...One: Musical Ewan
Moulin Rouge! may have showcased his vocal abilities to best and most acclaimed effect so far, but back in 1993 when he was starting out Ewan forswore the Suez Crisis for girls and guitars in Dennis Potter’s musical-drama TV throwback Lipstick on Your Collar. The first time I saw him in anything he was shrugging off clerk work and leaping on his desk in gold Elvis get-up miming to ‘Don’t Be Cruel’. And of course four years later the karaoke resurfaced in A Life Less Ordinary, where Ewan’s spontaneous serenading of Cameron Diaz was the only thing that wasn’t lifeless and ordinary. Belting out the tunes came second to his lascivious Iggy Pop-meets-Kurt Cobain routines in Velvet Goldmine, but he gamely sang every song himself. He’s an under-praised cinematic crooner – it’s one of his most dependable attributes.
Come What May, Ewan is always glad to flex his vocal chords on celluloid.
...Two: Ballsy Ewan
As much as Ewan seems to frequently like getting his tackle out, he also seems equally unafraid to take on gay roles. He likes setting his characters’ sexuality free on screen. Four gay roles in a forty-feature career isn’t that many, but it’s more than what most of his peers seem willing to take on. And how venturous and open he is with it, too: he was an open bi book for both Yoshi Oida and Vivian Wu in The Pillow Book; there was the Wild and roughed-up rooftop nookie with Christian Bale in Velvet Goldmine; in Scenes of a Sexual Nature he cruised one long, sunny day away on Hampstead Heath; and in the recent drama-comedy anomaly I Love You Phillip Morris he bunked with Jim Carrey. Ewan is au fait with playing gay. He not only doesn’t seem fazed by it as a factor in choosing parts, he also carries it out with aplomb. In fact he does it in an unabashedly liberating manner: for each of these characters the closet door was flung wide open (check his levity levels on being reunited with Carrey in a crowded jail in Phillip Morris or the flippant way he disregards the social strictures of the ‘70s in Goldmine).
As an actor – and in his own small way – he’s making an affirmative impact from the outside in.
...Three: Smiley Ewan
Drug happy, love happy, dance happy; happy high, happy heart, happy Feet. Ewan has one of the happiest faces in cinema (check out his IMDb photo for proof). And directors love capturing it on screen: Danny Boyle framed Ewan’s drug-placated grin during his heroin highs in the flophouses of Trainspotting; thanks to the magical sheen Baz Luhrmann sprinkled over the Moulin Rouge, Ewan’s face literally lit up upon entering Nicole Kidman’s Paris of 1899; and it may have been Down with Love but he was Up with Joy for Renée Zellweger in ‘60s New York. The places change, but the face remains the same: blissed out with glee. Despite furrowing his brow in a generous handful of the more serious roles that have peppered his filmography – in sci-fi-fantasy (Star Wars prequels, The Island), gritty Brit flicks (Young Adam, Incendiary) and action-drama vehicles (Black Hawk Down, Angels & Demons) – it’s the lighter, cheerier fare in which he endears the most. He works an audience well when he throws a smile down from the silver screen.
So, say ‘cheese’ Mr. Ewan McGregor, it’s your (birthday) party – you’ll smile if you want to.