In retrospect, assuming the iconic role of Obi-Wan Kenobi was nothing compared to Ewan McGregor’s latest undertaking. The 45-year-old Scot plays Jesus Christ in the new drama Last Days in the Desert. Written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia (Nine Lives, Albert Nobbs) and shot by Emmanuel Lubezki (who has won the last three consecutive Academy Awards for Best Cinematography), the film imagines a 40-day trek made by Christ as he fasts, prays, soul searches, and resists the temptations of the Devil (also played by McGregor).
Last Days marks the latest bold choice for an actor who has made a career out of them. His fearlessness dates back at least 20 years, to the role that helped put McGregor on the map, playing an oddly lovable heroin addict in Danny Boyle’s 1996 cult classic Trainspotting. In our latest episode of Role Recall (watch above), McGregor talks about coming out of the toilet in that seminal drama, living out his rock star fantasy as the trou-dropping Curt Wild in Velvet Goldmine (1998), the “urban myth” that he ruined takes in the Star Wars prequels by making lightsaber noises, how Hollywood didn’t want America to know Moulin Rouge! was a musical, and one very memorable shopping experience with future Beginners Oscar winner Christopher Plummer. A few highlights:
Two years after their collaboration on the dark thriller and sleeper hit Shallow Grave, McGregor and Boyle reunited for this stylized riff on Irvine Welsh’s popular novel about drug addicts in Edinburgh. Of McGregor’s countless memorable scenes, none burned into our retinas as the one involving “The Worst Toilet in Scotland,” which he explained how they filmed in a couple “cubicles.”
Star Wars Episodes I-III (1999-2005)
McGregor said he studied the films of a younger Sir Alec Guinness to prepare to take over the mantle as Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi and got to choose his own lightsaber handle from a crate of props. As for some internet lore: “I think in the rehearsals it is fun to do the lightsaber noise while you’re fighting,” he said. “But I never did it on set. The urban myth is that I kept ruining all the takes.” Still, McGregor gave us a taste of what it would’ve sounded like if he had.
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
“We were like a traveling theater troupe,” McGregor said of himself, costar Nicole Kidman, and the rest of Baz Luhrmann’s cast and crew as they spent four months rehearsing for the film. Musicals were not yet back in vogue, though, so the actor was surprised to discover that trailers in the U.S. completely omitted any of the song-and-dance sequences. “It was like, ‘Let’s avoid the musical aspect of it at all costs.’ I never understood that.”
Last Days in the Desert opens May 13. Watch a featurette: