A talented Scottish actor who has starred in an impressive amount of fantastic films since he made his debut in 1994’s Being Human, Ewan Gordon McGregor will be celebrating his 50th birthday in 2021.
Appearing in some classic British films, including Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and Brassed Off, before breaking America in the late 1990s, McGregor’s lasting legacy was assured when he played Obi-Wan Kenobi in George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy.
Below are 20 things you probably didn’t know about the star, who in 1997 made it to number 36 in Empire magazine’s ‘Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time’ list.
20. His brother Colin is a display pilot
Ewan McGregor’s parents both had careers in education, with his mother Carole working as a teacher and deputy head whilst his father James was a PE teacher and careers advisor.
However, James McGregor also nurtured a huge love for planes, taking both Ewan McGregor and his older brother Colin to airshows as children.Credit: Rex Features via The Scottish Sun
Not only that, but their childhood home was always filled with Airfix models of planes, which only encouraged Colin McGregor’s interest.
As a result, while Ewan resolved to hit the heights of celebrity, Colin took to the skies more literally.
Colin McGregor became a ’Top Gun’ pilot in the Royal Air Force, remaining in that position for 20 years.
Colin mostly flew Tornado GR4s, until he retired from his position as a fighter pilot in 2008.
19. His uncle played Wedge Antilles in the original Star Wars trilogy
Ewan McGregor’s early filmography mostly comprised of independent films with small budgets, rather than huge Hollywood blockbusters.
With that said, one of the first huge mainstream projects he embarked on was playing a young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequel fills.
McGregor played Kenobi in The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but he was actually not the first member of his family to appear in the galaxy far, far away.
That’s because McGregor’s uncle is actor and director Denis Lawson, who appeared in original trilogy films A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
Lawson played the X-wing pilot Wedge Antilles, who also got a quick cameo appearance in The Rise of Skywalker.
Unfortunately for Ewan, we never actually see young Obi-Wan Kenobi at any point during the sequel trilogy, though his voice can be (briefly) heard in The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker.
18. He was repeatedly bitten in the ‘trouser region’ by mosquitoes during the filming of Long Way Down
Spending weeks travelling through Kazakhstan by motorbike with your best friend might sound pretty idyllic, especially with the added benefit of being paid to do it for a television show.
With that said, when Ewan McGregor began filming Long Way Down with Charley Boorman, he soon discovered it could be pretty gruelling.
The duo had to deal with several problems when filming the show, from equipment being stolen from the crew to actual car accidents.
However, the biggest problem McGregor and Boorman had to deal with was something that might at first seem pretty minor: mosquitoes.
While riding through Kazakhstan, both McGregor and Boorman were relentlessly tormented by mosquitos, with McGregor’s whole forehead at one point swelling up due to a bite.
Unfortunately for McGregor, he was also targetted by the bugs in the trouser region, and later said: “I will never forget the shape after I got three massive mosquito bites… It looked terrible. It was a very strange experience having the shape of it altered.”
17. He didn’t speak to Danny Boyle for years after Boyle cast Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach instead of him
Any serious fan of Ewan McGregor will know that his career has been punctuated by a series of collaborations with director Danny Boyle.
As well as working together on Trainspotting in 1996, McGregor also starred in two more early Danny Boyle projects: Shallow Grave and A Life Less Ordinary.
When Boyle began pre-production on his fourth feature, The Beach, everyone naturally assumed that McGregor would again be cast in the lead.
However, Boyle instead cast Leonardo DiCaprio in the starring role, after originally offering the part to McGregor.
Boyle cited studio interference for the fact that he couldn’t cast McGregor as planned, but McGregor felt betrayed and didn’t speak to Boyle for almost a decade as a result.
The two only reconciled for T2, the Trainspotting sequel, in 2017, with Boyle allegedly apologising for the way McGregor was treated in regards to The Beach.
16. He almost played Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean
Throughout his career, Ewan McGregor has had the opportunity to play several iconic characters, from Obi-Wan Kenobi to Beauty and the Beast’s Lumiere.
