Ewan McGregor and Mary Elizabeth Winstead Go From ‘Fargo’ to ‘Moscow’


The first time that Ewan McGregor and Mary Elizabeth Winstead shot a scene together, they were in a bathtub, mostly naked. McGregor, in a maximally unflattering wig, was sticking his gut out as far as it would go.

“You were just trying to be as grotesque as you could be,” Winstead said affectionately.

This was on a recent afternoon in the chilly basement of a midtown hotel where McGregor and Winstead perched on a love seat, his jacket over his shoulders, his hand on her knee. They met in 2017, on the set of the third season of “Fargo,” co-starring as Ray Stussy, a hapless parole officer, and Nikki Swango, his grifter sweetheart. (McGregor also played Emmit Stussy, Ray’s twin.) Two years later, in 2019, they filmed “Birds of Prey” but did not share scenes. They are also both participants in the “Star Wars” franchise — McGregor in the ’90s and ’00s films and the more recent “Obi-Wan Kenobi” series, Winstead in “Ahsoka” — though again they did not share scenes. In 2021, Winstead gave birth to their son. The next year, they married.

Now, they have reunited onscreen for “A Gentleman in Moscow,” which premiered Friday on Paramount+ and debuts Sunday on Showtime. An adaptation of Amor Towles’s novel, it stars McGregor as Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, a mustached aristocrat sentenced to house arrest in a luxury hotel in the years following the Russian Revolution. Winstead appears as Anna Urbanova, an actress and the count’s sometimes girlfriend. Somehow, in the confines of the hotel, they make a life.

In an hourlong conversation, in a hotel somewhat more modest than Moscow’s Metropol, they discussed claustrophobia, facial hair and the benefits and detriments of working with a spouse. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

How did you get involved with “A Gentleman in Moscow”?

EWAN MCGREGOR It came to me first. I loved the grand nature of the drama, the love and loss and romance. I feel like it’s rarer and rarer to get a chance to play that stuff. At the heart of it, it’s about a man who’s learning to be a husband and learning to be a dad and crawling out of his ideas of the aristocratic way of life to find who he really is.

MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD You had hinted, cheekily, that there was a great female character in there. Reading the book, I just thought, ‘Oh my God, what a great, juicy opportunity that would be to play her.’ But I was very tentative because the last thing I wanted was to try to win a role and then have somebody think I was trying to get something out of being married to you. I just wanted to quietly say, “I think it’s a great role if you think I’m right for it.”

Did you ever worry that it would feel claustrophobic, shooting in these few hotel rooms?

MCGREGOR It had to feel like that. It should feel like that. It focuses a magnifying glass on these characters.

WINSTEAD That’s one of the great things about confined spaces. As an actor, it’s exciting because there’s nowhere to go but into the words. It’s great to know that’s going to be the focus, rather than pyrotechnics.

Did you grow your own mustache?

MCGREGOR I had to. I couldn’t have a stuck-on mustache. I’ve had them in the past and they’re terrible to wear. You come in in the morning, you’ve had to shave and then you put glue on that shaved skin, which is [expletive] horrible. Then you stick it on and it stops you from moving your face. The last thing you want to be thinking about when you’re acting is not moving. So I grew my own.

During the strike, I didn’t know when we’d be going back, so I just grew a beard around it. Because you don’t want a mustache in your real life. I mean, you do if you like mustaches, but I don’t.

Tell me about Alexander.

MCGREGOR He’s an aristocrat. He enjoyed the high life of his class at that time. Then it’s taken away during the revolution. He’s allowed to live, but the rest of his class is destroyed. So he’s somewhat lost.

And what about Anna? Is she a good actress?

WINSTEAD Anna believes that she is. I do think she takes it very seriously. It’s something positive in her life that gives her a sense of purpose. She does hang in there, even if she’s not always a star. That has to count for something.

They have a superb meet-cute, when the count tames Anna’s Russian wolfhounds. What’s their initial attraction?

WINSTEAD I instantly find him very intriguing. The way that he handles my dogs, it sparks a little something. Our repartee makes me further intrigued. Then hearing about him and knowing that he’s imprisoned in this hotel, the mystery is interesting to me as a woman who gets bored very easily by most men that I’m around. Over time, that leads to much, much more.

It’s so lovely how much time it takes. It’s many years into their relationship before they realize they’re in love. There’s something beautiful about that slow progression. Especially for Anna. She resists that feeling. But it hits her like a wave.

I understand that you didn’t know each other before “Fargo.” But Mary, is it true that you had a crush on him as a teenager?

WINSTEAD The thing is, if you were a teenager when “Trainspotting” and “Moulin Rouge” came out, I don’t think you could not have an awareness. But I didn’t have any posters on my wall. I wasn’t writing his name in my notebook.

Good, that would be creepy. What was it like working together on “Fargo”?

WINSTEAD We loved it.

MCGREGOR We did. It was amazing writing. I feel like there were two shows because I played the two characters. But our story line was amazing. To play Ray and Nikki, what a great pair, what a great partnership, what a great oddball couple.

WINSTEAD I remember meeting with Noah [Hawley, the showrunner] and my only question was, “Does she really love him?” And he was like, “Yes.” And that made it so much more interesting, to play a grifter with a heart, as cheesy as that sounds. So much more fun to have something real at the center of it.

Mary, earlier you alluded to a downside of working together, in that people might think you were offered a role for reasons other than your talent.

WINSTEAD Of course, there’s always going to be one person on the internet who makes that comment, but I’m secure enough to not worry about that because I know the truth, which is that people want to work with me. When we were first together, I was up for a role in something that he was in. They were worried we would bring some sort of drama to the set, which we thought was very funny because we’re not very dramatic people. But you have to let time deal with that. Now it’s clear that we’re a pretty levelheaded couple, that we’re not going around smashing vases. Other than that, it’s really been just upsides, which is that people who know us and like our work are happy and excited to put us together occasionally, which is a really lucky thing for us.

MCGREGOR There’s no downside in terms of actually doing it. It’s only great to go to work together, get to work together, come home together. It’s as good as it could be, really.

What was it like working together this time?

MCGREGOR It made it so much more fun to play all the cold-shoulder stuff at the beginning of the story. After they’ve spent the night together, she won’t speak to him or look at him.

WINSTEAD Then the later stuff, when things get deep, it was very emotional. I can’t talk about it without crying. It was just all there, which is an amazing thing. It’s just like, Oh, I’m here in front of my partner. So I’ll just let all those feelings wash over.

Did you like him with that mustache?

WINSTEAD You know, I did. I did for a long time. But I did start to miss his face underneath it.

Will you work together again?

WINSTEAD I don’t know.

MCGREGOR (simultaneously) Yes!

WINSTEAD We hope so. It’s just about finding the right beautiful thing.



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