”What I’ve been told to say,” Ewan McGregor announces after chugging down his third beer, ”is that we’re in negotiations. But the truth is, I want to do it, they want me to do it, so I’m doing it.”
The ”it” in question, of course, is only the role of a lifetime, playing the most beloved Jedi master ever to tangle with the Dark Side. As the whole world is about to learn, McGregor, 26, has been signed to star as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the new Star Wars prequels, a bit of casting news that instantly makes him the biggest thing out of Scotland since argyle socks, or at least since Sean Connery.
”Actually,” says the scruffily charming actor in his bristly Highland burr, ”I really want to play Princess Leia. Stick some big pastries on my head. Now, that would be interesting.”
Last year, McGregor created a huge splash — literally — by chasing an opium suppository down a toilet bowl in the indie hit Trainspotting. That harrowing performance won him an Actor of the Year award from the London Film Critics Circle and made him one of the hottest young thespians in the realm. Next to those battling brothers from Oasis, he’s become the biggest pop god in England, a national antihero for the post-punk-but-still-pissed-off generation. And yet, despite Trainspotting‘s respectable run in the U.S. (it earned $16 million) and his role opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in the even more respectable Emma ($22 million), most Americans haven’t a clue who he is — even if they did happen to catch his special guest spot on ER last February, in which he held Julianna Margulies hostage in a convenience store for the show’s entire hour.
So who is this man who would be Kenobi? For starters, he’s the type of guy who isn’t afraid to drop trou in public, as American moviegoers are about to discover. In Peter Greenaway’s new arthouse mind-bender The Pillow Book, which opened June 6, McGregor plays a bisexual Englishman who lets his Hong Kong girlfriend draw calligraphy all over his bare body — including his unsheathed, um, lightsaber. ”Being naked was far more worrisome for everyone else on the set than it was for me,” he reports. ”I actually enjoyed it, the truth be told. There was something incredibly powerful about it. Usually you’d get arrested for that sort of thing, but I got paid.”
This month, American audiences can also see McGregor — fully clothed — in Brassed Off, a small-but-scrappy English film about a doomed mining town. In the fall, he’ll be costarring with Nick Nolte and Patricia Arquette in Nightwatch, his first American thriller, in which he’ll play a morgue attendant who gets mixed up in a murder. He’ll also turn up as a hapless janitor who kidnaps Cameron Diaz in A Life Less Ordinary, a romantic comedy by the same writer-director-producer team that made Trainspotting. And he’s just finished shooting Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine, a David Bowie-Iggy Pop-inspired love story set in the glam-rock ’70s, due out next year.