A heavenly role

Ewan McGregor and Rodrigo García on Last Days In The Desert.

by Amber Wilkinson

Ewan McGregor as Yeshua in Last Days In Desert
Ewan McGregor as Yeshua in Last Days In Desert
Ewan McGregor gets to play the ultimate good guy in his latest movie - Jesus.

The Last Days in the Desert re-imagines Christ in his final period of fasting and solitude before he went back to Jerusalem to be crucified, and portrays him as tempted by a demon - also played by McGregor. The film sees Jesus, referred to as Yeshua, come across a family on the edges of the wilderness and become embroiled in trying to help them.

Tye Sheridan, Ewan McGregor and Rodrigo García at the Sundance Q&A
Tye Sheridan, Ewan McGregor and Rodrigo García at the Sundance Q&A Photo: Amber Wilkinson
At a lively Q&A after the film's premiere at the Eccles theatre during Sundance Film Festival on Monday, McGregor and director Rodrigo García took questions from the audience concerning everything from how playing Jesus might permanently change an actor to why Garcia included a fart gag.

McGregor said: "It's an extraordinary situation to be playing two roles in any film. It's quite daunting when one of them's Jesus. I had to sort of get over the idea that I was playing him and start operating like I normally do as an actor - looking into who I was playing and what they want and need and aspire to."

"As soon as I managed to get over the fact that he was Jesus and started looking at the man, that became much easier. The trouble was, when I arrived on set I realised I had spent no time at all thinking about the devil, or demon, I'd sort of left him by the wayside. But he seemed to be much easier to play."

"Experience?" chipped in García.

"The truth is I couldn't have done it without my friend Nash Edgerton, who's here," said McGregor. "We've worked together for years, since we met in 1999 on Moulin Rouge and worked together on episodes two and three of the Star Wars films and on many films since then.

Ewan McGregor:
Ewan McGregor: "The trouble was, when I arrived on set I realised I had spent no time at all thinking about the devil, or demon, I'd sort of left him by the wayside" Photo: Amber Wilkinson
Nash is a great stuntman and he's been my stunt double in many films, he's a filmmaker and stunt co-ordinator and we had him organise and co-ordinate our stunt on the cliff because there's nobody we trust more to make that safe. And it was a very serious situation - with real actors being lowered over the edge of a cliff and crew right up against the edge of the cliff. No one was hurt and we were all very safe because we were in his hands.

But also, because he was there, I asked him if he would mind playing opposite me when I was playing the scenes with myself. So Nash learnt both parts and I learnt both parts and then we would shoot the scene one way, then swap positions and shoot the scene the other way. Nash obviously, was watching me, because when we swapped round, I realised he was playing the part that I just shot with the same rhythms and flow that I had been doing it with. So I was able to really play off myself, because he was very accurate. Because of Nash, really, it works."

If replying to a question about playing Jesus sounds tricky, García also had to justify his decision to include a moment where one of the characters farts audibly.

He said: "It was just a moment in the movie, where they reached the river. It was less plotted than being sensual. I think I didn't want to forget that these are people - at least I'm only dealing with the human side of Yeshua, so I thought I needed something quite human and quite pedestrian - so, why not some gas?"

Finally, McGregor was asked if playing the Son of God had made any lasting impression on him.

The 43-year-old added: "I find it quite moving to watch. It was a wonderful experience. There was a great stillness to be had out there in the desert when shots were being set up. We weren't running back to our trailer, drinking Starbucks, we were looking at the sky. It was very beautiful and that's left a mark."

Read what Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans said about scoring the film here

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