Film and television actor Ewan McGregor talks about one of the non-standard ways to prepare for his iconic role of Mark Renton in the classic Danny Boyle film “On the Needle” in 1996. Based on Irvine Welsh’s 1993 novel of the same name, the story “On the Needle” revolves around Renton and his group of friends who are deeply immersed in Edinburgh’s heroin scene. Renton is trying to clean up and get out of this ill-fated life, despite the attraction of drugs and the influence of his friends.
At the time of its release, the film received critical acclaim, and screenwriter John Hodge was nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted screenplay, and many consider it one of the best and most influential films of the 1990s. Along with McGregor, “On the Needle” boasts a supporting cast that includes Ewen Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle and Kelly MacDonald. The success of the film spawned a sequel to the film T2: On the Needle, which was released in 2017, and it brought back the original actors and director.
In a recent interview with British GQ, McGregor spoke in detail about an interesting and unexpected way to prepare for his role in “On the Needle”. McGregor says that over the weekend, during the filming of the Pillow Book, he went down “to the train station” and observed the behavior and body language of many drug addicts who were present at the scene. He also mentions that the manners he witnessed at the station, including “blowing his nose”, served as the main source of inspiration for his performance in the opening part of the film. Check out his full quote below:
I was in Luxembourg, filming Greenway’s The Pillow Book, and on weekends I went to the train station just to see. I don’t know why, there are a lot of drug addicts around the train stations. In Scotland, it’s called something like coaching. I don’t know what it’s called somewhere else, but nodding or something, when heroin addicts, they kind of fall asleep, and their bodies… This guy, I was watching this guy near the train station, he just bent over. like a book. He was almost as he was, he was vertical, and then it was as if his head was lowered to his ankles. This is what I used in the opening scene where I’m standing, smoking and doing the same movement.
McGregor’s research, in which he literally goes to the train station, may seem funny to some, given that the story “On the needle” has nothing to do with trains. He is no stranger to embodying the physical nature of his characters, as evidenced by the fact that he lost a staggering 26 kg to play Renton. He even revealed that he was close to actually trying heroin before instead deciding to take the advice of a drug recovery group from the Calton Athletic Club in Glasgow. The above comments give a unique insight into the serious bodily transformations of the Scottish actor, which would be far from easy, even with only weight loss.
McGregor is not known for being a method actor in the same vein as other big names in the industry, such as Jake Gyllenhaal or Jared Leto. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine him as the world-famous actor he is today, without the presence of such a cult name as “On the Needle” in his long line of screen credits. This is a testament to McGregor’s hard work and dedication to bringing Mark Renton to life. Although the film has provided him with a platform to work on big-budget projects such as the Star Wars prequels, Doctor Sleep and the recent Obi-Wan Kenobi series, it’s safe to say that very few of his titles come close to competing with his masterful performance in On the Needle.