In case you haven’t read the newspaper ads or watched the trailers being aired on television promoting Roman Polanski’s latest film, The Ghost Writer, starring Ewan McGregor, here’s a tip: Go see the film for despite its flaws, the performances given by McGregor and the rest of the outstanding cast, including Pierce Brosnan and a surprisingly different Kim Cattrall, more than forgives the fact that Polanski fails to create the kind of dramatic tension we’ve come to associate with his work. At a recent press conference, McGregor was forthcoming on a variety of topics.
Mirror: Were you familiar with Polanski’s films before this project?
McGregor: The films of his that I knew very well were Chinatown, Macbeth, Rosemary’s Baby, Papillon, and The Fearless Vampire Killers. Once I knew I would be working with Roman, I watched most of his films including The Tenant, Cul-de-sac, Knife in the Water, and Repulsion.
Mirror: How did his directing style differ from other directors with whom you’ve worked?
McGregor: He’s very brusque and very direct. I think it’s fair to say he doesn’t sugar coat his direction and you’re left with no doubt about what he wants. Occasionally, he’ll act it out for you or take the script out of your hands and read it to you. For actors, we never like to be given line readings. It’s just not a good way to be directing and we certainly don’t like to have a scene acted out for us, because then you’re copying someone else as opposed to finding it and making it your own. However, he’s Polanski, an iconic, legendary director and you can’t take that out of the equation. His direction is extraordinary.
Mirror: You’re an incredibly gifted actor so how did you handle his style of directing?
McGregor: We’re sensitive souls as actors and we don’t like to feel that what we tried is wrong, but you soon realize this is the way Polanski directs and is like that with the entire cast and crew. It’s not personal. He has a vision of what he wants and he works everyone until he gets what he sees in his head.
Mirror: How much of him do you think is in the story?
McGregor: Polanski never personalized anything and never said, ‘This is a bit like my life.’ There’s a scene where the British Prime Minister becomes aware that he is going to have to stand trial in The Hague for war crimes and his lawyer tells him that as long as he stays in America, he’s safe because America doesn’t recognize the International Criminal Court. His attorney rattles off other countries where he would be safe, but it’s a very small list. We know Polanski has lived in that situation since the 70s and has only been able to travel to a few countries where he won’t face extradition to the States.
Mirror: The British Prime Minister character, played by Pierce Brosnan, bears a striking resemblance to Tony Blair. What are you thoughts on that?
McGregor: There’s no question that it’s resoundingly like Tony Blair, but Pierce asked Polanski how much like Blair he should be and was told that he shouldn’t think he was playing Blair, and should not try to mimic him.
Mirror: How about the recent parallels in the UK?
McGregor: In terms of British politics, there are elements in the film that seem to be reflective of real life events. In our movie, the former Prime Minister is accused of war crimes and the “real” Tony Blair had to appear before a panel recently and try to explain his decision making about taking Britain into the Iraq war. There’s talk in the news about Britain’s involvement in rendition flights and questions about whether British forces were involved in torturing or interrogating prisoners on behalf of the American government, all of which would be considered an illegal act.
Mirror: What do you think will be the outcome of Blair’s testimony?
McGregor: I don’t know what will happen, but I don’t know if will make any difference and certainly not to the families who’ve lost kids over there and certainly not to all the people lost in that war. Maybe it’s right that he still has to answer for his decisions. Here in America, it seems that former President Bush is never going to have to account for his actions and will probably never have to appear before a panel.
Mirror: Ghostwriters are invisible. Did you research the psychology of this breed of writers and was it reflected in your character?
McGregor: In a conversation I had with the author of the book, Robert Harris, he talked about the ghostwriter as having an inherent sense of failure as his name is not attached to his words. I think it rings true in the way I played “the ghost.” He’s kind of given up a little bit. I didn’t think I had to do any research because it was quite clear in both the novel and the script. Also, I published a couple of travel books that were written from diaries so I had worked with two ghost writers, both entirely different from each other, and that gave me insight into the interview process.
Mirror: What is the message of the film?
McGregor: That politicians, even those who hold the highest seats in government, have to be accountable for the actions. That’s a very strong message and one that’s as clear as day to me.
Ewan McGregor is a screen icon in his own right, beginning with his break-out role in Trainspotting, followed by a long list of amazing performances in such films as Emma, Angels and Demons, Cassandra’s Dream, and his dazzling performance in Moulin Rouge. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of his career is when he came full circle to play Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, the film that launched his dream of becoming an actor when he was six years old.