What you might not know is that he has come close to playing several other famous characters, but in every case has been eventually passed over for another actor.
For example, a young McGregor made it to the very last round of auditions to play Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean.
However, as most people will know, the part eventually went to Orlando Bloom instead, who stuck around for three instalments of the franchise.
That’s not the only time McGregor has come close to playing an iconic character, as he was also offered – but turned down – the lead role in The Matrix.
Not only that, but McGregor was also considered for the lead in American Pyscho until Christian Bale talked him out of it, before taking the part for himself.
15. He’s used his motorcycling skills to deliver vaccines to remote parts of the world
We’ve already discussed the fact that Ewan McGregor has used his motorcycle skills to travel the world for the purposes of television entertainment.
However, he has also used his motorcycle skills for good, biking in conjunction with Unicef to deliver vaccines to vulnerable populations.
In 2012, McGregor helped out with a charity campaign by delivering vaccines to remote areas of India, Nepal and the Republic of Congo.
The vaccines were hand-packed by McGregor, and then delivered to children in hard-to-reach areas on the back of his motorbike.
McGregor’s whole journey was documented in a two-hour, two-part documentary which aired on the BBC.
The documentary also explored McGregor’s responsibilities and feelings as a Unicef ambassador.
14. He could have played Hitler
McGregor has come very close to playing some of the biggest characters in film, from Neo in the Matrix to Patrick Bateman in American Pyscho.
Along with that, McGregor has also come close to playing several famous historical figures, some admired and some not.
In 2012, McGregor was approached to play the poet Edgar Allen Poe in the film The Raven.
Despite being officially announced and attached to the project, McGregor eventually dropped out, leaving John Cusack to take his place.
Not only that, but McGregor was also the original choice to play Adolf Hitler in 2013’s The Rise of Evil.
McGregor again turned the part down, and the role instead went to Robert Carlyle, with the project winning two Primetime Emmys.
13. His meeting with Boondock Saints director Troy Duffy ended in a fistfight
When Ewan McGregor opted not to speak to director Danny Boyle for a period of several years, it was borne out of a place of legitimate hurt.
With that said, McGregor’s falling out with Danny Boyle was not the only disagreement he has had with a director over the course of his career.
McGregor once went out to dinner with director Troy Duffy, in order to discuss appearing in his 1999 movie The Boondock Saints.
The dinner turned into more discussion over drinks, with both parties allegedly getting fairly drunk in the process.
However, the conversation ended in a fistfight when it was revealed that the director and actor had different opinions on the death penalty.
It is unknown if the pair have reconciled since but, needless to say, McGregor did not end up appearing in the film.
12. He was close friends with Jude Law before either of them was famous
It’s not uncommon for a famous actor to gravitate towards other famous actors when it comes to forming friendships – in fact, it’s almost expected.
Famous actors tend to become friends due to a mutual understanding of how hard it is to navigate celebrity, as well as the difficulty of maintaining friendships with ‘normal’ people.
For as common as this is, however, it is far more statistically unlikely for two actors to become fast friends before either of them has become famous.
That’s exactly what happened with Ewan McGregor and Jude Law, who were both friends for years prior to either finding serious success.
The pair were so close that they even spent time as roommates in the truest sense of the word, sharing the same bunk bed in London.
In 1997, Law and McGregor co-founded a British film and theatre production company called Natural Nylon, along with Law’s then-wife Sadie Frost.
11. He lost 28 pounds and spent time with recovering addicts to prepare for his role in Trainspotting
Without a doubt, one of McGregor’s finest early-career roles was Renton in Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting.
McGregor had to undergo a dramatic transformation to shoot the film, shaving his head and dropping 28 pounds of weight.
However, the extent of his research and preparation went far beyond just losing weight, which he apparently did by exclusively drinking wine instead of beer.
McGregor also took it upon himself to read extensively about the different kinds of illegal substances Renton would have been exposed to throughout his life.
