Q&A: Ewan McGregor and the cast and crew of Perfect Sense

The 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival played host to a number of high-profile films this year, but perhaps none more so than David Mackenzie’s apocalyptic Glasgow-set love story Perfect Sense. The film stars Ewan McGregor and Eva Green as a chef and a scientist who fall in love as the world falls apart due to an epidemic which robs people of their sensory perceptions. It had its red-carpet European premiere at the festival, and, despite mixed reviews in theUK press, the film received a rapturous response from the audience.

The film marks the reunion of McGregor with his Young Adam director as well as his Trainspotting co-star Ewen Bremner, and is the first time the actor has performed along side his uncle, Denis Lawson. After the screening, an intimate press conference was held in the Empire Room of Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre, where David Mackenzie, McGregor, Bremner and Lawson were joined by actor Alistair Mackenzie and the film’s composer Max Richter.

Q: Ewan, you’ve just seen the film for the first time: what are your initial reactions to the finished work?

Ewan McGregor: Well it’s quite gobsmacking, I loved the script really dearly and I loved working with David [Mackenzie] on our first film Young Adam so it was nice to be doing that again. What David does with the material is extraordinary; it’s a good script on the page, and a really extraordinary film to watch, so it’s gone beyond my expectations. I think it’s wonderful, I’m really proud of it.

Q: Did you require any culinary preparation for your role as a chef?

EM: Yes, Ewen and I both did. We visited three different kitchens. Mainly we worked with Guy Cowan from Guy’s Restaurant in Candleriggs inGlasgow, and he was on set with us, so food designers would prepare some of the fancier stuff and Guy orchestrated it. He came up with some dishes we could prepare, so we did them with Guy in his kitchen until we knew what we were doing. I was really pleased to see that we did really look like we knew what we were doing! [Laughs]

Ewen Bremner: It all had to be choreographed quite cleverly as well so that the camera caught all of the good stuff, because with food the moment passes quite quickly; you know,  you’re putting the finishing touches on something and timing the other dishes to come out at the same time so we can meet in the same place.

DM: Yes, and you’re fitting dialogue in there at the same time as well!

EM: When David said ‘cut’ everybody started resetting the kitchen again because the prop guys couldn’t possibly keep up- it was as busy between takes as it was during takes!

Q: What was it like filming in the centre of Glasgow?

DM: It presented some challenges- live locations or locations that need control are definitely challenging, but basically it wasn’t problematic at all. We were very lucky that some of the streets we could close down were around the area ofWilson StreetinMerchantCitywhich don’t have very much traffic anyway, so we were able to have a run of it for a while, and that was geographically very close to the restaurant anyway. Tontine Lane, where the back of the restaurant and Eva’s flat were was another controllable area. It’s kind of a funny lane…a bit like ‘bam central’ [laughs], but it was alright really.

EM: Often when you’re filming in a city you come across people who don’t want you to be filming there and you can find yourself in angry situations with people who don’t want to be stopped, which is fair enough- it’s their city and they’re going about their daily business. But we didn’t come across any of that inGlasgowreally, it was very friendly.

Q: David, you’ve filmed in Glasgow before: What do you think makes the city an ideal cinematic setting?

DM: I think you get a lot without having to travel far. There’s a lot of scale; a lot of modern urban space there and there’s a lot of texture from the old there as well. You’ve got the amazing river running through it. It’s got a lot that you need in a controllable, central area- compared to filming in London it’s a breeze. I hear reports of a lot of big films coming toGlasgowthis year so obviously we’re not the only ones who had that idea. We really wanted to make Glasgow look like a modern, cosmopolitan, European city, that didn’t feel like it was one particular city.  We wanted it to feel like it could be anywhere, really.

Q: Ewan, what do you enjoy most about filming in Scotland?

EM: I always love coming back up, this is the fourth film that I’ve made inGlasgow. I love being here, it’s like coming home; I’m not from Glasgow-I’m from further North – but I enjoy being there. It’s becoming more and more of a pleasant place to be.

 Q: Did you show Eva around?

Denis Lawson: Yeah, we went down Byres Roadwith Eva, we did The Chip [on Ashton Lane] and everything…

EM: Yeah we were staying quite local so we wandered around- that’s another great thing about Glasgow: in this experience I was cycling everywhere because in the film I was riding a fixed-gear bicycle which I hadn’t done before and so all during rehearsals (I think we had two weeks before we started filming), I was just cycling everywhere, and I loved it, it’s a good city to cycle around.

DM: And as a result of filming, Ewan has built four new bikes since…

EM: It’s totally changed my life…

DM: The reputation of the petrol-head McGregor has now been turned into the leg-head McGregor [laughs]

EM: I’ve always been a bit of a leg man…

Q: Ewan there is some particularly intense crying in this film and you’ve always been a very good crier! I wondered how you do it as it’s one of the hardest things to do…

EM: I just have a lot of pain to draw on, you know? A lot of deep, emotional pain [laughs]…No, it’s quite a difficult thing to do, but the most difficult thing about it is worrying about it before hand, because that’s what screws it up. It is difficult, because when you’re approaching a scene like that, the worry is that you won’t be able to get there, and that worry sometimes just means that you won’t. So, you have to allow yourself the time, and you have to have a director that will give you that time to allow yourself to get there, and you just…work up to it.

 Q: It’s a very thought-provoking film; I wondered what message you all took from it?

Alistair Mackenzie: Seize the day- carpe diem.

EM: I don’t ever think of it as a bleak film….when I read it I didn’t think it was a hopeless film, on the contrary it felt to me like…hopeful. When you think about what happens, it doesn’t seem hopeful, but I always felt that the sense of it was quite hopeful.

DM: I hope it comes across as a life-affirming film, that’s what I’d like it to be. Obviously you can’t force an audience to have an emotion, but I’m hoping that the experience at the end of the film is a combination of the tragic elements and these deeply powerful human connective elements – and obviously romantic and love elements – that leave the film and the audience on a positive note.

DL: It was interesting seeing it for the first time tonight and seeing the human spirit and how we cling on and survive…the survival of the species in a way: the way that we will hold on to anything we have, and keep going. So it’s, curiously, an optimistic film.

EB: To me it’s like a fairytale for grown-ups, in that we are being told this story and it’s almost…not a cautionary tale, but in the same way fairytales for children are believable, this is like for the apocalyptic age.

DM: A fairytale for nihilists.

DL: It’s almost biblical in a way…

EM: You’ve got him started now! [Laughs]

Max Richter: I feel like it is a positive story, it’s very hopeful. It’s kind of a ‘love conquers all’ story which I think is a wonderful sentiment.

 Q: Denis, how was it working with your nephew?

DL: it was such a pleasure and an exciting prospect. What I remember most is walking into the make-up trailer on the first day we were going to work together and Ewan was sitting in the chair, and it was a bit weird. I was like, ‘what’s Ewan doing here?’, and in his usual fashion he turned round and went ‘Hello Uncle Denis!’ So we got ready and left the trailer and walked onto the set and it was the most natural thing in the world, it just fell into place. It was great, a lovely thing to do.

Q: There have been a lot of apocalyptic films recently: is Hollywood trying to tell us we’re all going to die soon?

EM: Like Hollywood would know!

DM: I think there’s a lot of uncertainty about things at the moment and people are questioning things they haven’t questioned before and asking about the sustainability of human endeavour. I think all of us were very conscious when we were making this movie that we didn’t want it to be a ‘genre piece’ or bombastic in those terms, and for it to be slightly more metaphorical and poetic in its telling. But the convergence of interest in these things I would guess is because people have doubts about ‘project humanity’.} else {