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Ewan McGregor Gives Up the Ghost

Ewan McGregor Gives Up the Ghost (photo)

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It’s been a while since we’ve heard actor Ewan McGregor (“Trainspotting,” “Moulin Rouge!”) speak in his native Scottish accent, yet so much remains enigmatically unfamiliar about his nameless character known simply as “The Ghost” in director Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer.” Adapted by former journalist Robert Harris from his own novel, this fantastically nutty political thriller stars McGregor as an apolitically minded punch-up artist assigned to finish the memoirs of a suddenly disgraced former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan), currently stuck in American exile while awaiting war crime charges for his use of “heightened interrogation” procedures. Like many a Hitchcockian everyman ensnared by conspiracy, McGregor’s “Ghost” soon realizes through his own cat-killing curiosities and investigation that he has every right to be paranoid. I met McGregor at the Waldorf Astoria to discuss government corruption, Polanski’s eccentric working methods, the longest he’s ever felt trapped somewhere, and why he’ll likely never read this interview. Out of respect to both McGregor and one of our greatest living auteurs, I chose not to bring up Polanski’s current legal matters and house arrest.

“The Ghost Writer” is such a gonzo political thriller, but the plot twists turn so naturally. Do you think anything as sinister or thorny as what’s in this film could happen in real life?

I think it is happening. The story is obviously pushed right into the realms of fictitious, novel-y type material with the idea that [MAJOR SPOILER REDACTED]. That’s far-fetched. One of the “ghosts” that Harris talks about when he talks about the novel is that British politics — as a government that makes decisions on behalf of the people of the British Isles — might be a ghostly idea because it’s so wrapped up in American politics now that we’re somehow linked. That’s quite a serious accusation on his part, and on Polanski’s part, as the filmmaker. But it’s not as far-fetched as we might think.

02192010_GhostWriter2.jpgSo you’re cynical about politics?

I’ve always been really uninterested in politicians and the acts of the Houses of Parliament, or government as an idea. But I’m interested in politics in that I’m a member of the world, and I have strong feelings of right and wrong, but I can’t get into the ins and outs of it. I find politicians so desperately boring. I don’t trust them and don’t believe in them.

Especially in my country, they’re always getting caught cheating the taxpayer out of money. They get allowances for houses in London, where they’re all supposed to represent their constituency. So they stay with people they know and charge the government for this rental and just pocket the cash. That’s our cash. There are people who should feel society’s not operating correctly, know how to make life a better place for the people of their country, and enter into politics to make their vision come true. I just don’t believe that’s what happens. They get in there and start trading off their political ideals: “I’ll move for you on this, you vote for me on that.” They’re trading their ideals to climb the rungs of power, and that’s unforgivable.

Does power inherently corrupt, even with the best of intentions?

No, because honest people are honest people. You know, they have spin doctors. They have people whose job it is to take facts and make them more palatable for the people. They should be fucking ashamed of themselves to actually have a spin doctor, never mind to actually call them that. [laughs] For us to accept that that’s the case, that we’re going to be told things that are sort of true, so that they’re palatable for us to listen to, is a disgrace.

What about ghostwriters? Are they being deceitful by manipulating someone’s image, or are they simply punching up copy?

I don’t think it’s deceitful because ghostwriting is obviously going to be okayed by the person they’re writing on behalf of. If it’s done properly, it can be quite effective. It’s a skill to be able to interview someone and be able to write in their voice. Since we started all this press, it was interesting to listen to [Robert] Harris talking about ghostwriting. He has quite a slant on it, that there’s an element of failure in The Ghost. Even if he’s written successful books on behalf of other people, the nature of not having your name on that book is kind of a failure.

02192010_GhostWriter4.jpgHow would you describe Polanski’s tastes and on-set demeanor?

He’s very persnickety about everything. He’ll spend 20 minutes arranging the books on the bookshelf that are deep out of the focus in the background of a shot. If you shoot a shot, and then the weather changes a bit, a lot of directors will shoot anyway and just [color-correct] it afterward. But he’ll only shoot if the rain’s exactly right, the clouds are right, the sea looks rough enough. He’s a total perfectionist. Sometimes he can nitpick over how you’re saying lines, but it’s always driven towards making the film the way he saw it.

I can imagine, and I asked Robert if this was the case, that he gets up on his feet and acts out all the parts as they’re writing lines of dialogue in his living room: “Maybe she’ll say this,” and he’ll act it out. Whenever we’re on set, I think he’s going back to that model. He’s often sitting with his head in his hands, or you’ll ask him a question and he’ll suddenly just go quiet for ages. Everyone just stops and waits for him to come out with what he has to say. Olivia [Williams] asked him one day what it was he was doing when he did that, and he said he’s trying to remember how he saw that scene when he wrote it with Robert, so that he can answer how he wants it.

Whenever we had a change of location or a new actor would come in, Polanski would really slow down to get into the new part of the story. When we started the exterior stuff at [Tom Wilkinson’s character] Emmett’s house, it’s not that complicated a scene — I pull up in the car, go up to the gate, look through the mail, go back to the car, back to the gate, and speak to Emmet through the [intercom]. We spent all morning looking at different scenarios, trying different positions for the car, and we didn’t shoot anything until after lunch. I quite like that he takes his time because often the pressure of filmmaking is that people don’t, and then you pay for it later because you didn’t make the right decision at the time.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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