Ewan McGregor interview: Jack The Giant Slayer & visual effects

With Jack The Giant Slayer on the horizon, Michael headed to the set for a chat with one of its stars, Ewan McGregor...

It’s not every day you get to see Ewan McGregor jumping up and down on a beanstalk. But that’s exactly what he was doing when we visited the set of Jack The Giant Slayer back in 2011. In between takes on what proved to be a surprisingly involved shot – which saw McGregor firing off a zip-line to another branch – the actor spent time larking about with co-stars Nicholas Hoult and Eddie Marsan.

During lunch, decked out in full swashbuckler regalia, McGregor wandered over for a chat. In Jack, he plays Elmont, the princess’ personal bodyguard who is tasked with leading the rescue mission up the beanstalk to liberate her from the giants who reside at the top. Sporting a fine bit of ginger facial hair, McGregor explains that Elmont is an ‘Errol Flynn-type’ character, and he is playing him with a touch of gung-ho mischief.

Of course, being stuck in a massive studio acting against imagined backdrops isn’t anything new for McGregor, having worked on the Star Wars prequel trilogy, but this is his first film in 3D, so when we asked him about the shooting process, and how it might relate to smaller-scale, independent films, he gladly offered his opinion.

What attracted you to the film?

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Well, I liked the script very much, you know. At first, I was probably a little skeptical about Jack And The Beanstalk, but the script made me laugh! There’s a very good cartoon animation How To Train Your Dragon, and the script that I read for this reminded me of that somehow in its tone, in its flavour. And I like that film, I thought it was really good, so it was that.

We’ve seen you spend all afternoon diligently firing an arrow off towards another part of the beanstalk. How much of what we’re seeing you do today will actually be in the film?

There’s always a mix of reality and non-reality and what is created afterwards and what’s created here. If anything, I think they won’t use the arrow coming out, they’ll generate it with computers. That’s irrelevant, really. In actual fact, it’s designed not to be very powerful so I won’t kill anybody – and I don’t think it would make it to the tree! 

You’ve obviously worked with green and blue screen technology before, and now you’re working in 3D also. What’s the process like?

It’s a little bit like watching paint dry, or grass grow! It’s very slow. When you’re used to working on small independent films, when things really have to rattle along, it’s difficult to keep your concentration because it’s so spread out, and you do a take, and then 20 minutes, and another take, and then 20 minutes. So I think the technology has got a long way to go to catch up to the rhythm that would aid the acting instead of us having to struggle to maintain the performance for the technology. It feels to me like something in the very early stages of its development.

Do you think the dominance of technology will mean that the work of actors will fade into the background?

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Well it depends on the movie you’re doing and everything’s different. There is always going to be low-budget cinema where there’s a camera and a bunch of people who are working for very little money to make a story, and there will always be great big budget stuff like this. That’s the way it should be, there should be both. And I suppose the challenge of an actor being in a film like this is to be able to maintain what you’re doing and make it believable amongst all the technicality, which is not necessarily playing with you, it’s often playing against you. But that’s just the way it is. Every job is different and every film has its different challenges, and I suppose that’s the challenge with this one. 

But it has to be that way if you want it to look like it looks. And with Lucas as well, it was the same, to create the world that he wanted to create, you had to shoot it that way, against lots and lots of this stuff, lots of blue, like that, for four months. That was my set, there! And that was the way it had to be done, you couldn’t do it any other way. Or at least, that the way he chose to do it. That’s the business. It doesn’t piss me off or anything, that’s just the way it is.

Ewan McGregor, thank you very much.

Jack The Giant Slayer is released on 22nd March in the UK. You can read our interview with director Bryan Singer here.

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