Ewan McGregor, a name that invokes a visceral image of one of his many performances over the years.
Ewan McGregor over his career has tackled a variety of roles, whether that’s heroin addict Mark Renton in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, the various incarnations of the Jedi sage Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Christian from Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, many will recognise Ewan for his charming aurora on-screen, but there may be hidden gems you are yet to see.
With McGregor’s highly anticipated return as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Disney+ original series of the same name streaming now, alongside Hayden Christensen’s well-deserved return as Anakin Skywalker we wanted to share with you our top five performances from the Scottish actor that you may not have seen.
Nightwatch is a 1997 horror thriller directed by Ole Bornedal, which is a remake of 1994’s Nattevagten also directed by Ole Bornedal. When the original found critical success, Dimension Films hired Bornedal to travel to America and remake the film, with many of the original crew accompanying him.
McGregor stars as Martin Bells, a law student who takes on a job as a lone night watchman at the hospital morgue. When a string of grotesque murders begins, the blame for these heinous acts of violence falls on McGregor as sinister clues begin to show themselves.
While the film does little to distinguish itself in an already over-saturated genre, McGregor’s performance of naivety and desperation steals the show, heightening the repetitive narrative.
Nightwatch leans heavily into horror tropes, condemned for its overuse of red herrings that eventually cause the experience to become an exercise. Critics slated the film for its underuse of the cast, with McGregor’s performance restricted for a majority of the run time, though he acquitted himself admirably when given the opportunity.
McGregor’s portrayal of night watchman Bells was praised by audiences for his immersion into the role, common praise the actor has received throughout his career even when the surrounding material is harshly reviewed.
4. Lipstick on Your Collar
Dennis Potter’s 1993 British mini-series broadcast on Channel 4 was McGregor’s first major role, it centres around McGregor’s character Mick Hopper growing bored of his job in the British Military Intelligence Office in 1956. To combat his growing fatigue McGregor begins to envision outlandish fantasies of his colleagues breaking out into song and dance, dreaming of a life outside of the military.
The series is crude and outlandish by nature, with many scenes that would send Ofcom into a frenzy nowadays.
McGregor’s fresh-faced performance provides a level of innocence and naivety that makes for reliability. The actor was praised for his convincing and grounded approach to the character, playing to the harsh reality of war, while his fantastical musical performances broke the mould and kept us entertained.
A majority of us are guilty of passing the time on a slow day by daydreaming, but Lipstick On Your Collar does a marvellous job at bringing those fantasies to life, taking the audience on an inspirational journey against the backdrop of democracy.
The mini-series was praised for its imaginative intuition and wonderful use of music from the era, earning itself a BAFTA nomination for Best Sound in 1994.
3. I Love You Phillip Morris
McGregor stars alongside comedy legend Jim Carrey in this 2009 biographical black comedy written and directed by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra.
The film is adapted from Steve McVicker’s book I Love You Phillip Morris: A True Story of Life, Love, and Prison Breaks, it centres around McGregor and Carrey sharing a prison cell where the two fall in love. Carrey’s devotion to McGregor motivates him to commit a multitude of cons and prison breaks, with the goal of financing the two’s future together.
McGregor’s character is sensitive by nature and softly spoken, quite the contrast to Carrey’s demanding screen presence, with this McGregor takes advantage of his screen time, refusing to be overshadowed by Carrey as the two in screen chemistry is a perfect balance.
McGregor delivers a sentimentally sincere performance that despite his character’s wrongdoings, you want him and Carrey to achieve their happily ever after.
I Love You Phillip Morris was praised for its portrayal of a homosexual relationship with the same passion and sincerity as a heterosexual relationship, this was considered outside the mainstream for the time.
A common theme among audience reviews was the film’s ability to ignore any preconceptions held by the viewer, with a genuine story of love that enlightens and surprises at every turn to make for an exceptional film and one of the two stars’ best films to date.
2. The Men Who Stare at Goats
This 2009 satirical dark comedy war film directed by Grant Heslov is a fictionalised version of Jon Ronson’s 2004 book of the same name, detailing an investigation into America’s military attempts to employ psychic powers as weapons.
Ewan McGregor stars as struggling reporter Bob Wilton, who stumbles upon the story of a lifetime when he meets special forces agent Lyn Cassady played by George Clooney, who claims to be a psychic soldier reactivated for duty, tasked with finding the leader of the psychic forces unit played by Jeff Bridges after going missing.
McGregor and Clooney set off across Iraq on a top-secret mission to locate Bridges, along the way they find another psychic soldier who has deserted the course and a lot of goats.
McGregor and co-star George Clooney’s performances were commended by audiences for their imprudent approach and hilarious portrayal of two men lost in the desert, one claiming the ability to kill goats with his mind, the other along for the ride.
The pair’s on-screen chemistry elevates the slower moments of the film, with their back and forth banter the focal point of many scenes. Clooney’s resolved portrayal and McGregor’s benign disbelief leave you wondering if you should have laughed quite so loudly.
The film was praised for its comedic satire that challenged the status quo of the time, with its absurdly funny premise against the horrific backdrop of war. Often referred to as a Marmite film, you either love it or you hate it.
McGregor’s ability to hold a scene with simple comedy makes this one of his best performances to date, his subtle delivery and approach to physical comedy are quintessential to McGregor and stop this film from crossing the line to absurdity.
1. Long Way Round
Long Way Round is a British television series that originally aired in 2004, the series documents Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman as they travel from London to New York City on motorcycles. The pair travel eastward through Europe and Asia, documenting their time in places such as Ukraine, Mongolia and Russia, the pair then fly to Alaska and continue their ride through Canada and finally America.
The documentary is Ewan McGregor at his truest, there is no character to play, it is simply a genuine representation of the pair’s friendship as they document their travels and experiences with a multitude of cultures from around the world.
Due to the series’ success, a sequel titled Long Way Down was aired in 2007, with McGregor and Boorman returning, this time travelling from John o’ Groats in Scotland, through eighteen countries in Europe and Africa, finishing in Cape Town.
Over ten years after the original instalments, the pair reunited again for a series in 2020 titled Long Way Up, where they travelled from Ushuaia in Argentina through America to Los Angeles.
Ewan. McGregor’s knowledge and enthusiasm throughout the journey make this a must-see documentary, from McGregor’s sheer joy of looking at sea otters, to Boorman being left unable to ride for several days after an accident involving his shoulder.
The pair continuously face the brunt of nature, coupled with their exhaustion and injuries, their resolve and friendship are constantly tested on this journey.
Ewan McGregor’s performances offer a diverse range of characters, however, his style is consistently restrained and subtle. He does not chew up the scenery, his talents lie in his facial expressions and gentle speaking, despite the slight frame he truly engulfs every scene in the simplest of ways.
McGregor’s return as Obi-Wan Kenobi introduces a new generation to the character and undoubtedly welcomes back older generations to the world of Star Wars, who have long-anticipated McGregor’s triumphant return to the character, and with many talking once more of Baz Luhrman’s musical talent, it felt right to shine the spotlight on the original showman.
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