July 30, 2008 / 2:25 PM / 10 years ago

Ewan McGregor finds African trek oddly peaceful

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman braved the specter of armed kidnappers and fierce hyenas when they set out on a motorcycle journey in Africa but what they encountered was quite different: little violence and curious kids.

A documentary film, “Long Way Down,” which shows just how peaceful their journey was, will enjoy a brief run in theaters starting on Thursday, then appear on television on the Fox Reality Channel beginning on Saturday.

McGregor, 37, star of the recent “Star Wars” movies, said the documentary of his three-month trek from Scotland to South Africa upends many past portrayals of Africa.

“We are bombarded with two things, images of famine and wildlife, and we (McGregor and Boorman) always felt that there’s a lot of other sides to that continent and I hope that we showed that,” he told Reuters.

Shot in 2007, “Long Way Down” is a follow-on to McGregor and Boorman’s 2004 journey from London eastward to New York. On that trip, they passed through Europe, Asia and North America. That trip was captured in the documentary “Long Way Round.”

“Long Way Down” starts with McGregor and Boorman in England gearing up for the trip by taking a survival course. One instructor warns them to sleep with their heads in their tents to avoid hyena bites. In a life-like training scenario, armed kidnappers ambush the celebrities.

But McGregor said all the concern about dangers proved to be overblown. “We didn’t come across any trouble at all, contrary to a lot of the advice we got,” he said.

Actor Ewan McGregor ponders on a question during a panel for the Fox Reality series "Long Way Down" at the Television Critics Association 2008 summer press tour in Beverly Hills, July 11, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni


Instead, they met crowds of curious children, the European owners of a thriving flower farm, a talkative tribe of bushmen and a fervent Rastafarian who believes in an Afro-centric movement involving a return to Africa from Jamaica.

The two actors biked around the often-visited pyramids of Egypt but they also cut through back roads -- suffering bumps and falls from riding over rocks and soft sand.

While they saw no violence, McGregor and Boorman did witness the result of tribal conflict when they visited a school in Kenya where children bore scars from a shooting.

“It’s very difficult to take it in, that those kinds of things can happen, that people can murder children en masse like that,” McGregor said. “You’re right away feeling very confused about it, with a kind of hope that those people have rebuilt their lives,” he said.

Born in Scotland, McGregor had a breakout role as a heroin addict in the 1996 movie “Trainspotting.” He also starred as the Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” and “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.”

Boorman, 41, is a friend of McGregor and an actor and motorcycle enthusiast. The British-born actor starred in the 2001 movie “The Bunker” and the 2004 movie “In My Country,” which was directed by his father, John Boorman.

Dan Diamond, vice president of National CineMedia Fathom, which books special events in theaters, said his company will show “Long Way Down” in more than 430 North American theaters on Thursday, in a special one-day screening series meant to bring together motorcycle riders and anyone interested in McGregor and Boorman’s journey.

“They’re not riding superhighways down through Africa,” he said. “They’re riding down into places where people haven’t had the chance to go.”

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Eric Walsh

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