Ewan McGregor’s next starring role is the creepy-sounding follow up to The Shining, Doctor Sleep.
Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, Doctor Sleep stars McGregor as the older Danny Torrance, now an adult trying to put the horrific events of The Overlook Hotel behind him. Struggling with past trauma, his relative peace is disturbed by a young child who shares his gift of the psychic power known as ‘shining’, and she needs his help to stop a cult that is pursuing her.
It promises to be an unsettling performance from an actor who is usually best known for noble roles – think Jedi Knights in Star Wars, romantic Parisian dreamers in Moulin Rouge!, or struggling writers in Christopher Robin.
However, anyone delving into the Scottish actor’s filmography will discover a selection of sinister characters that stands him in good stead for Doctor Sleep…
1. Shallow Grave (1994)
Two years before he was launched to international success with Trainspotting, Ewan McGregor would begin his long association with director Danny Boyle in their sensational first collaboration.
Shallow Grave explores the deterioration in the friendship of three Edinburgh flat-mates (McGregor, Christopher Eccleston and Kerry Fox) after finding a dead body next to a suitcase full of money.
While McGregor’s character Alex doesn’t become as unhinged as Eccleston’s David, he’s nevertheless slowly sucked into a world of deceit and backstabbing that leaves him at the end of the film lying on the floor, with a knife in his shoulder, and a sinister grin on his face.
2. Night Watch (1997)
Many full-time students take a job to make ends meet, but Martin (McGregor) gets a lot more than he bargained for in his new role as night-watchman at a morgue.
The mild-mannered Martin soon finds himself suspected of a string of murders, and must work out who did it before the real killer makes him the next victim.
Co-written by Steven Soderbergh and co-starring Nick Nolte, Patricia Arquette and Josh Brolin, the creepiness pervades this claustrophobic thriller (based on an earlier Danish movie), with McGregor giving a notably paranoid and not always sympathetic performance.
3. Eye of The Beholder (1999)
You might think that Ashley Judd’s serial killer would be the most unsettling character in this late-nineties thriller, but it’s McGregor who takes the creepy plaudits as the intelligence agent who tracks her down, only to become obsessed.
Talking to an imaginary version of his young daughter, his character Stephen slowly descends into madness and actually tries to help Judd’s character from being caught. While the film’s depiction of surveillance seems somewhat dated in this era of smart tech, there’s no denying it remains a striking and creepy role for McGregor to have taken on.
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4. Son Of A Gun (2014)
When you think of a hardened criminal, the star of Salmon Fishing In The Yemen may not be the first face that comes to mind. And yet, McGregor was a highlight of this Australian thriller, which co-stars Brenton Thwaites and eventual Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander.
Portraying armed robber Brendan Lynch, McGregor proved he can take himself to some very dark places when the role requires it.
5. Birds of Prey (2020)
OK, so we don’t know exactly what this performance will look like, given that the next film in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is still four months away from release. But it’s safe to say that playing a comic book villain named Black Mask may require a few sinister characteristics.
Historically, Black Mask has been one of the edgier villains in Batman’s rogues gallery – a criminal mastermind with a penchant for extreme violence, thus far he has only been portrayed in animated form on screen, as well as the gritty Arkham video game series.
With the character’s live-action debut, however, it’s likely that this will be one of McGregor’s most unsettling performances yet, pitting him against Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and the rest of the Birds of Prey. The movie is released on 7th February 2020.
Got some favourite creepy Ewan McGregor performances of your own? Let us know @Cineworld.
James Luxford is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.