Ewan Gordon McGregor was born on 31 March 1971 in the small, quiet town of Crieff in Scotland’s Perthshire.
Ewan’s mother, dark, wavy-haired Carol Diane McGregor is a retired teacher who still lives in Perthshire and now serves as McGregor’s personal assistant.
His father, James Charles Stewart McGregor – just known as Jim -, was for many years a physical education teacher and career adviser at Morrison’s Academy, the private school Ewan McGregor attended as a day pupil, along with his more academically inclined older brother Colin. He, too, is now retired.
Ewan’s brother, Colin, was born in Glasgow in February 1969. He’s now an RAF pilot.
Ewan’s mother’s brother – his uncle -, Denis Lawson, is an actor. Outside of the main stars, he turned out to be one of the few actors to appear in all three of the first Star Wars movies, playing the part of heroic X-Wing pilot Wedge Antilles. For Ewan, his uncle’s experience and achievements were a guiding light. He knew he wanted to be an actor from about the age of nine – and he knew he’d have to leave Crieff to do it – just as his uncle had done.
An event which would help shape his future happened when Ewan was six years old in 1977. He attended Sunday School regularly. Although his parents Jim and Carol were not particularly religious, they believed in making a wide range of knowledge and experience available to their children in order that they could make up their own minds about the world. For Ewan, Sunday School meant the chance to act in a play of the story about David and Goliath. The Reverend Henry Tait from Crieff South Church, told The Scotsman that he wrote the part of David especially for Ewan, lifting the challenging dialogue directly from the Bible. He recalled the young McGregor needed no encouragement or cajoiling to perform. “This child had a natural fair,” he recalls. The Reverend said that he noted in his diary that Ewan was “outstanding good” as David.
Ewan and his friends also took great pride in their playground recreation of the fifties-set musical set Grease. He and a mate would take turns each being Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta. “One of us would be Olivia and another would be John. I was a very good Olivia Newton-John,” he admitted of an early play-acting role that really stretched his developing talents. “I don’t think there was any touching or kissing involved. We were just kids, you know. Obviously it helped to make me a sensitive and interested performer…”. He even claimed to have crossed his fingers for a year in the hope that Olivia Newton-John would happen to get lost in Crieff and stop off at his house, but instead had to make do with re-enacting “You’re The One That I Want” in the school playground.
Ewan would play other parts off stage for his own amusement. As punk was making its mark on the British music scene of 1976-7, six-year-old Ewan McGregor was busy being Elvis Presley. “I would spend a great deal of my time being Elvis because he was the best thing. I don’t remember ever not knowing about him.” Ewan used to entertain adults at parties thrown by his parents by singing “Lonesome Tonight” and “Love Me Tender”, whilst imitating Presley’s dance movements.
The real song that affected Ewan as a child, though, was the sentimental classic “Old Shep”. “I used to sit and weep tp ‘Old Shep’ over and over again, which made me the sensitive guy I am now,” he claimed, ironically. He has often drawn on the song to help him out in important emotional scenes in his acting life – or so he has claimed. “Some people think about their sister being raped and stuff like that to get them in the mood,” he has said of other actor’s approaches to playing intense emotional scenes, “but I just listen to ‘Old Shep’.”
Ewan was quite musical at school. He’s got French horn to grade 7, he did a couple of concertos, and he played in the school pipe band as a side drummer. He also played in a ceilidh band and he’s been the drummer in a pop band called Scarlet Pride, a name he now considers “terrible”. He even once appeared briefly on Grampian television show A Touch of Music playing the French horn, which his parents taped and which his father used to embarrass him with whenever he had girlfriends round. Between each section of the Mozart piece he was playing he indecorously wiped his nose on his sleeve, because as a teenager he thought it looked cool. “They had to keep cutting to the pianist,” he said gleefully. He once won a prize for playing the French horn.
