On the morning of April 14, 2004, two men set out from London on a pair of souped-up BMW motorcycles with the goal of circling the globe. Adventurous, sure. Still, it was nothing that hadn’t been done before by like-minded men in their 30s itching to prove they could still act like oat-sowing explorers — a premature midlife crisis propelled by hubris and ridiculous amounts of horsepower. Except these weren’t just two anonymous guys on a quest, but movie star Ewan McGregor, 33, and his best mate, actor Charley Boorman, 38, son of director John Boorman.
One hundred and seven grueling days later, McGregor and Boorman roared into New York City only slightly worse for the wear — well, maybe more than slightly, judging from photos of McGregor’s freakish beard. Their 20,000-mile road trip, which took them through the hairiest parts of Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Siberia, is the subject of Long Way Round, a travelogue published by Atria Books (out Nov. 2), as well as a six-part Bravo series debuting Oct. 28. We sat
down with Boorman and the young Padawan learner in the London garage where they store their bikes.
EW The two of you met on the set of 1997’s The Serpent’s Kiss. You must meet a lot of people on film sets — why did you hit it off so well?
MCGREGOR Because of motorbikes. Also, when we met, my daughter was 8 months old and his child was about a year. When I met Charley, the first words out of his mouth were: ”You ride bikes?” I thought he was the chef or something. By the end of the movie, I asked Charley to be my child’s godfather. And then when Charley’s second daughter came along, he asked me to be her godfather.
EW I’ve never even seen Serpent’s Kiss.
MCGREGOR You’re not alone.
BOORMAN I don’t think it even made it to the States.
EW Is it any good?
EW Charley, as a kid you were in your dad’s film Deliverance, right?
BOORMAN I wasn’t the banjo player. I was an ugly kid, but not that ugly. At the very end of the movie, Jon Voight comes back to his wife and he sits on a sofa and I play his boy. I was 4 or 5.
EW Do you remember it?
BOORMAN No, but I loved the tricycle that I got for it. I was supposed to say something in the movie, but I had a big abscess in my mouth, so I ended up not saying anything.
MCGREGOR You got a tricycle — be grateful.
EW Ewan, in 2002 you did a PBS documentary watching polar bears migrate in remote northern Canada. Was that your first adventure?
MCGREGOR You have to do stuff like that now and again. When you’ve got time for a holiday, it doesn’t necessarily have to mean you go and lie on a beach somewhere. I love it when it’s minus 40 and you’ve got to get four or five layers on before you go outside.
EW So when did you first plan this trip? [I point to a 10-foot-wide world map on the wall with a long red string marking their route.]
MCGREGOR I love looking at that! About two years ago I phoned up Charley and said, ”You better come over to the house.” I pulled out the map and whispered to him, ”What about the whole thing?”