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Playback: Ewan McGregor on ‘American Pastoral,’ ‘Trainspotting’ Sequel and More

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

On today’s show, I’m talking to Variety Deputy Awards and Features editor Jenelle Riley once again, about the on-going Toronto Film Festival. There have been a number of big stories out of the festival, from Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” to the resurgence of “La La Land” and “Moonlight” to the recently acquired “Jackie,” starring Natalie Portman. We talk through the landscape and ponder what could win the fest’s coveted People’s Choice Award this weekend.

Later on Ewan McGregor (21: 15) drops by the Variety offices for a chat about his directorial debut, “American Pastoral,” which premiered at the festival. It’s a project that has been important to McGregor for a number of years, even before he was set to helm it himself: He was attached to play the film’s central character, Seymour “Swede” Levov, for three years before it finally fell to him to take the reigns himself or let it slip by.

Listen to this week’s episode of “Playback” below. New episodes air every Thursday.

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“We kept losing directors, a bit like the drummer in ‘Spinal Tap,'” McGregor jokes. “It was one of those situations where — it’s happened to me before in movies — where after two or three hit and misses like that, usually you think it’s not going to happen and you let it go. And I didn’t ever let this one go. I couldn’t somehow. I wanted to play Swede so badly. And then when it really looked like it wasn’t going to happen after about three years, I suddenly thought, ‘This could be the one I’ve been waiting for.'”

Beyond that we also get into McGregor’s busy schedule this year. He’s also starring in Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis biopic, “Miles Ahead,” and taking on the daunting role of Jesus in Rodrigo Garcia’s “Last Days in the Desert.”

“I started reading all these books that sort of disprove the son-of-God part of Jesus’ story, and ‘this is who he probably was and there were other preachers,’ this and that,” McGregor says. “And I realized as I was reading them that they were entirely unhelpful, because I was to be playing Jesus who is the son of God, who is in the desert trying to communicate with his father and is being frustrated that he’s not able to do so. So I put all those books aside and I started thinking about a son, a man, who is having problems communicating with his dad.”

And McGregor has a lot on the horizon, including Bill Condon’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast” for Disney, in which he plays the candelabra Lumiere, and the eagerly anticipated sequel to “Trainspotting,” the 1996 indie hit that put him and director Danny Boyle on the map.

“It was amazing to work with Danny again and the boys,” McGregory says. “We each talked about it — Jonny [Lee Miller], and Ewen Bremner and Robert Carlyle — we talked about stepping back in their shoes, of Renton and Spud and Sick Boy and Begbie. It was sort of a little scary, the idea of maybe you wouldn’t be able to get back in there, to be back in the skin of a character you played 20 years ago … But all of those worries somehow fit so beautifully into the minds of the characters in the movie that it was never an issue. Once we all had our first scene done, it felt really easy. It was like meeting an old friend again.”

And there’s more, from talk of the rare breed of immortality his work in the “Star Wars” universe will enjoy for years to come, to a look back at the legacy of Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge!” 15 years on. Check it all out at the streaming link above, and be sure to subscribe below!

Subscribe to “Playback” at iTunes.

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