Cover image for Ewan McGregor
Ewan McGregor
Nickson, Chris.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : St. Martin's Paperbacks, [1999]

Physical Description:
ix, 179 pages : illustrations ; 18 cm
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PN2604.M47 N53 1999 Adult Mass Market Paperback Non-Fiction Area

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The radical star of Trainspotting and the hottest young member of the "Brit Pack," Ewan McGregor is Scotland's biggest export since Sean Connery. He now explodes into global stardom at the center of the most highly anticipated films in movie history-- the new Star Wars prequels.

Get plugged into the whole story of this dynamic young actor for the new millennium, from his training at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama to his first big break on British TV. Learn the inside story of McGregor's cosmic connection to his role as the young Jedi Knight Obi Wan Kenobi (hint: it's a family tradition).

From day one, the ultra-hip GenX heartthrob has called his own shots and chosen mellow cool over Hollywood glitz. This fascinating bio reveals how Ewan does it-- his way.

With 8 pages of fab photos!



Ewan McGregor One L ike most places in Britain, Crieff has a long, convoluted history. In the county of Perthshire, in Scotland, it stands at the crossroads of what today are known as the A85 and the A822, not too far from the internationally famous Gleneagles golf course. The nearest town of any real size is Perth, some thirty miles to the east. Glasgow and Edinburgh aren't that far away, maybe an hour to the south by road, but culturally they could be in another country altogether. Crieff stands on the edge of the Scottish lowlands. At one time it was probably the northernmost town where English was the common language; go any farther and you were surrounded by Gaelic speakers as you ventured into the Highlands. The town has been burned to the ground once, and almost a second time (in revenge for its progovernment sympathies during Scottish uprisings). It was the center of the county of Perthshire at one point, a thriving market town, where Highland farmers brought their cattle to the famous cattle market. Bonnie Prince Charlie reviewed his beaten troops there for one last time in 1746 after his rebellion against the English Crown had been defeated. During the Victorian era Crieff shook off the wildness of its past and became respectable. Morrisons Academy, a famous boarding school, opened for business in 1859. The Hydro, the kind of spa hotel so loved by that generation for its supposedly health-giving waters, was built in 1869. And in 1872, Crieff even began to look nostalgically to its past with the first of the Highland Games, where the Scots did in competition what they had once done in work and anger. The town became genteel, a place of public propriety, with private lives concealed behind net curtains. The Drummonds and Murrays, once the warring clans of the area, were now prosperous gentleman farmers. In the twentieth century, little changed. Maybe it didn't have quite the prosperity it once had, but Crieff wasn't a shabby, poverty-stricken relative, either. It remained a good Presbyterian place, full of the old values, with little time for the quicker pace of living that was consuming the rest of the world. Hard work, a good appearance, and a belief in a stern God could easily have been its watchwords, barely changed over the course of a hundred years. This was where Ewan Gordon McGregor was born, on March 31, 1971, in the place he said was full of "haggis and heather." His father, James, was on the staff at Morrisons Academy, doubling as a physical education teacher and career advisor. Ewan was the family's second son. For all Crieff's conservatism, it was a good place for a growing boy. It was small and safe, free from the crime and violence that seemed to become endemic to British cities in the seventies. The youngEwan could vanish into the nearby countryside with his friends for the day without worry. "You know, spending all day with your mates, with catapults and stuff, getting up to no good. It was great. I had a brilliant time." The McGregors were an ordinary family. They worked hard, and had aspirations for their boys. One advantage of James McGregor's job was that the lads could be educated for free at Morrisons, although they'd be day students (in other words, they would return home after classes) rather than boarders. It was a fine distinction of class, but nonetheless, it meant they'd both go into the world with not only a superior education, but also some influential contacts through their classmates. It was a very settled, ordered existence for the family. At least it was until Ewan's uncle (his mother's brother) would come and visit. Denis Lawson was an actor, who lived in London and worked on television, stage, and films. He was, really, the black sheep of the family--the one who'd rejected convention--and that made him an impossibly exotic figure to young Ewan. "I remember throughout my childhood in the seventies, he used to come and see us and he'd always look really different from other people I knew," Ewan recalled. "He had flares on and sideburns and beads and a big sheepskin waistcoat and didn't wear any shoes, and I wanted to be just like him." It wasn't that the acting bug struck early--at five Ewan didn't understand what an actor did--but it was more the sense of being different, of breaking the mold, that appealed to him, an appeal that would only get stronger as time passed. Lawson was a hippie, and to a boy surrounded by stultifying Scottish conservatism and the thou shalt nots of the Presbyterian church, Lawson's lifestyle--lived in London, no less!