Last Days in the Desert — starring Ewan McGregor as both Jesus and Satan — is now playing in a handful of theatres across the U.S. So here’s one last round-up of interviews with the writer-director and actors who made the film.
First, writer-director Rodrigo Garcia spoke to Crave (spoiler warning!):
You bring up a point about the visual look about the Pasolini films, for example, but when it came time to decide about your film, were you particularly interested in historical accuracy? What was most important to you visually?
You know, what is historical accuracy when it comes to the gospels? There are contradictions in the gospels and not everything adds up. I wanted to give an impression of historical accuracy. I didn’t bother to say whether the family were Jews or not. They’re probably not Jews because she has tattoos, and then she burns her husband’s body which is something the Jews wouldn’t do… although in this case she’s not doing it to burn the body, but to allow the boy to go free.
I mean, you want to suspend disbelief. I think it looks like a world that could have been. The way they’re dressed, the way they live, the way they eat or how they sit. But whether it’s particular to Bedouins or Jews or any other group, I don’t know. I think you want the story to have an air of authenticity to it but…
Garcia is also briefly quoted in Ann Hornaday’s Washington Post article on ‘The rise of Christian movies for the rest of us’:
Although García — who grew up in Mexico City, the son of novelist Gabriel García Márquez — isn’t devout, he quickly realized that “if Jesus is in your movie, your movie’s about Jesus.” Accordingly, “Last Days in the Desert” works both as a timeless narrative about fathers and sons and as a deeply felt interpretation of obedience, self-sacrifice and longing for God’s voice. “I’m not a religious person,” García said, “but I’m not free from being awed by the mystery. . . . The mystery is still the mystery, and I’m very happy I could explore it in this movie. I think Jesus faced something that every person faces, which is mortality, and the fact that we live in time and that life ends — it ended for Jesus, for his human side, at least — which is a stunning fact.”
Meanwhile, Ciaran Hinds, who plays the “father”, spoke to Metro:
Hinds has some connection to the film’s religious side. Born in Northern Ireland in the early ’50s, he was brought up Catholic. “I was an altar boy and all that. Now I’m a lapsed Catholic,” he recalls. “But I salute people of faith. I’m not particularly happy with huge, organized religion, because I think it’s a personal matter. But I do understand these organizations exist to help people.” He’s not crazy about the extreme sects. “My relationship to fundamental religion is a quiet despising of them, because they tolerate and brook no other ideas.”
Tye Sheridan, who plays the “son”, spoke to Uproxx:
What was your initial impression of García’s script?
I remember meeting with Rodrigo — I was probably 16 at the time, cocky 16-year-old from Texas — and I sat down with Rodrigo and he said, “I’m making this film and it’s a father and son story.” He started telling me about it and he said, “You would play the son of this man who is tied to his land and his home and you’re very rebellious, you want to get out and break away from everything that that stands for.” He asked me if I wanted to do it and I said, “Yeah, that sounds great.” And I asked him about an accent and he said, “Well, as long as you don’t sound too Texan you’ll be fine.” And so when I read the script I fell in love with it immediately. I think this film is very much a coming of age story about being a man, what it means to be a man, what it means to have your own intentions and desires in life, and where you draw the line between family and your internal desires. I have a very strong relationship with my father, [my character] does as well. I think for generations what one man means to another is almost unexplainable but in the movie you get a sense of what that means, that relationship between a father and a son. That really popped off the page for me.
And the aforementioned Ewan McGregor spoke to We Got This Covered:
Finally, Emmanuel Lubezki has posted another photo from the film’s set:
If I see any other interviews related to this film, I will add them to this post.
May 16 update: McGregor spoke to the radio station WTOP in Washington, DC:
“I [was] very daunted by playing Jesus … and thinking about how to portray somebody who’s known personally in a very deep way by so many people in the world,” McGregor said. “Then I realized once we got down there in the desert … that I hadn’t given The Devil very much thought at all. But he seemed to come a little bit more naturally to me anyway. I don’t know what that tells you about me.” . . .
“I know Chivo, our kids go to the same school,” McGregor said. “I like his style. … We had some night scenes around a campfire, so there were a few lights, but really we were in the middle of a desert so we couldn’t drive [gear] in. … During the day, he really only used available light … It was just amazing to watch his artistry and how important it was to be shooting in the right light at the right time.”
McGregor and Garcia both spoke to Rob Bell on his podcast, too:
May 18 update: McGregor also spoke to New York magazine’s Vulture blog:
So what was your “in”?
I could relate to somebody getting frustrated with his father, or feeling that his father is not listening to him or like his father doesn’t understand him. I love my father, but we’ve all been through moments, right, where you’re like “Ahh!” Then there are some really beautiful moments where we see him doubt himself as a young rabbi. There’s a beautiful scene where he thinks the mother is asking him for advice in the dead of night and he speaks to her and we see him saying, “I’ve got to come up with better words.” What a human moment! We’d never imagine Jesus would doubt himself, but there he was. It’s like the moments I have when I’m acting where I go, “Really? Is that the best I could have done in that scene?” We all feel that, all the time, so those moments were what I keyed into.
June 8 update: I just discovered that the Directors Guild of America posted a video of a 48-minute post-screening Q&A between Garcia and Scott Derrickson. The website says the screening took place May 15, but at one point Derrickson indicates that the Oscars have not taken place yet, which would place it prior to February 28.
“The idea hit me like a lightning bolt,” he shared. “What came to me was very clear and succinct that in the midst of his wilderness wandering, that Jesus would meet a father and son who lived in the desert, who had a disagreement, and that Jesus would get sucked into it. Later, I went back to find that books that shared different thoughts on Jesus’ experience. Rather than finding that a constraint, it liberated me.” . . .
“What emerges is a Jesus who is adolescent – taking his first few steps into coming back, and submerging himself in Jerusalem and his real ministry. I felt that this was an initial trial where he didn’t reveal himself but was trying to get his feet wet engaging with people, connecting with them, guiding them, and providing answers to bigger questions. It did make me think – it takes you closer to that person, to the ‘other,’ what must his human side have gone through.”
September 15 update: McGregor spoke to Variety’s ‘Playback’ podcast (the section in which he talks about Last Days in the Desert begins at the 34:36 mark):
October 20 update: McGregor spoke to the Los Angeles Times:
The fact is, McGregor says he wouldn’t even know how to chart a career in a more conventional fashion if he wanted to. “I’m not very clever with it,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t really think that way. I made this brilliant film last year called ‘Last Days in the Desert,’ where I play Jesus and the Devil. None of my agents were that enthusiastic about me doing it because it’s the kind of film that I guess no one is really going to go see. But it was an amazing experience and I just wanted to do it so badly. I’m not thinking beyond, ‘I’ve got to play this part.’ ”
October 29 update: McGregor also spoke to Heatstreet:
As a first time filmmaker you’re directing a story inspired by a Philip Roth novel. Do you like reading?
I have always been fascinated by Hemingway, Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and then Kerouac. I chose in part to do the movie Last Days in the Desert as the director, Rodrigo Garcia, is the son of the great writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who I have always admired. He, like his father, has a great sensibility. It was a spiritual experience for me to work with him, as we were shooting in the desert. I was playing Lucifer and Jesus, both of them, but it was also a family story.
If I see any other interviews related to this film, I will add them to this post.