By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—If Hollywood were high school, Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt would be likely voted “best looking” by the senior class. McGregor, who is Scottish and Blunt, a native Londoner, co-star in the unusually titled romantic comedy “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.” It is based on Paul Torday’s 2007 novel.
McGregor plays a British fisheries expert who’s approached with what seems to be an outrageous request by the memorably named Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), who represents the financial interests of a wealthy sheik. As a fly-fishing enthusiast who would like to enjoy the sport in his own country, Sheik Muhammed (Amr Waked) wants to dam the Yemen river and stock it with salmon.
The unlikely joint project is encouraged by the British government in the form of Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), in a hilarious comedic turn as the prime minister’s brilliant press secretary.
The lighthearted comedy is directed by Lasse Hallstrom (“My Life as a Dog,” “The Cider House Rules”) and adapted for the screen by Oscar winner Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”).
McGregor and Blunt, who both live in L.A., sat down to discuss their film, which took them on location from London to Scotland to Morocco (substituting for Yemen). It was clear from their friendly jesting during an interview that they got along, well, swimmingly.
Front Row Features: What attracted you to the movie?
Ewan McGregor: It was a lovely script. There were a lot of different elements in there. The political satire was very strong, and the love story is really complicated and true to life and the actual project itself, the premise of the film, is a really unusual and wonderful story. You kept turning the pages.
Emily Blunt: It was just really unconventional and rare. The title itself is a very fresh idea and I think that is something you look for as an actor because you read so many scripts all the of the same ilk, so it’s really refreshing to read one that has that beautiful note-perfect story.
Front Row Features: Emily, I heard your parents told you about it?
Blunt: Yes. I was calling mom to catch up and say hello, and she asked, “What are you doing next?” And I said, “I think I’m going to do this ‘Salmon Fishing’ film.” And she went, “‘In the Yemen?’ I was like, “Yeah.” I was quite surprised she knew what the movie was.
Front Row Features: Is this based on real events?
McGregor: No. It’s just the fantasy of Paul Torday, who wrote the novel. I think he was in his 60s, and it was the first piece of writing he’d ever done. He sat down and it poured out that he loves fishing. It’s just a work of fantasy but it does feel very possible.
Front Row Features: Have either of you ever fished?
Blunt: I attempted it when I was a kid with my dad. But if you grow up in the U.K., you usually go fishing off the coast of Cornwall or Scotland where you have these huge swells and I just don’t have the stomach for it really. (She laughs.)
Front Row Features: How about you, Ewan? Have you ever fished?
McGregor: I had done a bit of fishing when I was a kid on holidays and things. It wasn’t a hobby of mine. I’ve done it here and there because of the tranquil nature of it, but not to catch a fish, per se.
Front Row Features: Did you have to learn to fly fish for the film?
McGregor: Yeah, we had to learn to cast a fly rod. We had two different fly fishing teachers—one in London and one in Scotland.
Front Row Features: How is that different from regular fishing?
McGregor: It’s very technical. The actual casting of the line is not a natural action. It’s all about timing. It’s quite complicated. The idea of fly-fishing is that you cast across the river and your line drifts down. Your line sits on the river because you’re catching fish from the surface. Then there is a special cast you do to bring the line from over there. You whip it around. All of that takes a lot of practice.
Front Row Features: Had you worked in Yemen before?
McGregor: We didn’t actually shoot in the Yemen; we shot in Morocco, where I have shot before. The first movie I ever made, I had a line in a film called “Being Human,” and I was there for a month. I was back there for “Black Hawk Down,” and spent another four months there. I really like Morocco. We had a great time there, didn’t we, Emily?
Blunt: It was heaven.
Front Row Features: Kristin Scott Thomas delivers an uncharacteristic comedic performance as the press secretary that’s trying to spin a good story out of the Middle East for her boss, the prime minister. How was it working with her?
Blunt: I thought her character was so ludicrous on the page, so I knew we needed someone who was going to commit to that. Most people consider Kristin a great dramatic actress, but she’s also very funny, although intimidating when you first meet her. She really likes to be teased. (She laughs.)
Front Row Features: You’ve both played characters that are larger than life. Is it harder to play a normal, everyday person like your characters in this film?
Blunt: I approach every character I play in a real sense and to have some understanding of why they do what they do. Even with my “The Devil Wears Prada” character, even though she was out there and appalling, I approached her as this poor girl, (who) is just desperate. She has no life. With someone like Harriet, it’s more about the tone of the film.
Front Row Features: What do you do during your down time?
Blunt: I like seeing my friends. I love to cook and I love to eat.
Front Row Features: What do you cook?
Blunt: I’m really good at Italian and Thai food and I make a really good English roast as well. You have to sort of pry me away from the Food Network on some days.
Front Row Features: What about you Ewan?
McGregor: I’ve got four kids so I’m mainly in the car driving someone to ballet. That’s quite a busy life. In my spare time, I like to ride old motorcycles. That would be my hobby.
Front Row Features: Since you both expatriates who live here in town, did you ever run into each other before working on this film?
McGregor: No, but we saw each other on a plane going to Sundance a couple of years ago. Emily got on with John (Krasinski) up in the front and I nudged my wife and whispered: “Is that Emily Blunt?” And she was nudging John, “Is that Ewan McGregor?” But it was a busy flight, and we never spoke to each other.
Blunt: But you know what was quite nice? This plane trip happened when John and I were first dating. We were trying to keep it quiet and avoid the paparazzi so we let Ewan get off the plane first, and the paparazzi went kind of nuts for him. John was like, “Poor Ewan McGregor.” We just dashed out the back. (She laughs.)
Front Row Features: Do you prefer L.A. to London?
Blunt: I’m here because this where I’ve ended up really. My husband (Krasinski) shoots a show here and I have a lot of friends here so we’ve just decided to stay here for a while. But I’m very open to New York or wherever. In terms of work, business is incredibly available to you in this town.
McGregor: Personally, I got tired of living in London and I wanted to live somewhere else. We had a house here, which we rented out and lived in it now and again. At the time, I bought it, I naively thought I would be doing more work here, but few films actually shoot here.
Front Row Features: Emily, what can you say about your upcoming comedy “The Five-Year Engagement,” with Jason Segel?
Blunt: It’s an incredibly funny film and full of heart. It’s very silly and really made me laugh. It’s a story of this couple who can’t seem to get it together and get married.
Front Row Features: Ewan, have you taken your kids to see the re-release of “Stars Wars: Episode 1—The Phantom Menace” in 3-D?
McGregor: No. I’m happy it’s come out, though, as there is a whole generation of children who haven’t seen it on the big screen. But my kids aren’t particularly interested in “Star Wars.”