Ewan McGregor Talks ‘Beginners’ and gay roles: “I’m interested in sexuality and sex, relationships and love and what makes us tick.”
It’s great to see the terrific film Beginners getting some awards attention. It’s the story of a father (Christopher Plummer) and son (Ewan McGregor) and what happens when the father comes out late in life.
McGregor talked to Frontiers IN LA about the movie, his popularity with gay audiences and more. Here is an excerpt:
In Beginners, your character goes through a process that’s almost like a rediscovery of his father when Christopher Plummer’s character comes out at the age of 75. Did you personally discover anything about the gay community through the making of the film that you hadn’t known beforehand?
I learned a lot about American gay history, because I think Mike [Mills, the film’s director] really beautifully explores it in the montages where he’s looking back at his father’s life as a young gay man in the early ‘50s, with an aim to try to understand what that might be like and why his father made the choices that he made. He makes it very real, that history, and it doesn’t feel like a history lesson. It’s an exploration of his dad’s younger years. And then how not very long ago gay men were being thrown into the back of police trucks and arrested for going to gay coffee shops. That sort of stuff I found very interesting—how recently it happened, when it seems so long ago.
You’re a very popular actor among the gay community for many reasons, but primarily because you appear in films and roles that really speak to gay men. How do you choose which roles you take on?
Well, it’s just a very gut process really. I’m not very complicated about it—if I find a script I don’t want to put down and I like that it’s firing my imagination and I start to see myself in that role, and it’s about something I’m interested to talk about, then I’ll do it. It’s kinda as simple as that really. I try not to make it anymore complicated than that.
Occasionally it does [get more complicated]—I suppose the more you do it, the more you start thinking about directors. You know, I’ve made a lot of films, and you start thinking, “Well OK, now I want to make really good films.” You try to narrow down the possibilities of them not being good, so I suppose nowadays I take more note about the directors. But then again, if I love a script and it’s a first-time director, I’ll probably still do it because that first-time director is probably firing at 110 percent.
In regards to the gay community and myself, I’m delighted, but I’m just interested in people and life. I’m interested in sexuality and sex, relationships and love and what makes us tick, and it doesn’t matter whether that’s heterosexual or gay romance. I don’t really mind it, I just find it interesting. I’ve never really gone out to try to play a gay person, because I don’t really believe you could do that, and if you did, it wouldn’t be a very good portrayal of anybody. So I go out to play a person, and their sexuality is a part of what makes them up—of course, it’s a very important part of what makes us up, but it’s not everything—it’s not.
When I was playing Phillip Morris [in last year’s I Love You Phillip Morris alongside Jim Carrey], I wasn’t playing gay—I was playing Phillip Morris, who is a gay man, and I wanted to get that right. Especially with that role, I wanted to make him camp and sort of light and tender—and at the same time, that can be a real stereotype for a straight man playing gay, but I still wanted him to be that way. I had to walk the line and make him camp and light but at the same time make him real.