Ewan McGregor’s sandals are following in the footsteps of Max von Sydow, Willem Dafoe, Robert Powell, Christian Bale and Jim Caviezel. With “Last Days in the Desert,” which premiered last week at the Sundance Film Festival, McGregor becomes the latest to take on the role of Jesus. Unlike the other actors’ projects, which dramatize or twist the events of the Gospels, the details of McGregor’s portrayal aren’t plucked directly from scripture. Yet, to the credit of writer/director Rodrigo García (“Albert Nobbs,” “Six Feet Under”), it would be hard to call the film non-biblical.
Set during the final leg of Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness of Judea, “Last Days in the Desert” finds the holy man encountering, first, Satan (also played by McGregor), who fills his head with self-doubt, and, soon after, a family (Ciarán Hinds, Tye Sheridan and Ayelet Zurer) dealing with their own father-son issues. The desert dwellers he encounters are not figures from Christian credo, allowing the film to fill in holes in a chapter of Jesus’ life that isn’t fully enunciated in the Bible. Shot by Emmanuel Lubezki (“Gravity,” “Birdman”) in Southern California’s Anza-Borrego Desert, “Last Days” is a meditation on the notions of faith and spiritual nourishment, particularly as they relate to familial struggles. HuffPost Entertainment sat down with McGregor at Sundance to discuss the inevitable controversy that stems from a nonconventional take on the son of God.
Did you grow up with a religious background?
I didn’t. I grew up in a small town in Scotland, and Christianity was part of our schooling, I suppose. I went to Sunday school as a kid. At school, special occasions were marked, like Easter and Christmas, and the school was attached to a church that we had music things in. But I didn’t have religious parents and I wasn’t brought up in a religious way, no.
How did playing Jesus come about?
I met Rodrigo on holiday. Our DP, Emmanuel Lubezki, is a friend of mine. Our daughters are friends, so we know each other. We hadn’t worked together; just our kids are in school together. We went to spend Christmas with them down in Mexico, and Rodrigo was there and another friend of theirs. We got on very well; it was a great holiday and we all had a great time. It was a nice experience. After that, I got sent this script from his producer. They said to me that Rodrigo was embarrassed to come forward to me because we’d met socially and he didn’t want to suddenly break that relationship. I read the script because I really like him and I think that’s more important than anything else with your director, that you get on.