Ewan McGregor has a ride-or-die partner. His name is Charley Boorman, and the two aren’t content with the idea of a simple dude weekend away from their regular lives.
McGregor and Boorman spent a hunk of last year traveling 13,000 miles on rocky and impassable roads, in searing daylight or at night in a blizzard around Central and South America on electric Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
What could go wrong?
“Battery failure, freezing conditions, snowstorms,” says McGregor, 49.
And forget about using any movie star mojo to fix problems or gather perks with the locals. In one town, the Scottish actor — known for playing Obi-Wan Kenobi — asked the local kids if they recognized him from the “Star Wars” franchise. “I looked into beautiful faces shaking their heads from side to side. They never heard of the movies,” McGregor says with a laugh.
The adventure is chronicled in the documentary series “Long Way Up,” which starts this weekend on Apple TV+.
Review-Journal: How do you complete a major motorcycle journey in the age of COVID-19?
Ewan McGregor: We got so lucky because we finished the trip late last year right before Christmas. Had we left any later, we’d probably be stuck somewhere right now because of travel restrictions. I do love that the series is coming out now, because perhaps in this age of COVID, you can at least travel vicariously with us.
Why Central and South America?
Charley and I have known each other about 25 years since we made a film together way back in the day called “Deception’s Kiss.” We both loved cycles and have done trips we’ve documented in London, New York, Scotland and South Africa. I’m the one who always wanted to travel to South America. I guess there is just this yearning for the road in places unknown that never leaves me.
So, your idea of an ideal Sunday is …
I’m out there, on a motorcycle, experiencing different ways of life. It’s the most fulfilling thing. It’s very good for the soul to remind yourself that we’re all human beings just having different experiences. Your sense of humanity is affirmed when you can see it for yourself.
What struck you about the people during this most recent journey?
We lead fortunate lives in America and Great Britain. We forget that many people don’t have the same priorities as we do or the same life. Also, there have been terrible things said about the people in South America. It was nice to be out there showing people that you can be in the right place at the right time with people different than you. We had nothing but good experiences.
Didn’t the locals also save your butts?
Definitely! We broke down near this tiny town and the locals came and got us. They didn’t know we were actors. We were just two travelers. They brought us to their home, sat us down and made us breakfast. That kind of generosity will stay with me forever.
Still, they had never heard of “Star Wars”?
(Laughs) People in these small villages are too busy getting on with life up in those mountains. There isn’t a multiplex to be found. This did make me laugh. I did say, “Well, I do these movies …” We travel like they don’t know who we are, and why should they know us? These kids live on the top of a mountain in Peru. Their experience is so much different. They don’t have movies at all.
What do we take for granted in the U.S. that isn’t taken as lightly in these towns?
We watched kids and parents really help with and support their schools. The parents just wanted their children educated. Meanwhile, the kids sometimes had to walk five or six hours home on a Friday after living at school all week. It was the only way, and they made that sacrifice in order to be educated.
What were the challenges of riding electric bikes?
We didn’t really think it through before we started. These bikes needed electricity to recharge. We had to learn how to manage the battery life of bikes. And then there were days that were so cold that the batteries didn’t perform well. We just kept moving forward because at heart we are bloody optimists.
What was the biggest takeaway from this journey?
You must nurture your friendships. Take the time even if you’re a busy adult. We’re all busy. Call an old friend or, better yet, go out there and have a new adventure together when it’s safe. Get back in line with each other. You won’t regret it.