Ewan McGregor rocketed to fame over a short period of time, thanks to a brilliant turn as a heroin addict in Trainspotting and the good fortune of being selected by George Lucas and co. to portray the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequel Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace. Because Menace arrived amid concomitant fanfare and massive prerelease expectations in early summer 1999, McGregor's appearance in the new trilogy drew a whirlwind of media attention and elicited a series of roles in additional box-office blockbusters, launching the then 28-year-old actor into megastardom.
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Born on March 31, 1971, in the Scottish town of Crieff, on the southern edge of the Highlands, McGregor joined the Perth Repertory Theatre after high school graduation and subsequently trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. His studies at Guildhall led to a key role in Dennis Potter's 1993 Lipstick on Your Collar, a made-for-television musical comedy set during the Suez Crisis. That same year, McGregor received first billing in the British television miniseries Scarlet & Black, an adaptation of Henri Beyle Stendhal's 1830 period novel about a young social climber in post-Napoleonic, late 19th century Europe.
McGregor made a well-pedigreed cinematic debut, with a bit part in Bill Forsyth's episodic American drama Being Human (1993), starring Robin Williams. The picture, however, undeservedly flopped and closed almost as soon as it opened, rendering McGregor's contribution ineffectual. The actor continued to turn up on television on both sides of the Atlantic until late 1996; some of his more notable work during this period includes his turn as a beleaguered gunman in an episode of ER and the Cold War episode of Tales From the Crypt, in which he plays a vampiric thief.
McGregor landed his cinematic breakthrough role with Danny Boyle's noirish, heavily stylized Shallow Grave (1994). In that film, he essays the role of Alex, a journalist who finds himself in a horrendous position after a murder. He appeared in Carl Prechezer's little-seen British surfing parable Blue Juice (1995) and Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book (1996) before losing almost 30 pounds and shaving his head for his turn as heroin addict Mark Renton in Trainspotting, his sophomore collaboration with Danny Boyle, which gained the attention of critics and audiences worldwide. McGregor then took a 180-degree turn (and projected unflagging versatility) by portraying Frank Churchill in the elegant historical comedy Emma (1996).
McGregor continued to work at an impressive pace after Emma, with appearances in Brassed Off (1996), Nightwatch (1998), The Serpent's Kiss (1997), and yet another project with Danny Boyle, the 1997 fantasy A Life Less Ordinary. (The latter film concludes on a raffish note, with an animated puppet of Ewan McGregor dressed in a kilt that bears the McGregor family tartan). In 1998, the actor signed to appear in the Star Wars prequels. (Lucas' decision to hire McGregor for Obi-Wan in the Star Wars prequels was hardly capricious; his uncle, Denis Lawson, had appeared as Wedge Antilles, decades earlier, in the original three installments of the series.) That same year, McGregor contributed a fine performance to Todd Haynes' Velvet Goldmine, with his portrayal of an iconoclastic, Iggy Pop-like singer during the 1970s glam rock era.
As the new millennium dawned, McGregor had a full slate of projects before him, including several for his own production shingle, Natural Nylon, co-founded by McGregor and fellow actors Jude Law, Sean Pertwee, Sadie Frost, and fellow Trainspotter Jonny Lee Miller. Pat Murphy's biopic Nora (2000, co-produced by Wim Wenders' banner Road Movies Filmproduktion and by Metropolitan pictures), represented one of the first films to emerge from this production house. As a dramatization of the real-life relationship between James Joyce and Nora Barnacle, Nora stars McGregor as Joyce and Susan Lynch as the eponymous Nora.
The actor stayed in period costume for his other film that year, Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge. Set in 1899 Paris, it stars McGregor as a young poet who becomes enmeshed in the city's sex, drugs, and cancan scene and embarks on a tumultuous relationship with a courtesan (Nicole Kidman). Following a turn in Black Hawk Down (2001), McGregor reprised his role as a young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the eagerly anticipated Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones.
2003 saw McGregor taking advantage of an odd quirk. Years prior, a magazine had commented on the uncanny resemblance between the young Scotch actor and the legendary Albert Finney as a young man. In dire need of a twenty- or thirty-something to portray Finney's younger self for his fantasy Big Fish, Tim Burton cast McGregor in the role; he fit the bill with something close to utter perfection. In that same year's erotic drama Young Adam (directed by David Mackenzie and originally screened at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival), McGregor plays one of two barge workers unlucky enough to dredge up the nearly naked corpse of a young woman. The young actor also starred alongside Renée Zellweger, who, fresh from the success of Chicago, played the unlikely love interest of McGregor's preening, sexist Catcher Block in Down With Love, director Peyton Reed's homage to '60s romantic comedies.
McGregor returned to the role of Obie-Wan Kenobi once again in 2005 for Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith, the final film in George Lucas' epic saga. That same year, he lent his voice to the computer-animated family film Robots and starred opposite Scarlett Johansson in Michael Bay's big-budget sci-fi actioner The Island. He also secured the lead role of Sam Foster, a psychiatrist attempting to locate a suicidal patient, in Finding Neverland director Marc Forster's follow-up to that earlier hit, the mindbender Stay. Though that picture died a quick death at the box office, McGregor returned the following year as Ian Rider, a secret agent whose assassination sparks the adventure of a lifetime for his young nephew, in Geoffrey Sax's Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker. The film only had a limited run in the U.S., and was panned by critics.
In late 2006, McGregor once again demonstrated his crossover appeal with turns in two much artier films: Scenes of a Sexual Nature and Miss Potter. The former -- Ed Blum's directorial debut, from a script by Aschlin Ditta -- is an ensemble piece about the illusions and realities in the relationships of seven British couples over the course of an afternoon on Hampstead Heath. The latter -- director Chris Noonan's long-awaited follow-up to his 1995 hit Babe -- is a biopic on the life of the much-loved children's author Beatrix Potter (played by Renée Zellweger). McGregor portrays Norman, her editor and paramour.
McGregor was next cast in Marcel Langenegger's 2007 thriller The Tourist as Jonathan, an accountant who meets his dream girl at a local strip club but immediately becomes the prime suspect when the woman vanishes, and is accused of a multimillion-dollar theft. Over the coming years, McGregor would appear in a number of successful films, like Incendiary, Cassandra's Dream, I Love You, Phillip Morris, Amelia, Beginners, and Haywire.
McGregor married French-born production designer Eve Mavrakis in 1995, with whom he has three children. ~ Steven E. McDonald, Rovi