May 15, 2009 -- He may co-star in "Angels & Demons," Ron Howard's follow-up to the uber-successful "The Da Vinci Code," but Ewan McGregor doesn't understand why the movie's got the Catholic church all riled up.
"The Vatican weren't throwing their doors open for us as they were still upset over 'The Da Vinci Code.' ... We've been asked a lot about the controversy with the Vatican but no one has made it clear what the controversy is!," the actor said in an interview for ABC News Now's "Popcorn" with Peter Travers.
McGregor portrays Camerlengo Patrick McKenna in "Angels & Demons," adapted from Dan Brown's bestselling novel. Camerlengo is Italian for chamberlain, and in the Roman Catholic Church, he is one of the Pope's advisors. Though "Angels & Demons" was written as a prequel to "The Da Vinci Code," this movie presents it as a sequel.
As Camerlengo, McGregor's character, Patrick McKenna, runs the Vatican in the interim after the Pope's mysterious death before the Cardinals elect a new pope. McGregor defends the film, saying, "It's a very old school, fast-paced thriller with bombs ticking in the background and set in the world of the Vatican. There is nothing anti-Catholic nor anti-Christian about it."
McGregor insists that, at the heart of the film, the conflict is mainly between science and religion. The parties within the Catholic faith who are represented as evildoers are found out and punished by the cardinals and thus, McGregor insists, the Catholic Church as a whole is not tarnished.
Working with Howard was a good experience for McGregor, but the man who he credits with having gotten the best work out of him is "Slumdog Millionaire's" Danny Boyle. Boyle directed McGregor in "Shallow Grave," "Trainspotting" and "A Life Less Ordinary," a romantic comedy with Cameron Diaz.
In "Trainspotting" McGregor played Renton, a heroin addict; he lost a lot of weight and shaved his head for the role. Shortly after the movie was made, McGregor married Eve Mavrakis in France. They had to do a blood test for the marriage license to rule out STDs and he recalls, "There I was sitting looking gaunt with people coming in and saying that's Ewan McGregor looking thin at a sexually transmitted disease center."
McGregor's Career Highlights
Despite his early success with Boyle, McGregor sadly admits he has not worked with him since 1997's "A Life Less Ordinary." McGregor and Leonardo DiCaprio were in contention to play the lead in Boyle's adaptation of the backpacker fantasy "The Beach" and DiCaprio eventually got the role. "We haven't spoken to each other since then, which is a great shame," he says.
McGregor is an indie cinema icon from his work in "The Pillow Book," and "Velvet Goldmine," among others. But maybe his biggest impact on cinema will be the role of Obi Wan Kenobi in the recent "Star Wars" trilogy. He pays tribute to the original Obi Wan, insisting he wasn't creating something new: "My job was to play Alec Guinness as a younger man. I created it from his performance."
There was a lack of magic on the set, McGregor mused, and as they filmed more and more of "Star Wars," it became almost entirely CGI [computer generated imagery) and confined to a green screen. In his last scene, he had to pretend he was riding on an animal (when in fact he was sitting on a solid wooden block) holding a fake baby (Luke Skywalker) whom he handed to Skywalker's step-aunt and uncle while George Lucas screamed, "look at the moons look at the moons" and none of the actors knew where the moons were. "At the premiere, we finally saw something completely different," he said, grinning.
There are no green screens or CGI in McGregor's real-life motorcycle adventures with Charley Boorman. McGregor and Boorman have filmed their treks, the last of which was their trip to South Africa. McGregor fell in love with motorcycles when he was a young boy and bought one as soon as he left home. While filming "Moulin Rouge," he told director Baz Luhrmann that he could not be deprived of his motorcycle for long, as movies do not let their actors bike for insurance purposes. Luhrmann, knowing "Moulin Rouge" was going to be a long shoot, let McGregor ride every day.
"I'm most relaxed when riding a bike," he said, "but I'm not a good off-road hobbyist."
When McGregor was riding with Boorman in Sudan, he had a bad fall. He credits Boorman with giving him the strength to complete his trek, saying, "I don't know if I could have done it without Charley."
It is McGregor's zest that guides his choices in film. He believes that movies reflect life and, therefore, his roles should be diverse and all encompassing with no restrictions.
"I have no problem with nudity if it's justified," he said. "Nudity, sexuality and sex are all part of life."
In "The Pillow Book," he portrays a bisexual character who is having sex with a female artist and her boyfriend and in his upcoming movie, "I Love You Phillip Morris," starring Jim Carrey as Steven Jay Russell, McGregor plays his lover Phillip Morris. "He's a nice kisser, Jim. He's quite tender but firm but he has a really prickly moustache," McGregor joked.
His only regret after all their passionate embraces? Carrey "doesn't call and doesn't write."