Ewan didn’t like school. He was keen on writing, at which he was good at generating ideas, but not so good on basic practicalities like spelling and grammar. “I’ve never been a good student,” he admitted candidly, “and that was a bit of a sore spot for my parents because they’re both teachers. I had a great love of music and art, but they don’t really let you do that at school. They think you’re copping off, which was a shame. When you get to the age where you choose your exam subjects, I wanted to do art and music. They said ‘No, that’s not very serious, is it? You’ve got to do maths and chemistry.” I said I was deadly serious. As a result, I became less and less interested in school.” Whether he liked it or not, school played a very big part in McGregor’s family life. While Jim was a teacher, there were also deeper family connections with Morrison’s Academy. Ewan McGregor’s great-great-grandfather James had been a local stone mason in Crieff and had helped build the private in 1860. His grandfather James McGregor had been a pupil, too. Carol (who was the daughter of a local jeweller Laurie and his shopkeeper wife Phyllis) and Jim had started going out with each other when they met as pupils at the school. They had married in July 1966, before moving to work in Glasgow. When they returned to Crieff in 1970 Jim became the physical education teacher at the school and helped out with career advice for pupils. Meanwhile Carol took up a post at Crieff High School, before being promoted to deputy head-teacher at Kingspark School in Dundee.
Ewan found himself becoming the class town and he had frequent run-ins with his teachers over his lack of application to his academic work. It was clear to staff at the Academy that Ewan didn’t like his teachers and had problems with authority figures in general.
Ewan left Morrison’s Academy at sixteen in 1987.
Of all the films he’d seen, Ewan loved The Philadelphia Story best and considered James Stewart his favorite actor of all time. “You can’t put your finger on it, really. He’s just a beautiful actor.”
Only three days after leaving school, in October 1987, Ewan managed to secure himself a job as a stagehand at Perth Theatre. It meant travelling between Crieff and Perth in a battered old green Volkswagen Beetle, but it was the first rung on the acting ladder for McGregor. Of course, Ewan was far more interested in the recently established Perth Youth Theatre Group. He also had a deep interest in all aspects of stage craft, from acting to working the spotlights and discovering exactly what a ‘director’ actually did.
He also made his professional acting debut with the group, in October 1987, when he was an extra in an adaptation of E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India. He is credited in the programme under ‘Servants and others’. “I was running about with a turban and all blacked up.”
Early in 1988 he would make an uncredited appearance in the play Pravda.
Following his time at Perth, Ewan enrolled for a one-year foundation course in drama at Kirkcaldy College of Technology. Places were very much sought after, as the course only took 26 people each year. Ewan had to go through an interview and an audition process, before joining in with a variety of ‘dramatic exercises’ with other hopeful applicants. It was there that his time at Perth came in useful. This was the first step on a serious acting career.
At the age of seventeen, in August 1988, Ewan left home. The travelling back and forwards between Crieff and Perth for six-month stint at the theatre had been gruelling but worthwhile. Now he had to stand on his own two feet and decided to move into halls of residence in Kirkcaldy, as the town was even further away.
The Kirkcaldy course finished in summer 1989 and the prospect of auditioning for drama school in London loomed. It was the natural next move for any ambitious young actor. “I came down to London to audition for drama schools,” Ewan later told veteran TV interviewer Michael Parkinson. “My first one was at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts). They charged you 30 pounds or something, and I didn’t have any money. It was 60 pounds for the train fare, so I came down and had spent the better part of 100 pounds. I walked into a room and there was one guy behind a desk to tell people whether they should become actors or not – you’d have thought they’d have two or three. I can’t remember his name. I walked in, I was seventeen and determined to get in. He didn’t want to hear any speeches, but just wanted to have a chat. He asked my age. I said I was seventeen and he said, ‘You have a good few years of auditioning ahead of you’.” The rejection by RADA was the first setback Ewan had suffered. “I said to him, ‘Excuse me? I’ve just spent the better part of 100 pounds and you’ve written me off already?’ That was RADA. I just hope that they’re sorry now!” Recovering from the shock, he worked up the courage to begin applying elsewhere, and he was quickly granted an interview at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He had half a day to impress his would-be-tutors. He managed it, with a combination of improvisation, prepared speeches and even a song, sung on request, and was invited back for a more formal two-day auditioning process.
