Ewan McGregor is a busy man. In addition to making his Broadway debut in Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing” last year, the actor shot three films: the upcoming John le Carré adaptation “Our Kind of Traitor,” Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis biopic “Miles Ahead,” and “Last Days in the Desert,” in which he plays both Jesus and Satan.
Directed by Colombian veteran Rodrigo García, Sundance debutant “Last Days in the Desert” received its UK premiere at the 69th Edinburgh International Film Festival on Father’s Day—an inspired programming choice given the familial theme of the film, which sees Jesus journeying alone across a desert in search of God, tormented all along by His cunning counterpart Lucifer, who He imagines is following him.
Interviewed on stage by his fellow Scot, the radio and TV presenter Edith Bowman, for a generous 90 minutes at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre, McGregor—a dad of four—explained how the script’s beautifully written, poetic descriptions first got him on board, having met its director on holiday.
“I don’t even think [Rodrigo] even mentioned that he had a script that he wanted me to read. But when I got back, I got an email from his producer saying, ‘Rodrigo’s embarrassed, because you met him socially, to present you with the script, but we want to present you with the script.’ And there was some talk about it being a dangerous project, and that I wouldn’t want to do it anyway. Which is a bit of a red rag to a bull: ‘Oh really? I want to do it!’”
Though “Last Days” also boasts the presence of Ciarán Hinds and Tye Sheridan, McGregor spends much of it alone. In screen-time, it’s a far cry from his cameo last year in “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” As noted in the talk, McGregor is as comfortable leading a film as he is when supporting others. Such professional diversity—assisted, no doubt, by the infectious humility with which he carries himself—has helped him add a formidable list of directors to his CV.
To name just a few, McGregor has worked with Woody Allen (“Cassandra’s Dream”), Roman Polanski (“The Ghost Writer”), Ridley Scott (“Black Hawk Down”), Steven Soderbergh (“Haywire”), Peter Greenaway (“The Pillow Book”) and of course Danny Boyle, with whom he’s made four features, including his breakthrough role as Mark Renton, a heroin addict, in “Trainspotting” (1996).
“He works in a way that makes a great deal of sense,” McGregor said of Boyle. “With ‘Shallow Grave’  we went up to Edinburgh and lived in a flat together for a week. We rehearsed as if we were going to do it on the stage, really. They had all the locations and marked them out on the floor. When we came on set, we would then re-rehearse the scene alone, and if something didn’t quite work we would change it.
“But it’s very often not done that way,” the actor continued. “Producers assume that rehearsing on set is wasting time. They think you should be setting up lights. They don’t understand that you’re going to waste time that way. How can you decide the shot if you don’t know what the scene’s going to be?”
McGregor and Boyle famously fell out around the time the latter made “The Beach” (2000). But recent interviews with both have helped dampen any hard feelings, and rumors concerning a much-awaited follow-up to “Trainspotting” have subsequently increased.
“For quite a long time I didn’t want to do it,” McGregor said. “But then three or four years ago I felt differently about it. There was an unfortunate ending to my work with Danny and I’ve always missed him, missed working with him and missed the connection that we had and the work that we might have done together. But all of that’s in the past now and water under the bridge. I’ve spent time with Danny and seen him many times since. All is good. So I don’t know. I’ve never seen a script. I don’t know if it’s happening or not happening. But he knows that I would be up for it.”
It isn’t the only sequel McGregor would be interested in. Asked on his thoughts about J.J. Abrams’ eagerly anticipated “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” McGregor—who played a young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the franchise’s 1999-2005 prequels—induced laughter: “I’m excited about it as much as anyone else. I saw the trailer and it looks like he absolutely nailed it and it feels right. But I’m not sure about the [crossguard] lightsaber. If you fight with a lightsaber properly you don’t need one.”
Would McGregor return to the role, if asked? “I’ll say it publicly, here, now. I’d be happy to do the story between Episode 3, that I finished in, and Episode 4 that Alec Guinness started in. I think that would be good. Disney should definitely do that.” McGregor’s tone suggested he was half-quipping, aware that it wouldn’t be his first involvement with the studio should such a sequel be proposed. Currently in production and due for a 2017 release, Bill Condon’s live-action remake of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” (1991) will feature the Crieff-born actor as Lumiere, the Beast’s servant and singing candelabra.
It’s fourteen years since McGregor starred and sang in Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge!”, and he found the process this time around terrifying. “I’d forgotten how scary it is. You’re standing alone, and behind this glass there’s forty people. That was quite tricky. After that I went away and really got to work on my French accent.”