Miss Potter - Ewan McGregor interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
EWAN McGregor talks about reuniting with Renee Zellweger in Miss Potter and the challenge of honouring a real-life character…
Q. How much research did you carry out for this real-life character?
A. There were some great photographs of Norman. Chris [Noonan, the director] emailed me one early on, and I think there’s a lot you can sense from photographs. We also went to the Warne publishing house, which still exists. It’s part of the Penguin group now and met these women that talk about the Warne family as if they know them inside out.
They were a great source of information about Norman and the other brothers. But I think his photographs said the most to me about him – I’m a very lazy reader, that’s why [laughs].
Q. Did you have your own favourite books as a child? And have you started to read Beatrix Potter to your own kids?
A. I do, yeah. Seeing as I’ve done the film, of course, I’ve now got the deluxe box full set!
Books that I clearly remember being influenced by as a child include Peter Pan. I remember what the book looked like, a grey cover and beautiful pictures. I remember clearly being read that. And then when I was reading there was a book about a guy whose plants overtook the inside of the house till the house fell down to reveal a kinda plant-shaped house. I don’t know what it was called.
Another book, which wasn’t really a book… Harry Nilsson did an album called The Point. My uncle Denis [Lawson] got it for me I think. But that would be the strongest childhood story that I have in my head. My kids now listen to it on a regular basis because I make them.
Q. Having worked with Renee before, how was it working with her again?
A. I loved being sent the film by Renee because we’d had such a fantastic time on Down With Love. I remember on Down With Love we were playing a very specific kind of comedy, a ‘60s sex film comedy which goes against the grain. We don’t really play comedies like that any more. And so it was tricky. I think I can speak for both of us in saying that we loved the film and loved making the film, but it was very hard work.
Sometimes, if the timing wasn’t absolutely right on the dialogue, the scenes would fall flat on their face, so we’d often look at each other thinking, “God, I wish we could be doing something straightforward”.
So to then be sent this from Renee was first of all deeply flattering, and absolutely what we’d been talking about. A beautiful story and a simple, kind of straightforward one.
Q. What makes Renee so good to work with?
A. She’s just a beautiful actress, and a brilliant one. There’s a beautiful sense of play when we work together that’s not always the case. It’s lovely to explore characters and scenes with each other when the camera’s turning.
Q. I gather you have spent some of your fee [for Miss Potter] on another motorbike?
A. [Laughs] I did – at the very top of the Isle of Man, there’s an Isle of Man TT museum, run by a guy called Paul Murray. I went to visit it but I had to phone them up because it was shut.
He was closing down the museum and selling off all the bikes. I thought that was a bad move, so I went up there and came back with a 1929 Rex Acme TT racer. A beautiful piece of kit. My wife was like: “Oh no, not again, not another one!”
Q. How many does that make in total?
A. I’ve got 11 bikes [smiles].