At his spotlight panel at New York Comic Con 2023, actor Ewan McGregor couldn’t say much about Star Wars, or Moulin Rouge!, or Trainspotting, or even Velvet Goldmine. But he could deliver an impromptu class in tea-making for Americans.
“I find it difficult to find a good cup of tea in America,” McGregor told the audience in the Javits Center’s Empire Room. “In America, it’s an art that’s maybe not as known. The best way to make a cup of tea is in a teapot… [Boil water] less than 3 minutes, you got a good color but not a good taste. More than 3 minutes, you get both.”
He’s not a fan of honey or sugar in his tea, though. (“Boooo!” cried one of his fans.) He doesn’t seem into sugar in hot drinks, whatsoever. “I like strong black coffee. I don’t like any syrup anyway. I don’t like vanilla in my coffee.”
He also dropped this New York-local bombshell: “I’m not a big bagel guy.”
While New York Comic Con attendees could debate pre-show about their favorite Star Wars Prequel Trilogy films, McGregor couldn’t speak of Star Wars due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike. Unbelievably, his spotlight panel (moderated by Ashley Robinson) was his first NYCC appearance.
He respected the strike rules and spoke broadly about this personal life and career, avoiding direct mentions of anything about his role as the handsome Obi-Wan Kenobi, nor anything Moulin Rouge. The Scottish Kenobi actor did deliver his support for the strike: “It’s very important we’re taking this action. There are so many things that need to be addressed that have been left unaddressed. It’s such a shame that it’s taking the studio this amount of time to come to a solution. But as a result, I’m 100% behind the strike and involved with my union.”
He offered an apology for not being able to speak of his film and television projects, “but that’s just the way we have to do it.” McGregor’s words land around the time that SAG-AFTRA reported industry CEOs have resorted to “bully tactics,” and failed to offer reasonable protection from AI replacement, wage increases to keep up with inflation, and sufficient work revenue.
He describes his strike life as domestic. He said, “My children need to get to school.” He’s reading to pass the time. Under strike parameters, McGregor could articulate he was inspired by Ted Simon’s books, Jupiter’s Travel and Don’t Boil the Canary.
McGregor conversed about previously playing Iago in an Othello production at the London-based Donmar Warehouse. “There’s a sort of unwritten rule when you go and watch an actor, when you go and watch somebody’s show. You either don’t tell them that you’re coming, just so that you don’t put people on edge or anything. I remember being in the middle of a soliloquy and looking up and, Oh, it’s Jude Law.”
“The worst one was when I looked up and it was Peter Hall [founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company],” he divulged. He approaches Shakespeare with instinct and his own sense of self, not with the formalities about the rhythms of iambic pentameter. But seeing Hall at that time, “I fell apart. My confidence was gone,” he fretted.
McGregor confessed that he covets the Shakespearean role of “the Great Scottish king” (that is, MacBeth — to say the name aloud could risk casting a theatre-mandated curse). He said, “I watched one of my best friends, Douglas Henshall, play him. ” He estimates that he could grow very old by the time he gets that chance to play the Scottish King.
He finds the career of acting as “ethereal… it all comes bubbling out when it’s needed,” he said, as he credited his uncle Denis Lawson (coincidentally the guy who plays Wedge Antilles) as his “hero.” His advice to aspiring performers is to actively practice their craft in front of people. He cautioned against the “danger” of just waiting for it to happen, or waiting to just be discovered.
The moderator inquired, “Do you think “being discovered” is fallacy? Is it just hard work paying off?”
He elaborated, “Well, you do get discovered [when] people see your work and they want you to be in their work. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a I’m going to make you a star [moment].” As long as you develop the craft along the ride, he said, that’s what matters. “Then you get the hurdle of getting that film seen. Even if nobody sees it, you learn from that.”
So while McGregor may not have spoken of his most famous roles, he was at least able to share one of his most obscure performances, recounting an embarrassing childhood memory at age 14. His father, a drummer, tricked him into drumming in front of a New Year’s Eve party, despite not ever planning for a live performance. “Luckily, it was late at night, so everyone was absolutely plastered.”
You can check out the rest of Polygon’s coverage of all of New York Comic Con 2023’s news, trailers, and highlights right here.