Ewan McGregor: Filthy and Gorgeous
By Joshua David Stein
When it appears on American screens, I Love You Phillip Morris will be, to some extent, down-gayed. (Or perhaps it's ungayed, degayed, or less-gayed.) As part of a bid to find U.S. distribution, the film has been recut, leaving out some of the gayest moments. After a rather touching episode of Florida Key fellatio, for example, Morris spits over the side of the boat into the Atlantic Ocean. 'There were two alternatives,' explains McGregor. 'There was the spit, and there was a really nice slow swallow, where I look at him and just do a loud swallow. I really like that one, but I guess they went for the more obvious spit over the side.'
Nevertheless, I Love You Phillip Morris is loudly and insistently gay. Carrey, as Russell, sees dicks in everything: clouds, baguettes, himself. At one point, he yells, Scrooge-like, 'I'm gay, gay, gay, gay, gay.' But Carrey playing gay is 80% Jim Carrey and 20% the character. In McGregor's slightly coquettish Morris, however, there are only trace elements of Ewan McGregor. In his place, there's a sly character, part wolf, part sheep, and wholly formed.
'I'm very keen that it's a gay movie,' McGregor insists. 'There was quite a lot of talk at Sundance that 'Well, it's not a gay movie. It's a film about guys who happen to be gay.' And I was thinking, it's nothing but a gay movie. It's about a gay couple, about a man's sexuality, and he comes out. It's not the point of the film, but let's not pretend it's not a gay film.'
Though I Love You Phillip Morris may be some sort of Rubicon for Carrey, McGregor has kissed boys his entire career. 'The first bisexual character I played was in [1996's] The Pillow Book. There's tons of sex in that film. We didn't even bother putting clothes on between scenes. I had quite a full-on sex scene with a 75-year-old Japanese guy,' he recalls. 'We're kissing, and I remember going, He's got a mustache and that's kind of weird. Oh! That's definitely a scrotum. That's odd.'
Though his silver daddy moment was somewhat lost in the Trainspotting scrum, McGregor's next movie, Todd Haynes's Velvet Goldmine, wherein he plays a barely disguised Iggy Pop to Jonathan Rhys Meyers's epicene 'David Bowie,' brought his propensity, willingness, and talent for kissing men to a wider audience and, in so doing, provided the raw footage for a fantasy reel of dreamy leading men locking lips. In fact, upon reflection, theirs might be about the most satisfying gay kiss ever committed to film. It's got all you need: gold lam', an Oscar Wilde quote ('The curve of your lips rewrite history'), the deceptive vulnerability of McGregor with his wide grin, the cruel-seeming beauty of Meyers. Oh, and eye shadow -- dark, glam pools of it. 'I remember when I kissed Johnny,' says McGregor. 'It was just a rush at the end of the day. It was just an electrical moment, because you look around and some of the British electrician guys -- who are all mainly closeted homosexuals, I think -- were sitting around going 'Fuck, no.' But I like kissing boys on screen. As a straight guy, it's quite an interesting proposition. Anything on a film set that takes you by surprise like that, that gets your blood up, is good.'
Judging from his career, lots of things seem to get McGregor's blood up. The actor is less guided by the usual Hollywood obsession -- the bottom line -- than by a healthy full-blooded sense of adventure. (In fact, as of 2008, he's the official face of Adventure, a cologne by Davidoff.) Twice, McGregor has circumnavigated the globe on a motorcycle with his friend Charley Boorman, the first time latitudinally, the second time longitudinally. (The trips formed the basis of two television shows, Long Way Round and Long Way Down.) His roles are those of an inquisitive mind, hungry to feel more and also feel different, not necessarily those of an acquisitive one. And thus, his career is less a direct path to the A-list than a meandering peregrination, beset by low-grossing spurs and indie digressions. But what Hollywood might see as dead ends, McGregor considers his best work. 'When it gets to the top end, they're really reluctant to step out of any box, which is why the movies become very bland,' he confesses. 'When people come up to talk about a movie like Velvet Goldmine, it's much more interesting than talking about, for instance, Angels & Demons.'
So, though McGregor fought in the Battle of Naboo, he's also jerked off as James Joyce (in Star Wars episodes 1 through 3 and Nora, respectively). He's been a song and dance man in the strange Down With Love and the stellar Moulin Rouge and an action figure in Black Hawk Down. But in lesser known movies like Young Adam, Stay, The Pillow Book, Phillip Morris, and in the forthcoming movie Beginners, by indie auteur Mike Mills, McGregor gives breath and depth to characters rarely written and even more rarely lifted from the page into a body. 'I'm always interested in playing different people, in different situations,' he says, sitting bolt upright, suddenly serious and eyeing the Pacific Ocean stretching below us. 'It doesn't matter to me whether someone is in love with a man or a woman. I find the idea of love and romance interesting. I'm a sucker for it. I like playing someone who's falling in love because I like the sensation of it.' He pauses to give Syd an affectionate pat. 'People do extraordinary things when they're falling in love.' n
I Love You Phillip Morris opens on April 23.