McGregor won't be fenced in
With two movies out within weeks actor Ewan McGregor tells Susan Griffin another epic motorbike ride is still on the cards
Step away from the motorbike Charley Boorman, for Ewan McGregor, your best mate and fellow adventurer, has his heart set on hitting the road with a new companion. "I've got a dog, Sid, and I've trained him to ride in my side car and I thought we could do a trip together!" says the Scottish actor sitting back in his chair, chortling to himself.
When Robert Harris, the author of McGregor's latest project The Ghost Writer, described him as "both an everyman but also glamorous in a believable way", he was right on the money.
Dressed in jeans, white T-shirt and a blue v-neck jumper, McGregor doesn't exude charisma but there's a likeability factor about him, which has earned him movie-star status.
After a sabbatical of sorts, which saw McGregor and Charley ride around the world twice, the 38-year-old is back on our screens, with his next two films out within a month of each other.
His movie career took off 14 years ago with his performance as the heroin-addicted Mark Renton in Danny Boyle's Trainspotting.
An eclectic mix of films has since ensued, including Jane Austen's Emma alongside Gwyneth Paltrow, comedy A Life Less Ordinary with Cameron Diaz, musical Moulin Rouge opposite Nicole Kidman and three Star Wars movies where he played the legendary role of the young Obi-Wan Kenobi. In need of a change of pace by 2004, McGregor decided to take some time out from the movie-making treadmill and embarked on Long Way Round, a motorcycle adventure that saw the two traverse the globe.
"It's an adventure and there's part of me that likes this idea of adventure. I spend a lot of my life in a very controlled environment where I get picked up by a car at this time and I'm working on these scenes then I can have this for lunch and then work on more scenes and I get taken home and have to work on these pages.
"It's very ordered and organised and there's something fantastic about doing all the decision-making myself. You decide when to put petrol in your tank and you decide when to stop to eat. There's something quite free about that."
In 2007, the pair set off on the road once again, this time through Africa in Long Way Down. When he wasn't on two wheels, McGregor was treading the boards, first in Guys and Dolls and later as Iago in Donmar Warehouse's Othello, in London. It was only towards the end of 2007 that McGregor felt ready to return to the big screen.
The first project he signed up for was I Love You Phillip Morris, starring Jim Carrey, a film that opens in cinemas today. It tells the true story of conman Steven Russell, who falls for McGregor's character Phillip Morris in prison.
"My one fear was not playing a gay character, my one fear was looking like a straight guy's version of a gay character," McGregor says. "That was what I worried about."
The actor admits he's found the attention paid to the homosexual aspect of the story rather depressing. "It is a reflection I guess on where we're at that it's such a big deal that it's a love story between two gay men, like the idea of two men being in love is slightly shocking or almost taboo; it's beyond me," he says.
He is also bewildered by questions relating to him stripping off in films. "I've never understood why that was such an issue," he says.
Sex, drug-taking, murder, McGregor has checked them all off on his CV, so is there anything he wouldn't do?
"I wouldn't do anything that was morally wrong," he says. "I wouldn't make a pro-Nazi movie, you know! It's all to do with taste and on the day how far you think something should be pushed or not."
Before Phillip Morris, McGregor starred in Amelia opposite Hilary Swank, Angels And Demons with Tom Hanks and The Men Who Stare At Goats with George Clooney. His next big screen appearance will be in Roman Polanski's film, The Ghost Writer.
"He's a perfectionist," says McGregor on working with the legendary director. "He's quite tough on how we play [the scenes] and he's meticulous about how the lines are said, about how you pick up a glass. 'Why would you pick it up like this?"' he says impersonating Polish-born Polanski. "He's tough on you but he's like your mum: he's always right, it's annoying."
McGregor says he's feeling content with how things have worked out both professionally and personally.
"I've worked with some amazing actors and great directors and at the moment I don't have any plans to change that. It's been a lot of work, but I've managed to spend more time with my family . . . so the balance has been good."
He adds that one of the effects of living the nomadic life of an actor is relishing the more mundane aspects of life when he's back home with his wife, Eve, who he met in 1995, and their daughters Clara and Esther.
"When you're away so much, the school run and picking the kids up from tennis and all that become a real treat; I hanker after them," he says.
As for whether he's started thinking about how to mark the passing of another decade, he admits he's not sure how to feel.
"When I turned 30, I was relieved. I'd stopped drinking and I just thought 'Och', 'cos your twenties are hectic. Now I'm approaching 40, I'm not sure how I feel about it. I suppose it's alright."
Perhaps he'll mark the occasion with another motorcycle trip? "I don't think I have got it out of my system," he ponders with a smile. "I'd love to go though South America."
I Love You Phillip Morris is in cinemas now and The Ghost Writer opens on April 16