Not only that, but McGregor also visited a recovery centre in Glasgow called the Calton Athletic Recovery Group.
McGregor was so grateful to them for sharing their experiences that he even made sure they appeared in the film, standing together in a photograph made to look like a football team photo.
10. He would make his own lightsaber sound effects while shooting the Star Wars prequels
By the time it was time to shoot the prequels, Star Wars was one of the biggest cinematic franchises in the world.
Unsurprisingly, this meant that almost every actor offered a spot on the cast was incredibly excited to be given the honour, and some got carried away.
In particular, Ewan McGregor developed a reputation for being incredibly excitable on set, especially during the fight scenes.
Specifically, he could not help but make the whooshing sounds of the lightsaber during his fight scenes with Darth Maul.
Despite George Lucas repeatedly reminding McGregor that the noises would be added in post, the actor simply couldn’t help but do them.
McGregor is not the only actor unable to quell this urge either, as Liam Neeson, Hayden Christensen and even Laura Dern have all reportedly made improvised lightsaber and blaster noises on Star Wars sets.
9. He has literally travelled the globe on his motorbike
A keen motorcyclist since he was a youngster, McGregor has devoted lots of time to biking through different parts of the globe with best friend Charley Boorman.
In 2004 the pair travelled from London to New York via Europe, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, Canada and the US for their book and TV series Long Way Round.
The success of the first show quickly set planning for a sequel in motion, and the pair reunited in 2007 for Long Way Down.
In the second journey, Boorman and McGregor travelled from John o’ Groats in Scotland to Cape Town in South Africa, through India, Nepal and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It took a long time, but in 2020 they released the third instalment in the series, Long Way Up for Apple TV+.
The newest instalment sees the pair adventure through South America, a route they felt they had yet to adequately cover.
8. He’ll soon play Obi-Wan Kenobi again for Disney Plus
In the years since Disney has acquired Star Wars, many spin-off projects have been released that elaborate on specific elements of the extended Star Wars universe.
Not only have we seen the mission to transmit the famous message that Leia Organa receives at the beginning of the original trilogy in Rogue One, but we also saw the beginnings of Han Solo in Solo.
However, despite clamourings from fans for many years, we have never seen a spin-off movie following the exploits of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
It turns out, that is because plans were in motion for an entire series focusing on the Jedi, set to air on Disney Plus.
After years of rumours, it was confirmed in August 2019 that McGregor will be returning to the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, though no plot details have been released as of yet.
The exact release date has also yet to be announced, with sources saying that several rewrites have been going on throughout production.
7. He had a toy lightsaber duel with Noel Gallagher when he found out he’d won a role in Star Wars
We’ve already discussed the fact that Ewan McGregor can get a little overexcited, especially where Star Wars is concerned.
However, his exuberant lightsaber battles aren’t actually limited to the set, as McGregor will geek out about Star Wars whenever he can.
In fact, McGregor participated in his first-ever lightsaber duel the night he found out he had been cast as Obi-Wan Kenobi, without any cameras being around to film it.
Instead of Darth Maul being at the other end of the fight, or even another actor, it was Noel Gallagher who took the brunt of McGregor’s Star Wars enthusiasm.
As unusual as it may sound, Ewan McGregor was at an all-night party at Gallagher’s house when he found out he had successfully gotten the role.
To celebrate, McGregor playfully challenged the Oasis guitarist to a duel with toy lightsabers, although neither has ever revealed who won.
6. He has been in multiple motorcycle accidents
McGregor has more motorcycle experience than most celebrities in Hollywood, having dedicated three television shows to travelling the world via bike.
However, the fact that he has been riding motorcycles for decades does not mean he is immune to scrapes and crashes.
McGregor has gotten into three high-profile bike crashes since being in the spotlight, and all were very near-misses.
In the first case, he skidded off a road in Scotland in 2000, barely grazing his elbow after taking a corner badly, but completely destroying the bike.