Success was near immediate. Ewan left Guildhall to step straight into a lead role in the TV series Lipstick On Your Collar. Penned by the legendary Dennis Potter, this was both visceral and romantic, the tale of two young Foreign Office clerks in 1956 who do their best to ignore the burgeoning Suez Crisis and indulge their twin passions – girls and rock’n’roll. As Private Mick Hopper, Ewan was superb but the series was not quite the breakthrough he expected. Instead of being whisked to Hollywood, he found himself in the TV show Family Style, then delivering one line, as Alvarez, in Bill Forsyth’s Being Human. Despite its interesting premise – one man lives four lives, centuries apart, gradually learning the meaning of courage – and the fact that Robin Williams was starring, the movie was a flop. But it was Ewan’s cinematic debut and, for the first time, saw him billed alongside Robert Carlyle.
Ewan has often been drawn to period drama and, having done Lipstick, now played the ambitious Julien Sorel, alongside Alice Krige and Rachel Weisz in a BBC adaptation of Stendhal’s romantic novel, Scarlet & Black. But McGregor was to make his name in far more testing and controversial productions and the first came next. This was Shallow Grave, written by John Hodge and directed by Danny Boyle. Here Ewan played Alex Law, one of three flatmates (the others being played by Kerry Fox and Christopher Eccleston), who advertise for a fourth person to share. They interview various people – one being Ewan’s mum Carol! – then choose the excruciatingly wide Keith Allen.
Guided both by his education and his youthful enthusiasm for the ultra-contemporary, McGregor continued to switch from classic productions to streetwise exposes. Doggin’ Around, starring Elliott Gould, was a cool jazz comedy, written by Alan Plater, who’d penned the famed series Beiderbecke. Then came Blue Juice, with Sean Pertwee and Catherine Zeta-Jones, where Ewan was Dean Raymond, a petty drug-dealer. And drugs stayed on the menu for his next effort, the real breakthrough. In Trainspotting – written by Irvine Welsh and adapted by the Hodge/Boyle team – Ewan starred as Mark “Rent Boy” Renton, an Edinburgh junkie attempting to escape the malign influence both of heroin and his seedy buddies, a sorry bunch including Jonny Lee Miller as Sick Boy and Robert Carlyle as the crazily violent Begbie. Researching the role, McGregor toyed with the notion of actually experimenting with heroin but, feeling that would be disrespectful to the real-life addicts he’d spoken to (as well as being bloody stupid), he chose instead to undergo a drastic weight-loss.
Filming an episode of Kavanagh QC (starring John Thaw AKA Inspector Morse), he met and fell for Eve Mavrakis (pronounced “Ev”), a few years his senior. His part was of a student, David Armstrong, who was accused of raping middle-aged housewife Eve Kendall (played by Alison Steadman). Working on the series was Eve Mavrakis, a French production designer. It was love at first sight between them, despite the circumstances. “How very romantic,” Ewan acknowledged. “Eve was sitting upstairs and I was raping Alison Steadman downstairs. She says she can remember sitting upstairs and listening to us. It was fantastic. She’s a brilliant woman.”
A few months into their relationship, Ewan and Eve decided to get married. The wedding took place in the Dordogne village of Festalemps in France. They have two daughters: Clara Mathilde and Esther Rose.
Having gained the attention of critics and audiences worldwide with his performance in Trainspotting, McGregor proceeded to take something of a stylistic left turn by taking the role of Frank Churchill in the elegant historical comedy Emma (1996).
