EWAN MCGREGOR IS BEAMING behind the wheel of his rusty 1960-something Volkswagen pickup in the parking lot of The Standard Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. A left and then a fewblocks and then one more left on South Main Street, and he’s at yet another parking lot, this one deserted for the day’s shoot. Still sporting the tailored navy suit and brown tie from the last few frames shot in the hotel, he’s quickly out of the battered VW and ogling one of the day’s props, the photographer’s midnight blue 1964 Mustang, the one with the tiny little side-view mirrors that look like they belong on a dentist’s tray, and the missing “D” on the hood that renders its make “FOR.”
McGregor’s fondness for motor sports is well documented. A known gearhead, he has twice in the last decade embarked on cross-continental motorcycle trips — one around the northern hemisphere and one down the length of Africa. Both were broadcast as miniseries. On this day, he has his vintage Spanish test bike, another of the shoot’s props, lashed down in the bed of the pickup. He is still grinning when he takes the bike down the ramp, and later when a neighbor leans out a window to complain about its apparent lack of a muffler.
A day earlier, in the Spanish-style back patio of a Santa Monica café, no muscle cars or motorcycles or other toys in sight, that McGregor smile, the one he deploys with a glance to the middle distance when he makes sort of Zen pronouncements about his life or career, is on frequent display. Somewhere between content and amused, it is what a screenwriter might call a “knowing smile.”
It’s there when he offers, in his still-detectable Scottish lilt, his take on his family’s move three years ago to Los Angeles: “I always just assumed that I’d live in London forever. But I don’t, and I quite enjoy that.” Or his decision just more than a decade ago to quit drinking: “It was effortless, because it was the only thing I was prepared to give up. I wasn’t prepared to give up my career or my child — I wasn’t about to lose my children...11 years. Easy-peasy.”
Or artifice in film, a favorite topic of disdain: “I hate scripts that read like other movies....That’s why I’ve never really nailed the Hollywood ‘hard man’ role, because I don’t really believe it. I don’t know guys who have great exit lines every time they leave the room.”
And later, in a discussion of his long résumé of sex scenes: “I love it when scriptwriters write, ‘They climax together,’ and I go, Oh yeah, really?” McGregor’s is the look of a man at total peace with how much he has figured out. And at 40 — more than half a decade removed from the Star Wars prequels and Moulin Rouge and that moment when there was a chance at all-out global megastardom — McGregor seems to have quite a bit figured out.
Yes, Ewan McGregor, who made his star turn 15 years ago as a nihilist junkie in Trainspotting, who always seemed willing to wear eyeliner and go full frontal, is 40. Though over tea, he doesn’t quite look it. Los Angeles has rendered his complexion a shade tanner than a son of Crieff, Scotland, should be capable of, and he’s dressed young: light-washed Levi’s, black leather Chuck Taylors and a black T-shirt with an elaborate Rorschach screen print. But when conversation turns to getting his teenage daughter to join the family for a shoot in London last summer, he doesn’t just sound middle-aged. He sounds like any other slightly harassed dad in the subdivision.
“We can’t really drag her out of L.A. anymore, not with a team of wild horses,” he says with a laugh.
He’s been married to his wife, Eve, a production designer he met early in his career, for 16 years. The couple have four girls, ranging in age from 1 to 15. Over the years, he’s been largely guarded about his family life, but in conversation, he tends to define himself as much as a father as an actor.
“I’ve tried very hard to keep them out of the way, because it’s nothing to do with anybody, and it’s not fair on them,” he says. “We have a group of friends where some are in the business, some are not in the business — and all walks of the business: a lawyer, a writer, a director we know — and their kids and our kids are all friends. It’s not some kind of showbiz party around our house on the weekends. It’s far from it. It’s like real life.”
At times McGregor’s low-key cool and motorcycles and downright sane approach to the fame-family divide seem of another era. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and Westport come to mind.