It's a tribute to Ewan McGregor's great gifts that we believe someone so naturally cute, funny and knowing is stuck in a humdrum marriage and a boring desk job in the absurdist romance "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen."
But then being convincing when cast against type is the defining theme of his career. From the drugged-out antihero of "Trainspotting" to the dancing crooner of "Moulin Rouge," to the gallivanting Southern salesman in Tim Burton's "Big Fish," he always bears watching.
For his persnickety "Salmon Fishing" character, McGregor insisted on playing him as a Scotsman, which was not the case in Paul Torday's source novel.
"It's not my own accent, far from it," McGregor, who grew up north of Edinburgh, said in a phone interview. "I wanted to do him with an uptight, full-posh accent. It seemed right for somebody who is a scientist, who's locked up with repression at the beginning. There's something very funny about his uptightness. You know if the audience doesn't care for him in the beginning they will at the end."
McGregor's career has flitted promiscuously from work with old masters like Woody Allen to fledgling filmmakers like Mike Mills ("Beginners") to commercial titans (three "Star Wars" films with George Lucas). What drives him, he said, is a good tale.
"I'm not drawn to standard stories. I did 'The Ghost Writer' with Roman Polanski. I suppose that could have been just a good old-fashioned thriller," but the web of murder, political intrigue and deceit evolved to "Chinatown"-style complexity. "And that just tickled my fancy. The simple ones don't grab me -- or I don't get offered them. I don't know which way 'round it goes!"
The appeal of "Salmon Fishing" was that "it's such a silly idea. It's bonkers to take cold-water salmon from Scotland and create a run for them in the desert." The romantic story line with co-star Emily Blunt also is offbeat, he said. "The two people we want to be together, one's married and the other is with someone else. I like the complexity of that, and the political satire."
Though he spends several scenes in hip waders, rod and reel in hand, McGregor had no angling experience.
"I never really had the desire to catch a fish, which is pretty key if you're going to be a fisherman. The technique is quite difficult to do. I'm sure fly fishermen the world over will be huffing and shaking their heads at my casting."
To the untrained eye, he looks completely at home. Once again, he's highly effective even when cast against type.