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Filling up heart and soul on the road

Rick Bentley
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
"Long Way Down" 9 p.m. ET Saturday, Fox Reality Channel

Ewan McGregor has earned so much attention for his work in three "Star Wars" films, it is almost a disappointment when he walk into the ballroom at the Beverly Hilton.

Yes, he is here to talk about his new Fox Reality Channel special "Long Way Down." It is just that McGregor looks so much more natural zipping across the universe in a Jedi Starfighter. Instead of the brown robes he wore as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in "Star Wars" he's decked out in a leather jacket. Actually, that's really a better look for his latest documentary.

McGregor and his good buddy Charley Boorman spent months riding their motorcycles from John O'Groats, Scotland, to Cape Town, South Africa. Cameras rolled during the whole trip. And that footage became the documentary that airs Saturday night on the cable channel.

You might recall McGregor and Boorman made a similar motorcycle trek in front of cameras in 2004. But that time they went from London to New York - the long way around.

So McGregor's done other documentaries. He's made a lot of movies. But this is the guy who is at the heart of the whole Darth Vader saga. Surely that role must have dogged him as he made the lengthy trek.

He says most of the time he was just another "bloke on a bike."

McGregor was recognized once while filming "Long Way Around." A man in Skovorodino, Russia, was convinced McGregor was a big film star, in adult movies. Things weren't as spicy in Africa.

"There was one town in Ethiopia we pulled into and this guy came up and he went 'You are an actor, actor, films, films.' And I went, 'Yeah, yeah,'" says McGregor. "This guy, he looked at me, and went, 'How did you come here?' And I pointed to my bike. And he went, 'No. Where is your limousine?'

"And I went, 'No. I came on the bike.' He goes, 'Why? You are an actor. Why did you come on this motorbike?' And I said, 'Because I love it.'"

McGregor has always loved riding motorcycles. But his parents would never let him buy a motorcyle. So when he moved out at 19 to study acting, McGregor bought his first bike. It was two years before he would tell his parents.

It has been 16 years since then, but McGregor knows his mother would prefer he not take the long treks on the motorcycle.

"She kind of thought that at least she didn't have to worry about me. I was mainly wearing makeup for a living. And then, suddenly, I went, 'Oh, mom, I'm riding my bike around the world.' And she goes, 'Oh, my God. What did I do to deserve all of this worry?' They know that I love it and that it is enriching," McGregor says.

It helped that McGregor has used his love of motorcycles to raise money for charities. This trek earned $1 million for a variety of charities including UNICEF.

McGregor has no plans for another long motorcycle trip. He's ready to go back to the acting world where he is held in much revere by the legions of "Star Wars" fans. Even with all that admiration, it must seem a little boring to go from traveling continents on a motorcycle to being in front of a camera.

"No, no, no, no. I think it's quite important," McGregor says of acting. "Filmmaking can seem boring after you've worked with Woody Allen, for instance. But not after this. I think it's all good. I mean, you can only act from your heart and soul, and this kind of thing is all about filling up your heart and soul."

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