McGregor was then involved in a crash in London in 2003, this time breaking his leg and making headlines for it.
Finally, in 2013 McGregor was thrown from his bike after colliding with a car, with the driver claiming not to have seen him as he changed lanes.
5. His Phantom Menace braid was auctioned off for $3,000
Given the fact that one of the first projects he gained prominence from was Trainspotting in 1996, Ewan McGregor didn’t exactly begin his career as a heartthrob.
Though he’s now recognised for playing the romantic hero in films like Moulin Rouge! and Down With Love, that wasn’t always the case.
McGregor’s aesthetic low point, unfortunately, came in the Star Wars prequels, which required him to wear the signature braid of a padawan.
The long braid was reviled both by Star Wars fans and the actors who had to wear them, with McGregor calling the hairstyle “disgusting” during an appearance on Graham Norton.
Even with apparently everybody agreeing that the braids were awful from a fashion point of view, some eccentric fans still wanted to own one.
When McGregor’s padawan braid was auctioned off, the winning offer was a whopping $3,000. Yikes.
4. He learned fly fishing for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was released in 2011, and stars Ewan McGregor alongside Emily Blunt, Kristin Scott Thomas and Amr Waked.
The film was nominated for the European Film Awards People’s Choice Award, as well as three Golden Globes, with McGregor and Blunt earning one nomination apiece.
Much of the critical praise Salmon Fishing in the Yemen received came down to McGregor’s realistic performance.
For his part, McGregor was pretty dedicated to making the film feel as realistic as possible, even going so far as to learn how to fly fish for real.
To play Dr Alfred Jones, McGregor hired a professional to teach him how to fly fish, all for the sake of the movie.
There’s no telling if McGregor kept up the habit once production was over, but it’s not difficult to imagine him strapping a fishing pole to the back of his motorcycle.
3. His first acting role was in the Channel 4 drama Lipstick on Your Collar
McGregor’s first acting role was in the Channel 4 drama Lipstick on Your Collar in 1993, when he was just 22 years old.
The series was an expansion of the 1970 television play Lay Down Your Arms, with McGregor playing Mick Hopper, a man who daydreams his colleagues frequently burst into song while being bored at work.
Only two roles sat between Ewan McGregor’s first-ever acting credit and his debut feature film role, Lipstick on Your Collar and a TV mini-series called Scarlet and Black that was released later that year.
McGregor’s big-screen debut came in the 1994 crime comedy Shallow Grave, directed by Danny Boyle.
Fans of Boyle will know that McGregor would later collaborate with him on two Trainspotting films, as well as the 1997 box office failure A Life Less Ordinary.
Boyle’s latest directorial project was 2019’s Yesterday, which deals with the startling premise ‘what if The Beatles had never existed?’
2. He has won a single Golden Globe Award from three nominations
Ewan McGregor is one of the best-known names in acting today, with audiences knowing him for his extensive and popular filmography.
With that said, McGregor did begin his career in television, and in recent years he has begun to return to that platform.
In the third series of Fargo that aired in 2013, McGregor played the dual roles of twins Ray and Emmit Stussy.
These two performances earned McGregor his first Golden Globe win, after nominations in both 2002 and 2013.
Previously, McGregor had been nominated for Best Original Song and Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, both for Moulin Rouge! in 2002.
McGregor was nominated again for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy in 2013, thanks to Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.
1. He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2013
There are some honours that an actor knowingly works towards throughout their lives, such as an Oscar win in the category of Best Actor or Actress.
Some actors will even work towards a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame if they are ambitious, or a Lifetime Achievement Award.
With that said, there are also honours that an actor can be awarded at points throughout their career that they probably don’t consciously work towards.
For British actors, this often means being made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, otherwise known as receiving an OBE.
McGregor is a big supporter of the charity UNICEF UK, and in 2013 was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to drama and charity.
In 2016 he also received the BAFTA Britannia Humanitarian Award, which was created to honour those who use their status in the film industry to raise awareness of charitable causes.