Ewan McGregor on the Vatican, Kilts & His Accent

By Nicki Gostin

Ewan McGregor has never seemed too concerned about finding a particular genre and sticking to it—the Scottish actor has worn a rat tail and wielded a lightsaber in George Lucas' Star Wars prequels, made an unsympathetic smack fiend likable in Trainspotting and portrayed the essence of Iggy Pop in oddball indie Velvet Goldmine. So it's no particular surprise that McGregor's donning a cassock and entering a religious order for his latest, the Ron Howard-directed Da Vinci Code prequel Angels & Demons. McGregor spoke with Nicki Gostin about Scottish independence, wearing a kilt and the Catholic controversy surrounding the film. Excerpts:

Gostin: This movie hasn't been getting a lot of press. No controversy around it.
Ewan McGregor: It's not really controversial, there's nothing controversial in it.

Well, the church doesn't exactly like it.
The church didn't like The Da Vinci Code, and I think it's a carryover from that. There's nothing anti-Catholic or anti-church or anything that challenges people's beliefs in this film. It really is a kind of old-fashioned thriller set against the backdrop of the Vatican, which is an interesting world, I suppose, which we don't know much about.

Are you Catholic?

So you weren't offended.
I wouldn't have been involved in a film that I thought was anti- anybody's religion. I'm not interested in doing that. People are asking me what I think about the controversy about the film, but I'd like someone to tell me what it is.

Not to give anything away, but in the film there are some clergy that are corrupt. That would be controversial, right?
That would be controversial? Would it? The very fact that the corrupt clergymen get their comeuppance at the end of the film and it's quite clear that the rest of the church stands against them, it's not in any way suggesting that the church as a body is condoning any kind of corruption, so in that respect, it's not controversial.

Did you research your part?
I did to an extent. Obviously, the Vatican didn't throw open their doors and ask us to come in and have a look backstage, so I had to learn about the Vatican from documentaries, but they are so tedious. I don't know if you've ever watched a documentary about the Vatican, but they are not easy to stay awake through, so I didn't get very far in that. But we had a very good priest with us, a father from New Jersey, who was our adviser on set when we had to do any rituals or ceremonial stuff. He was there to make sure we did it correctly. I also spoke to him about priests and cardinals and the pecking order.

Was it fun to wear a … what do you call it? I don't want to call it a dress.
A cassock. Yeah, it's an interesting uniform, because it gives the person a great deal of status and people treat you differently because you're wearing it.

Is it like a kilt? Do you wear undies underneath?
[Laughs.] You wear trousers underneath. But it's the uniform of someone who's dedicated their life to their religion, and that's quite a big deal to do that. At St. Peter's Square a couple of weeks ago, you could watch the tourists walking all around, but as soon as someone walked across the square in a cassock, then people would get out of the way, the crowds would part. A great deal of respect is given to the religious dress.

Did the movie make you more interested in religion or spirituality?
Not really. Well, I had to explore what it was like to be a man who devoted himself to his church, but it didn't make me a more or less religious person than I am.

Tom Hanks and Ron Howard have worked together heaps of times. Did you feel left out? Did they gang up on you?
[Laughs.] No, they have a lovely relationship, they're such great friends. They've worked together on four or five movies, I think.

Did they treat you like a third wheel?
No, not at all. They created a really comfortable set for all the actors. We all had a really nice time working with them.

What's your favorite movie you've ever made?
I don't really have one. Every movie experience is unique and different from the last. I've been involved working with people I really liked, like Tim Burton, Ron Howard, Roman Polanski and Woody Allen.

Listen to you! La-di-dah! Pretty impressive.
I know.

Is it easy to lose your accent for movies?
No, I don't ever lose my accent. I just put on another one.

Hah, touché. Is it hard to put on another accent?
It depends. It requires a certain amount of work, but I've found once you've prepared yourself and you start making the movie, you have to trust that it's there, that the accent you do is the accent of the character you're playing.

You've been in some really iconic movies, like Trainspotting and Star Wars, and now this, which is going to be huge.
Well, you named three out of many. What does it say about the other ones?

I just think it's cool you're in three really, really famous movies.
I don't see it that way at all. I'm involved in telling stories; whether they're hugely successful isn't that important to me.

Are you involved in the Scottish independence movement like Sean Connery?
Eh, no, I kind of liked Great Britain. I've always thought that the union of the different countries worked very well, so I've not been involved in that.

Do you wear kilts?
I do. I wear kilts for special occasions like weddings. It's our dinner jacket.

Do you wear the little knife in your sock, too?
It's called a dirk, and I absolutely wear one when I wear a kilt. I also have one tattooed on my arm.