--was immediately attractive. That only increased when Lawson was cast in what might have been the most influential movie of the decade-- Star Wars . Granted, as Wedge, an X-Wing fighter pilot, he didn't exactly have one of the leading roles, but he was there, a part of film history, and he'd be featured in the entire trilogy. Ewan was six when the film arrived at his local cinema in 1977. "I remember standing outside school waiting to be picked up, so excited." It was impossible not to be caught up in the film. As Ewan would say later, looking back as an adult, "They're just little fairy stories, really, there's not a great deal going on ... . They go from here, and they get stuck here ... . There's a fight there, and then they end up here." But it was David and Goliath, good against evil, Cowboys and Indians, Saturday morning cliffhanger series, all neatly wrapped up in a futuristic package and tied with the most amazing and realistic special effects anyone had ever seen. It was its own universe, and it was impossible not to want to go there--especially when your uncle was involved in it all. It had an effect on him, but in the way of kids, so did a lot of other things, particularly if Uncle Denis was involved. "When I watched him on the [television] or on the stage I was just so mesmerized that this guy--my uncle--was doing that, it fascinated me." A year after Star Wars , Ewan fell in love with Grease , and spent a year crossing and recrossing his fingers, hoping that Olivia Newton-John would somehow magically appear in his classroom. Not too surprisingly, she didn't, but Ewan did go so far as to try and restage the song "You're the One that I Want" in the playground, with himself in the Travolta role. Films were rapidly taking a bigger part in his life. And not only the newest releases. "Saturday and Sundays would be old black-and-white movies back-to-back," he recalled. "Old romances from Hollywood and Ealing from the forties and fifties. Jimmy Stewart movies, stuff like that." His love of the movies and the way they could sweep him away, as well as his desire to emulate his bohemian uncle, combined to give him the desire to become an actor himself. By the age of nine his mind was made up, "and I wouldn't let anyone sway me." The initial spark of interest, he realized later, had actually come at a much earlier age, from the British tradition known as pantomime. Staged every Christmas in theaters, often starring people well-known in fields apart from acting, they retold classic fairy tales in hilarious fashion, for kids, with plenty of audience participation. There were comical villains, and always a lovely young woman, in a short costume, playing the male lead. "Remember the principal boy was always played by a woman?" Ewan asked in Empire . "It all became about legs and I fell in love with the leading ladies. So, it had a lot to do with sex." There was a great difference between being nine and deciding to become something and actually doingit as an adult. For a start, Ewan had no idea how to become an actor. And it wasn't his sole focus in life. He was young, a boy, with interests all over the place. Living so close to the country, he loved to ride, although the McGregors couldn't afford to buy him a horse. So he did the next best thing, and exchanged work for riding time at a local stable, going in every weekend and mucking out the stalls to earn the freedom to be on horseback. Roaming and riding in the countryside was one thing; the four walls of a classroom were another. As the sons of a teacher, both Ewan and his older brother were under a lot of pressure to do well at Morrisons Academy. Not only was it their ticket to a good life, but they had to uphold the family name. For the elder McGregor boy, it seemed to come naturally. He achieved the distinction of being named head boy (the closest American equivalent would be valedictorian), and would go on to become a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force. Ewan was about as different from him as chalk from cheese. He wasn't particularly trying to be rebellious or awkward; it was just the way things seemed to be. "I wasn't interested in school. I got into trouble all the time and they kept saying: Attitude problem. I was unaware I had one because I had one, and it was starting to embarrass my father." By the time Ewan was in his teens it was apparent that he and school were never going to become the best of friends. It was the eighties. The whole punk scene of music had been and gone, leaving little except short spiky hair, some fashion sense, and a breath of fresh musical air that was soon overcome by smog. Like so many teenage boys, Ewan was taken by music. When he was younger, he'd had a poster of Elvis (Presley, not Costello) on his bedroom wall, a man who seemed to him to bridge the gap between music and film. For a while, Ewan wanted to be Elvis. But