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Ewan McGregor writes a letter to his younger self

 The Big Issue UK 10 October 2019

If you could write a letter to your 16 year old self, what would you say and what advice would you give? Scottish actor Ewan McGregor goes back in time and remembers his teenage years, long before he knew he’d one day be world famous as a heroin addict in Trainspotting, a Star Wars hero and a poet in Moulin Rouge. (1136 Words) - By Jane Graham


BI Scotland_Ewan McGregor writes a letter to his younger self 1

Cast member Ewan McGregor smiles at a news conference for the movie "Cassandra's Dream" during the 32nd Toronto International Film Festival.Credit: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

BI Scotland_Ewan McGregor writes a letter to his younger self 2

Ewan McGregor smiles during a panel for the Fox Reality series Long Way Down at the Television Critics Association 2008 summer press tour in Beverly Hills.Credit: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Sixteen was a very important year for me. I moved to Kirkcaldy to study drama and it turned out to be a lot of hard work and responsibility. It was a tough time and there was a lot of growing up that year. I'd wanted to be an actor since I was about nine. That was absolutely because of my uncle [the actor Denis Lawson]. I wanted to be like him. He'd come up to Crieff and he'd be so different from everyone else, such a colourful, flamboyant character. Not to say that the people of Crieff aren't, but there are more farmers than actors in Crieff. I wanted to be like him before I even knew what an actor really was. And I never really changed my mind.

I've always been an upbeat kind of person. It's not a choice, it's just the way I am. Because in my experience, things are all right, you get by. I had a very happy upbringing, good friends and good family around me. It was the perfect place to grow up, in Crieff - we were bombing around all day on our bikes; we'd leave in the morning and come back at night. We had a real freedom and an independence that my kids don't have.

I always wanted to go to London and try to make it, mainly because I'd loved going there as a kid to visit my uncle Denis. But when I went, at 17, to start my course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, I suddenly felt it was a very big wrench leaving Scotland. I can still remember my dad dropping me off. He left me in this really shabby room. I could see him looking round, and I was looking round, and we were both thinking - fuck, this is shocking. I really felt I was leaving home in a way that I hadn't when I'd left to go to Kirkcaldy. This was something bigger. So I became incredibly Scottish. I remember sewing tartan ribbons on to my denim jacket. I was this over-the-top Scot abroad in London.

I'd tell my younger self not to worry when he doesn't get that movie. I was about 19, still at drama school, and I was up for two things. One was a movie, a really lovely, sad wartime story, and the other was for a BBC Dennis Potter drama called Lipstick on Your Collar. I was hugely excited about them both, but what I wanted most of all was to be in a movie. I wanted it so badly I didn't do well at the final audition and I didn't get it. As it turned out, the film collapsed - so if I'd got it, I'd have missed out on the Dennis Potter for a film that would never be made. I think fate was playing a wee hand there.

Drama school can knock your confidence because they focus on your weaknesses. So for me getting an agent was a huge thing. It gave me a glimmer that I might be good at what I do. I thought - oh, somebody wants me. And getting the Dennis Potter series - that was the first time I'd had that feeling of 'someone wants to cast me and not someone else'. Suddenly the old confidence came back. I went into my agent's office and she sat me down and told me, "You'll be working for six months, and you'll be paid £24,000." And I had to stop her and say: "Can I phone my dad please?" I wanted to tell him I was going to be all right.

If I met my teenage self now… there are probably some things I've done he wouldn't think were cool, but I'd like to think we still share the same drive and the same motivations. As a kid, I wanted to be involved in work that said something, that mattered. I think I have done that but also, in a way, you live and learn, and you understand they can't all be like that. And they shouldn't all be like that. I'm lucky to be able to do big films and small films, and even within those have lots of different kinds of experience. I have a very simple approach - if I like the story I'll do it.

It's been almost 11 years since I had a drink. Very rarely do I notice that I don't drink. I don't go along to dinner parties and white-knuckle it through the dinner. I find it easy to be outgoing in company without booze now. I used to have a few pints before I was me. Now I'm me when I arrive. I come as I am and I'm good to go, and I like that. Because it was making me miserable, it made me very unhappy drinking the way I used to.

When I made Trainspotting I didn't think - this is me, this is my moment. But I did have really amazing feelings about the film. I thought the book was fantastic and really captured the spirit of the country. I knew Danny was the best director to do it. And we had this perfect cast. So I had really, really high expectations of it. But I couldn't have imagined... I remember seeing it for the first time, in London, with my wife and my uncle, and coming out numb and shaky. It was so extraordinary. But I already had very strong self-belief so I didn't feel it would boost me particularly. Now of course I see it did. It became a global film and put me right in the public eye.

I really do love being in Scotland, whether it's for work or just coming home for a visit. I absolutely love it. And I've loved working in Glasgow making Perfect Sense. I've made four films there now and, though I'm not from Glasgow, I've watched it change since we did Shallow Grave in 1994. This time I felt I'd never enjoyed being there more. It's a wonderful place and I think it's a real character in the film.

I don't think it matters where you live: you can keep your family life private anywhere. You just choose not to indulge in all that [celebrity stuff]. I feel like you have to seek it out and I would never do that. So I have a really nice life: my family life in Scotland and a bunch of friends in America and four kids. That's quite a lot. It doesn't leave much time for anything else. I'm busy with my kids. And I love it that way. It's perfect.

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