McGregor continued working at an impressive pace after Emma, appearing in Brassed Off (1996), Nightwatch, The Serpent’s Kiss (1997), and yet another feature for Danny Boyle, the 1997 fantasy A Life Less Ordinary. This latter film concluded on a raffish note, with an animated puppet of McGregor dressed in a kilt, apparently in the McGregor tartan. In 1998, the actor began his work on the Star Wars prequels and appeared in Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine, in which he played an iconoclastic, Iggy Pop-like singer during the glam rock era of the 1970s. In 1999, along with his role in The Phantom Menace, McGregor appeared as infamous financier Nick Leeson in the biopic Rogue Trader, and had a full slate of projects before him. Some of these projects included several for his own production company, Natural Nylon, which he co-founded with fellow actors Jude Law, Sean Pertwee, Sadie Frost, and fellow-Trainspotter Jonny Lee Miller.
In 2000, McGregor could be seen in one of Natural Nylon’s projects, Nora. Based on the real-life relationship between James Joyce and Nora Barnacle, it starred McGregor as Joyce and Susan Lynch as the eponymous Nora. The actor stayed in period costume for his other film that year, Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. Set in 1899 Paris, it starred McGregor as a young poet who becomes enmeshed in the city’s sex, drugs, and Can Can scene, and enters into a tumultuous relationship with a courtesan (Nicole Kidman). Following a turn in Black Hawk Down (2001), McGregor would reprise his role as a young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the eagerly anticipated Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
In 2003, McGregor starred in director Tim Burton’s Big Fish, in which he played the role of the young Edward Bloom, a man whose son William (Billy Crudup) only really knows through tall tales, vividly brought to life in flashbacks. In David MacKenzie’s erotic drama Young Adam, which was shown at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, McGregor plays one of two barge workers unlucky enough to dredge up the nearly naked corpse of a young woman. The young actor also starred alongside Renee Zellwegger, who, fresh from the success of Chicago, plays the unlikely love interest of McGregor’s preening, sexist Catcher Block in Down With Love, director Peyton Reed’s homage to 1960’s romantic comedies. In 2004, McGregor will work with Bob Hoskin’s in Marc Foster’s upcoming thriller Stay, while 2005 will once again find McGregor playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in the sure-to-be-a-blockbuster release of Star Wars, Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.
Miss Potter (announced) Norman
Gnomeo and Juliet (pre-production) (voice) Gnomeo
Flora Plum (announced)
Scenes of a Sexual Nature (post-production) Billy
Stormbreaker (post-production) Ian Rider
The Great Pretender (pre-production) Leslie Grangely/Bonnie Prince Charlie
The Island Lincoln Six Echo/Tom Lincoln
Valiant (voice) Valiant
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith Obi-Wan/Ben Kenobi
Stay Sam Foster
Robots (voice) Rodney Copperbottom
Big Fish Ed Bloom (Young)
Young Adam Joe Taylor
Down with Love Catcher Block
Solid Geometry (TV) Phil
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones Obi-Wan Kenobi
Black Hawk Down Spec. John Grimes
Moulin Rouge! Christian
Nora James Joyce
Eye of the Beholder Stephen Wilson
Rogue Trader Nick Leeson
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace Obi-Wan Kenobi
Little Voice Billy
Velvet Goldmine Curt Wild
A Life Less Ordinary Robert Lewis
The Serpent’s Kiss Meneer Chrome
Nightwatch Martin Bells
Brassed Off Andy
Karaoke (TV mini-series) Young Man
Emma Frank Churchill
The Pillow Book Jerome
Trainspotting Mark “Rent Boy” Renton
Blue Juice Dean Raymond
Doggin’ Around (TV) Tom Clayton
Shallow Grave Alex Law
Being Human Alvarez
Family Style (TV) Jimmy
The Scarlet and the Black Julien Sorel
Lipstick on Your Collar (TV) Pvt. Mick Hopper
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