as he grew, and his tastes changed, he came to realize he could make his own music. And that was exactly what he did. He switched music heroes from Elvis to Billy Idol, formerly the singer for Generation X, and now a solo artist with hits like "White Wedding" and "Rebel Yell." He learned to play the drums and joined a band called Scarlet Pride. He'd put red paint in his hair to color it--teenage boys in Crieff didn't understand the finer points of hair dye--and tied red bandanas around the knees of his jeans. The fact that Scarlet Pride wasn't particularly good (or that Ewan wasn't a natural drummer, by any means) didn't matter; he was doing something. It was like acting, in its own way, putting on a persona for an audience, copping an attitude, being a star for a few moments, being anyone but Ewan Gordon McGregor, Crieff schoolboy. Rock'n'roll wasn't his only musical outlet, however. At school Ewan had taken up the French horn (and would make his first major public appearance, on Scottish television as a teenager, playing it). At the same time he was playing in a band, Ewan was also becoming a ... golfer. It might have seemed at odds with the ideas of rock'n'roll and acting, but this was Scotland, where the game had been invented, and, as he pointed out, "In Scotland, there's not the same elitist thing with golf. We used to play a lot on public courses, just for something to do. When I was fourteen, I got thrown off a golfcourse for swearing. After every shot I would get really angry, screaming ... Eventually this guy drove up in a tractor and told me I had to leave because the other golfers had been complaining. So I had to walk back in shame with my clubs. I didn't play for a long time after that ... . I just got fed up. ." The center of his thoughts, and his desire for the future, though, remained acting. Everything else was for show, or a way to pass the endless time in a sleepy Scottish town. It had all received a boost in 1983, the year Ewan turned twelve, when a Scottish film opened. Local Hero was written and directed by Bill Forsyth, who'd made his reputation two years earlier with Gregory's Girl . More importantly, apart from the legendary Burt Lancaster, veteran of so many of those black-and-white films that had filled Ewan's weekends, one of the stars was his uncle, Denis Lawson. Set in contemporary Scotland, Local Hero presented something that Ewan could not only relate to, but also with which he could empathize. Films could have something do with with life as he understood it. Now there was no doubt that he wanted to act. The only question, still, was how he could go about doing it. None of this helped him with his schoolwork, much to the disappointment of his parents. After watching one son sail through Morrisons, now the other one was close to drowning. "I became quite depressed, I've been told, and started getting into trouble all the time," Ewan said. It wasn't exactly the reputation a respected teacher wanted for his son. More importantly, it wasn't good for Ewan. He wasn't happy there, but hewould have been unhappy in almost any school. The academic life just wasn't right for him. The only subjects he cared about were music and art, neither of which was considered "academic" enough for Morrisons; so that outlet was thwarted. What was particularly worrying was that he didn't seem to notice his own depression, or the fact that he seemed to be causing trouble; it wasn't something he deliberately set out to do. He was just kicking out, trying to forge his own life, and school, particularly Morrisons, which placed such emphasis on academic achievement, wasn't the place to do it. It all came to a head when he was sixteen. Things were sliding from bad to worse, and he wasn't even aware of it. All he knew was what was expected of him--learning, exams, eventually the Highers, and finally university. The road seemed to stretch ahead of him for years, well beyond the horizon. The turning point, he remembered, was a dark night, the rain coming down heavily. He was driving into town with his parents. "I've spoken to your father," his mother began, "and you are going to be an actor. That's what you always wanted to do. You don't need to stay for your exams. You are depressed, and you should get out." In many ways, it was the only thing they could do, either that or watch Ewan suffer through at least two more years of school, becoming even more unhappy. For years he'd made no secret of his ultimate wish to act, even though he'd done little about it--no amateur dramatics, no school plays. "It's not always an easy thing to be told by your son, 'I'm going to be an actor,'" Ewan said. "I don't think it was an easy thing for them to hearbut they were always right behind me." One of the things that made it even harder for Mr. and Mrs. McGregor was already having an actor in the family. Ewan might have had a romantic view of his Uncle Denis's life, but his parents knew the reality of an actor's life, "that Denis went through years and years of hard stuff." His dream was going to come true. Ewan was going to be an actor. Now he had to start asking the hard questions, like how would he do it? Copyright © 1999 by Chris Nickson. Excerpted from Ewan McGregor: An Unauthorized Biography by Chris Nickson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.