, your agent says, “Hey, we have a great script. It’s called SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN.” What is your first reaction to that?
(Laughs) I don’t remember being kind of baffled by the title when I read the script. Maybe someone had told me, but I don’t know… I love the title. I think it’s great and there was some talk of changing it. It is the title of the book that the film’s adapted from and I just think it’s classic. It’s such an odd title, but it’s absolutely describes what is going on in the movie, so it’s kind of brilliant and it’s yet to be seen whether it will be a turn off or not. I don’t know, I’ve seen the film a couple of times now with audiences in Toronto at the film festival last year and then again at a Q&A in San Francisco the day before yesterday and then again in Seattle last night. Audiences were really warm to it and like it it seems. I would imagine it will either intrigue people or… I hope it does that. I hope it intrigues them.
Question: Okay, yeah. To me the best parts of the movie were A) the incredible locations you guys shot and B) your chemistry with Emily Blunt, which was just so natural and believable. How did you guys develop that? Did you hang out a lot? Was it rehearsals? Or was it just two actors working together?
It’s not something you actually try and manufacture, you know? It’s not a question of getting together and saying, “Okay. How are we going to have chemistry?” You just either get on or you don’t and in my experience I suppose because of the way I and most people go about this, you’re all excited to be making the film and you know what your part is and the job you need to do. If you are working with someone who is as fun as Emily Blunt, it’s easy. She had me laughing for like three months.
And you’ve worked with pretty much every great director out there. What, if anything, distinguishes Lasse Hallström from people like Danny Boyle, Tim Burton…
Lasse’s got a really lovely kind of bonkers style to him. He’s a bit of a clown. He’s always pretending to trip up and… He’s an oddball man. He’s just a fantastic director. He gives you complete freedom really to actually play in front of the camera and most of the great directors are like that. They encourage you to have freedom and not be kind of… You know, some directors come in and they tell you if you said one word wrong or they say “That’s actually “that” instead of “then…” You know, they will correct you every single… But those to be writers, not directors. They tend to be people who have written the script and think that that’s the most important thing of all. So I don’t know. I think what I love most about him is the freedom that he gave us to play those scenes.
Sure. Your character in the film is pretty reserved, which is something you’ve done in the past, but not too often. What was the most difficult part of you playing a character that was so introverted and inside his head?
Well there wasn’t anything difficult about it. I mean that’s what was wonderful about the character was the fact that he was completely locked up socially and sexually and in most other ways, just very awkward and uncomfortable and that was the fun part about him, taking him from that place at the beginning of the film to the end when he turns into a different character. That’s always something you’re looking for as an actor, that kind of arc. That was the fun part about playing Fred, the plotting of that and then executing it, because you’re shoot everything out of sequence. That’s the fine part about doing it, trying to make sure that I kept my eye on where he was in his being at that point, you know?
Now moving away from this for a second, Christopher Plummer was extremely complimentary of you at the Academy Awards on Sunday. Did you see it? What did you think about that?
Yeah. I was so… I’m so happy for him. I loved working with him on that film. I loved it. I loved what he did. I thought it was a superb performance that didn’t feel like a performance to me when we were doing it, it just felt like he was my dad and I was his son and we were… it felt very close to real life really. But I was touched by him and moved by him and his acting. I like him very much as a man. He’s a lovely gentleman and for him to give me a little mention like that just meant the world to me. It was really fantastic, really lovely.
Another movie you just recently finished, JACK THE GIANT KILLER, got its release date pushed back a few months. I was wondering, have you seen anything from the film yet? What are your thoughts on it, now that you have finished it?
No, I haven’t seen any of it. I don’t know. I was told that it was pushed back by my agent, but I have no communication with the director or anything. I have no idea why. I assume it wasn’t good enough yet? (Laughs) So they’re tying to make it better. That’s usually what that means, but I don’t know. I might be speaking out of school there, I’m not sure. I think it’s a very complicated film to make with an enormous amount of computer generated… Obviously all of the giants are motion captured and then animated somehow, so I suppose that’s a lot of work and maybe they just got behind themselves, I don’t know.
A couple last things here. Did you happen to catch EPISODE ONE when it was re-released in 3D?
I haven’t yet, no. I’d like to though. I might try to… At the time I’ve been shooting in New York making a pilot for HBO called THE CORRECTIONS, which is hopefully going to be a serialization of Jonathan Franzen’s novel, so I didn’t really get a chance to go and see it when it opened. I’ve got a bit of time off now, so I may well take my kids along.
I just have to ask; those films are still such a huge lightning round for discussion for fans now like seven years removed. Now that you’re like eight or nine years removed from them, how do you feel about your work on those films and the films in general more specifically?
Well I like them. I mean I saw them when they came out and I haven’t seen them since, but I was happy to be in then. I felt that it was great to be part of that huge legend of STAR WARS and you know I never involve myself in the discussion about it or the criticism of them or not. They are what they are and fortunately to the moment they’ve re-released the first one and there’s a whole generation of kids now who weren’t around when we released them before. Children love them, regardless of what the die hard STAR WARS fans from the 70’s think, kids love them to bits and I’ve always really enjoyed that with my discussions with them, you know when people’s kids who I haven’t met before come up and they see Obi Wan Kenobi. They’ve always got nice questions to ask and stuff.
Awesome. Well Ewan, congratulations on this movie. Good luck and keep doing great work, because I’m a huge, huge fan.
Thank you very much. You’re very kind.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen opens in limited release March 9.