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Thursday, August 02 2018 10:35

Hello, Christopher Robin: Ewan McGregor, Family and a Very-Loved "Silly Old Bear"

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This interview may contain minor spoilers for Disney's Christopher Robin...

It's a sunny afternoon in Beverly Hills as I enter the Montage, immediately complimented by a member of the house staff for the Marvel t-shirt peeking out from beneath my Red Kap button-down. I take off my sunglasses and head for the staircase, en route to a meeting on the second floor with a man whom I've never met, but one whose work I've been enjoying ever since I rented a copy of Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave on VHS from a Hogan's Video store in Davenport, Iowa back in 1995 or so. Taking a seat at the table for a roundtable interview (I feel compelled to point out that in reality, the table was rectangular), I placed my Funko Pop! Vinyl Winnie the Pooh near the head seat just in time for Ewan McGregor to pull up a chair to discuss his title role in Disney's Christopher Robin

The story of what became of Christopher Robin after he grew up and moved-on from The Hundred Acre Wood is a tale that elicits a lot of emotion (see my formal review as I go in-depth on that) and is very much a story of fatherhood and family that's set in a time when men weren't exactly present in the home - and were largely distant from their children's lives. Cold, even.

Having mentioned that he enjoyed reading A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard's stories with his own children, I asked Ewan if there were any classic Pooh stories in particular that helped to inspire him in taking on the the role. 

"I think what inspired me was the way [director] Marc [Forster] spoke about it first," he recalled.  "He called me and told me he was going to direct it and described to me, how he saw it, and what he thought it could be --  an important movie for people to watch at this point in time.  That was really what inspired me. And then the lovely script, I really liked reading it."

Ewan McGregor speaks to The Rock Father, James Zahn

Pictured: Ewan McGregor speaks with James Zahn (The Rock Father) at the Montage Beverly Hills. Photo: Louise Bishop, MomStart.

While there's a definitive visual difference between "Classic Pooh" and what's commonly known as "the Disney style," Christopher Robin marries the two seamlessly in a timeless fashion. Reading the screenplay by Alex Ross Perry and Allison Schroeder,  McGregor was quick to realize just how much the two personalities and styles of Winnie the Pooh had merged.

"In Britain he's so well-known and loved.  I've read all the stories to my kids and I know by reading them that I'm familiar with them all.  There's no surprises in them -- not all of the books, but the first ones certainly. I just know I must have read and known them when I was a kid.  And then Winnie the Pooh’s voice... you know, it's not ‘til I heard his voice in this that I knew how familiar I was with the Disney versions of Pooh as well, because I know his voice so well... and Eeyore."

Christopher Robin

That cross-generational thread between children and parents is a theme that not only connects those who've read the books or seen the animated films, but something that comes to life in Christopher Robin - a theme felt heavily during production.

"I think it's just about connection isn’t it?" asks McGregor.  "It's about being available to each other and being there, being present.  Through one reason or another, Christopher Robin is sort of not present at home. You know, at that time, men weren’t really expected to be or wouldn’t have thought about it.  They would go to work and come home and the wife was looking after the kids and they probably wouldn't be very close to their children. It made me think a lot about my dad. He was born in 1941, and I would imagine our daughter in this film [Madeline Robin, played by Bronte Carmichael] was probably born around about then.  And, you know, Christopher Robin goes off to war and comes back and she's about six or seven, so she's probably the same age as my father.  His relationship with his dad was probably really quite like that. I don't know that there was closeness, you know? My mom has seen me with my daughters and she made a remark upon it once or twice - said how different it is, how close we are now with our children and how the men back then weren’t. That made it really  interesting to play,  and I found it quite difficult in the early scenes with Bronte who’s so lovely."

"In those scenes at the beginning, when I'm reading her a story and I go to tell her that I can't come for the weekend and stuff... it was difficult.  I knew I wanted to be cold with her, but it was quite difficult to do. My instincts were not that."

The Robin Family

While there might be a message about closeness and being in touch with the ones you love, usually McGregor doesn't pay much attention to how audiences react to the underlying themes in film.

"I don't really concern myself with messages in movies, I don't like to think about that," he says. "I think that it’s up to the viewer. Everyone will receive a film in a different way and it’ll mean something different to everybody, and I think that's what lovely about any art.  It's like going into an art gallery and coming out  like 'I didn't understand it,' and you think where there isn’t anything to understand.  You either get it - it means something to you - or it doesn't." 

In the end, there's much to love about Christopher Robin, and McGregor said that one line in particular really stood out.

"It's lovely saying 'silly old bear,' there's something nice about that!"

Interview edited for length and clarity.

Disney's Christopher Robin - In theaters August 3, 2018

In Disney’s heartwarming live action adventure, the young boy who shared countless adventures with his stuffed animal friends in the Hundred Acre Wood has grown up and lost sight of what’s important in life. Now it is up to his childhood friends to venture into our world and help Christopher Robin rediscover the joys of family life, the value of friendship and to appreciate the simple pleasure in life once again.

Christopher Robin is directed by Marc Forster from a screenplay by Alex Ross Perry and Allison Schroeder and a story by Perry based on characters created by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard. The producers are Brigham Taylor and Kristin Burr, with Renée Wolfe and Jeremy Johns serving as executive producers. The film stars Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin; Hayley Atwell as his wife Evelyn; Bronte Carmichael as his daughter Madeline; and Mark Gatiss as Keith Winslow, Robin’s boss. The film also features the voices of: Jim Cummings as Winnie the Pooh and Tigger; Brad Garrett as Eeyore; Toby Jones as Owl; Nick Mohammed as Piglet; Peter Capaldi as Rabbit; and Sophie Okonedo as Kanga. Get tickets now via my affiliate, Fandango.

James Zahn

James Zahn is best-known as The Rock Father™, a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur. In January, 2019, after nearly a decade as Publisher of The Rock Father Magazine, he joined Adventure Publishing Group as Senior Editor of The Toy Book—the leading trade publication for the toy industry since 1984, as well as The Pop Insider—a destination for all things pop culture. He is also editor of The Toy Report, a weekly newsletter published by The Toy Book each Thursday. Zahn has over 25 years of experience in the entertainment, retail and publishing industries.

He regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global. A new album has been completed and is set for release this year.

James and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, FOX Business, NBC, ABC, WGN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, BusinessWire, Babble, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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