On screen, Ewan McGregor fishes, fences
BY CINDY PEARLMAN February 23, 2012 6:50PM
Ewan McGregor co-stars with Emily Blunt in “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” opening March 9.
Updated: March 27, 2012 8:05AM
How does Obi-Wan Kenobi know he’s getting a little bit older? It’s not that he’s using his light saber as a cane, or that Yoda looks like a peer.
It’s not even that he needs bifocals to see the other moon of Tatooine.
It’s the fact that he didn’t even know when his 3-D alter ego returned to the big screen.
“When did the re-release of ‘Star Wars: Episode 1’ happen? This is what happens when you get older,” gripes Ewan McGregor. “Wait, is it already out?”
Yes: It arrived Feb. 10. But you can’t blame the 40-year-old for feeling a bit tired as he looks back on his remarkable career.
“I did my first professional job about 20 years ago,” he marvels. “Was it in 1992? I have to admit that math isn’t my strong point. I’m an actor! We can’t do math!
“Just thinking that I did ‘Star Wars’ 15 years ago makes me feel old!” he proclaims before adding, “Anyhow, it does feel like 20 years in the business now. Sometimes it feels longer — especially in the morning when I have to do early interviews.”
He’s kidding. We think.
McGregor is having a busy late winter with the re-release of “Star Wars: Episode 1,” the action film “Haywire” and the new Lasse Hallstrom film “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” opening March 9.
He’s glad people interested in Anakin Skywalker’s origins have an alternative to home video.
“Actors and directors go to a great deal of trouble shooting films to be seen on the big screen,” McGregor says. “I don’t want it to be a dying art. I don’t want cinemas to go the way of bookstores and record shops.
“That’s why it’s important to have ‘Star Wars’ on the big screen. You need to see that film because it’s such a spectacular film. There is some kid out there who should see it larger than life. That’s the way all movies should be seen.”
McGregor figures “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” deserves the same chance.
The film is based on the Paul Torday novel about a fisheries expert in London named Fred Jones (McGregor) who is approached by an uptight consultant, Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) to help bring a sheik’s vision to life.
The sheik (Amr Waked) wants to bring his favorite sport, fly-fishing, to the middle of the Yemen desert.
At first this seems like a selfish act, but then the truth unravels and it’s clear that the sheik is trying to feed his people.
“I loved that my character Fred is as cynical as he can be when he’s stuck with this silly idea of bringing salmon into [a desert]. He’s almost offended because it doesn’t seem possible to bring these fish [there].
“He’s at the whim of this very rich man, but as the script unfolds you could see Fred letting go of his emotional repression and trusting his faith,” McGregor says. “He also has a very complicated life. He’s married to the wrong woman who keeps him repressed. He falls in love with Emily Blunt’s character, who happens to be in love with a missing soldier.
“It’s not the usual romantic fodder. The complications were rich.”
There’s a love scene with Blunt where they swim in the river under moonlight.
Romantic? McGregor begs to differ.
“The reality was we were freezing to death. The hardest acting challenge was to stop our teeth from chattering.”
In another scene, he wades into a real lake in Scotland to fly fish.
“I’m supposed to look like a man who lives for his fish. The reality is my fingers were turning blue. I was ready to say, ‘Fish, I totally give up.’”
Wait, does the guy who brings fish to the desert even enjoy fishing?
“No, I’m not a fisherman,” he says. “I like the idea of fishing, but the truth is I don’t really want to catch a fish. I do like the idea of standing in a river all day long and thinking deep thoughts as I stare at the beautiful countryside.
“But I guess I miss the key point of it, which is the fish. I do like that a lot of fisherman do throw the fish back.”
McGregor grew up loving the outdoors in Crieff, Scotland, where his father was a gym teacher and his mother was a teacher and school administrator. His showbiz connection was his uncle, Denis Lawson, who played Wedge Antilles in Episodes 4 to 6 of “Star Wars.”
He wouldn’t be the most famous one in the family.
McGregor went on to star in “Trainspotting” (1996), “Moulin Rouge!” (2001), “Black Hawk Down” (2001) and “Big Fish” (2003).
As Obi-wan in three “Star Wars” movies, McGregor brought more to the character than director George Lucas even imagined — or wanted.
“I just loved my light saber so much that when we were filming I made the sounds that you make as a boy pretending you have the light saber. George Lucas finally pulled me aside and said, ‘Ewan, I’m the one who adds the special effects,’” he recalls, laughing.
Between films, he keeps his “Star Wars” gear at the home in North London that he shares with French production designer and wife Eve Mavrakis and their two daughters, Clara Mathilde, 16, and Esther Rose, 10.
On Sunday, they will be cheering for best supporting actor nominee Christopher Plummer. “I’m so happy for him. Delighted for him in fact,” McGregor says of his “Beginners” co-star. “I was lucky to be on the receiving end of those scenes with him.
“So, I have my fingers crossed for him at the Oscars. I’m sure he will be coming home with that statue.”
Big Picture News Inc.