From writer/director Rodrigo García, Last Days in the Desert follows a holy man known as Yeshua (Ewan McGregor), who has spent weeks subsisting on only water and prayer. On his way out of the wilderness, he comes across an ordinary family in crisis and struggles with the Devil (also played by McGregor) over their fate.
At the press day for this film, which is an imagined chapter from Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and praying in the desert, actor Tye Sheridan spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about playing the discontented son of a family living out in the desert, making a structurally simple film that is deceptively complex, focusing on the humanity of the characters, and how making movies and being on set is the best film school that he could go to. He also talked about the excitement of working with Steven Spielberg for Ready Player One, his own personal obsession with the world of virtual reality, and when being a part of the X-Men franchise, with X-Men: Apocalypse, actually became real for him.
Collider: How was the experience of making this film and getting to be a part of something so atypical, with an unusually short script (of about 60 pages instead of about 120 pages) and a small cast and crew?
TYE SHERIDAN: I think the film, on its surface and structurally, is quite simple, but there is a complexity beyond the structure of the film, with the two characters – and by that, I mean Ewan [McGregor] playing two characters – and him getting caught up with this family’s drama, between a father and son, is almost metaphorical to his relationship with his father.
In making a movie like this, did you think about the weight of who these characters actually are, or did you try to stay focused on the humanity of it all?
SHERIDAN: I think you do focus on the humanity and the simplicity of the characters. There’s not a lot of complex dialogue, and everything is very simple, straightforward and on-the-nose, but in a good way. The beats in the story just pop off the page and you understand the conflict. The movie is very easy to follow, but yet, there are underlying themes and messages that some people catch and some people may not. The film is very much a father-son story that is relatable, as well as the ultimate father-son story, if you will.
What was it like to work with these actors?
SHERIDAN: I think everybody was in it for the same reason because we all had a lot of passion for the project and we all love Rodrigo [García]. Everyone who worked on the film was top-notch, not only in front of the cameras, but behind the cameras. The heads of the departments were all very talented. And it was a small set. It was nice, just getting to know everyone. You had the opportunity to sit down next to Rodrigo or Ewan, and just ask them questions and learn from them. There was so much openness in the collaboration on the set.
You’ve had a great career already, but you’re still relatively new to this business and you’re still pretty young. What’s it like to get to work with the very talented directors you’ve already gotten to work with?
SHERIDAN: It’s very special. I think you have to soak up every moment and every chance you have to learn from these guys or gals that you work with, who are just amazing and talented, and who have their own voice and are very unique and special in what they’re doing. I’m just so grateful and honored to have been a part of this film and to have worked with everyone on it, and I’m also really proud of the film.
Do you get nervous, going into each project that you do, or do you just get really excited?
SHERIDAN: It’s more excitement than anything, but there’s an anxiety, like having pre-game jitters. It’s like those butterflies you get before you go on stage, although I’ve never done theater or any live performance. I did stand-up comedy once, but we’re not going to talk about that. Sometimes you get nervous, but you understand where the root and the source of that feeling comes from. You’re challenging yourself and going out of your comfort zone, and to do that is almost a comforting feeling. You get that bug in yours stomach that makes you feel a little uneasy, but that’s when you know that you’re making the right choices.
Now, you’re getting ready to work for Steven Spielberg. What does that mean to you? Is that just beyond cool?
SHERIDAN: On every level, yes. The man is a living legend. You often wonder, “Why me? How have I gotten so lucky, in my career, to work with people of this stature?” I think it’s exciting, just the idea that I would be able to stand on the set with Mr. Spielberg and ask him a question about filmmaking, or ask him why a certain camera movement, or why this choice, or whether he can give me advice. It’s nice, but I’ve had that throughout my career. I’ve been so honored and so lucky to work with some amazing people. I’ve collaborated on amazing sets and with amazing crews. For me, learning about cinema and the craft and the art of it, through making films with great people, has been such a cool experience. This is the best film school there is, just to make movies and be there on set.
What was the audition process like for Ready Player One?
SHERIDAN: I sent in several self-tapes, and then I was invited to come to L.A. and do a chemistry read with Olivia Cooke, in a room with Mr. Spielberg. He was holding the camera in the audition, and he shot it from three different angles. He did a frontal two-shot, and then two side angles. We did maybe two takes of each set-up, and that was it. I thought, “Geez, I don’t know how I did. Maybe there weren’t enough takes. I could have done better.” But I was at peace after the audition, just because I was really proud of myself for making it that far. When I went to the audition, I called both of my parents and said, “Obviously, I’d love to do the film. It would be life-changing. But even if it doesn’t happen, I’m going to go into this room and soak it up and enjoy it, and be grateful for the opportunity.” And I was. After the audition, I was at peace with that. But then, about a month later, I got a call. It was my agents and they said, “You’re going to be working with Steven Spielberg this summer.”
It’s a project that people are definitely really excited about.
SHERIDAN: I’m a fan, as well.
What did you think of the book, once you had a chance to read it?
SHERIDAN: I haven’t finished it. I’m reading it now, and I’m about half-way through. What’s great about the book and about the story is that it’s such a strong and honest depiction of what is to come, not only in entertainment, but for our future. I think that there will be a different plane of existence that is a virtual realm, and I think this movie is the key note to portraying that in entertainment. Potentially, it’s a huge milestone for virtual reality in cinema. And I was obsessed with virtual reality before I even found out that they were doing the film. Before I had a chance to audition, I was researching virtual reality with a friend of mine. He came to me a few years ago and was like, “Man, with all of the advancements in virtual reality, I’m telling you, Tye, it’s going to be the next big thing. We have to write something or make something in virtual reality.”
So, we became really obsessed with any virtual reality content that we could get our hands on. And then, I was sent the script for this movie and told him all about it. I was like, “Steven Spielberg is doing this movie that’s an adaptation of this book, Ready Player One. You wouldn’t believe, in the story, this game exists and he is the most famous avatar in this virtual world, but in real life, he’s a loser. It’s such a relatable character. In his nature, there are contradictions between who he is inside the video game in the OASIS, and who he is in his real life.” It was so cool, just reading it. I thought, “Man, I probably won’t ever get this movie, but who cares?! I got to read this script. I can’t wait to see it. And I’m so happy it’s being made by Steven Spielberg.
What were your most memorable moments from being on set and filming X-Men: Apocalypse?
SHERIDAN: I put the muscle suit on, the superhero suit, all of the gear, the glasses and everything, and I thought, “This is cool, but this is like a dream. This is like a fantasy. This is not reality. It can’t be.” And then, the one day it really hit me was when I walked onto set and was doing a big scene with James McAvoy. It was the first time in the movie that I meet him, inside of the X-Mansion. I remember walking onto set that morning, and it was the first time I’d ever been inside of the X-Mansion on set. I had seen all of the X-Men movies, so I was very familiar with the place, and I remember looking down at the X in the middle of the floor and looking around, and it was like I was living in the middle of the X-Men universe. And there was James McAvoy, trying to do wheelies in his wheelchair. I was like, “Wow, I’m in an X-Men movie! This is incredible!” I think that was one of the most defining moments for myself in the film, realizing the magnitude of what it meant for me. I’m just so grateful and honored to even be a part of that franchise.
Last Days in the Desert opens in theaters on May 13th.