In the film, when the mysterious writer named only as The Ghost (McGregor) agrees to complete the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), his agent assures him it's the opportunity of a lifetime. But the project seems doomed from the start -- not least because his predecessor on the project, Lang's long-term aide, died in an unfortunate accident.
The acclaimed actor talks about the intriguing film in the following interview:
Question: When you first were offered The Ghost Writer, were you familiar with the novel?
Ewan McGregor: I read the novel after I read the script. When you get an offer from Roman [Polanski], that's one of your better days and I liked it so much, I read the book. I saw the character of The Ghost really clearly when I read him in the script and I knew that Roman had written the script with [novelist] Robert Harris so I knew that they'd been involved in that together. So I trusted that it was the adaptation that they both wanted. In a way, that's perfect. You might not even bother with the book.
Q: Were you tempted to not read it to avoid subconsciously cribbing from the book?
McGregor: I have done that in the past where reading the book is just not that helpful, but I spoke to Robert about the way I wanted to play him. I would've just played him with my [Scottish] accent but Robert didn't want him to be from Scotland because of the reference to [Prime Minister Adam] Lang's family being Scottish. I still don't think it would have made much difference, but he didn't want that. But once I'd read the script, I had him in my head so I suppose that's who I saw when I read the book. I was just seeing the same guy.
Q: You were quoted as saying that Polanski is always giving actors interesting notes on their performances. What did you learn from him in this regard?
McGregor: He's always pushing you. The first scene we shot on the first day lasted 22 hours. Just on and on and on. Whenever there's a new set or new location or new actor, it would take Roman a little while to warm up and get it in his head how we were going to shoot it. He said to Tim [Preece, who plays Roy] about one line, "When you say that line, be a little moved" and nobody quite knew what he meant. Sometimes you think with Polanski it's just a whim -- just what's flitted through his head -- but it was a genius note. I just found he was always pushing to find the truth. Some of the lines I delivered because they're how he wanted me to deliver them, not necessarily how I would have done it myself.
Q: Are you worried that external events will alter how the film is perceived?
McGregor: I hope not, but I don't know the answer to that question. My hope is that the film is viewed for the film's sake and the people that might not go and see it because of Polanski's situation might not have gone to see it anyway. But of course I would never dream of telling people what to do or think. That's not for me to say.
Q: When you read the script, how much of the political message informed your decision to take the role?
McGregor: When I first read it, I didn't see the bigger political picture. I was looking at it through The Ghost's eyes and I'm not political. I'm really not very interested in politicians. I just find it really boring.
Q: Like The Ghost?
McGregor: Yeah, that was quite handy. So I wasn't as aware as I am now about the political message in it but I really agree with it. I'm delighted that it says that our politicians should be answerable for their actions. There's a political relationship at the center of the film between Lang and his ex-Cabinet Minister who's now getting him into trouble and the idea that politicians are just back-biting and not to be trusted is probably pretty dead-on.