How ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ Became a Family Affair for Ewan McGregor and Mary Elizabeth Winstead

TheWrap magazine: “The more you do of this, the more you want to do it with the people you love,” says McGregor of acting with his wife

A Gentleman in Moscow - McGregor and Winstead
Paramount+

Writer-producer Ben Vanstone’s “A Gentleman in Moscow” covers decades but takes place in a single location: A grand hotel in Moscow where Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to spend his life under relatively comfortable house arrest after the Russian Revolution in 1917. Inside that hotel, the Count creates an unexpected family of sorts in the Paramount+ limited series based on Amor Towles 2016 novel. And in the role of the title gentleman, Ewan McGregor got to experience his own sense of family because his wife, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, plays Anna Urbanova, a Russian actress whose relationship with the Count deepens over the years.

The Paramount+ limited series marks the third collaboration between McGregor and Winstead, who first met when they were cast in the third season of “Fargo.” They also appeared in the 2020 film “Birds of Prey” but didn’t have any scenes together.

Paramount+

Do the two of you look for projects to do together?

EWAN McGREGOR Yes. Do you have one? (Laughs) We’re definitely on the lookout.

When you first got the script, did you think about Mary right away?

McGREGOR First I read the script and was very intrigued. I really liked Ben and I was very excited about (director) Sam Miller coming on because I loved “I May Destroy You.” So I was on board. When we started talking about casting, I was very keen to have them think about Mary for the role of Anna. But at first, we didn’t know how much of her story would be in the show. In the book, you turn the page and seven years have gone by and you learn that things have happened between the Count and Anna, but you didn’t see them or read them. So I wanted to know that the part was going to be big enough for Mary to play.

Mary, how much of a part did you see on the page?

MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD Very little. I think I had the first two episodes and obviously I had the novel, so I knew that their relationship was going to blossom over the course of 30 years. But I didn’t know whether they would focus on that. I was given a bit of confidence that it was going to be a great role, even though we didn’t have the scripts yet. And so that was enough for me to jump on board and say yes. And then as the episodes were starting to roll in, I was floored by how beautiful our scenes were and how much the story started to focus on our relationship. 

You go into this series thinking it’s going to be a historical drama with politics and intrigue. And slowly, it becomes a very emotional story about parenting.

McGREGOR Right. It’s a real drama of the heart dealing with the idea of loss. It reminded me of old movies I used to love watching when I was a kid. There is something nostalgic about the playing of it, in a way. It felt like we were in an old movie, but the way we captured the story was very modern.

Paramount+

Speaking of the modern sensibility, Mary, you’re playing a woman who’s trying to establish her own agency in an environment where she’s surrounded by powerful men that she’s expected to please. I imagine that you probably didn’t need to turn to history books for your research.

WINSTEAD (Laughs) I know! Absolutely. Obviously so much of our story is taken from the novel, which is brilliant. But also, Ben wrote these incredible scenes that were informed by the characters and what he imagined them to be going through. I thought it was so astute and true to the experience of so many women—of that time, and now, and of all time. I just was amazed by how much it resonated with me personally. When you get to be the age I’m at now (39), I can look back and see how I was navigating so much of my career trying to please everyone and not to make anyone unhappy, but I was not able to see it for what it was at the time. That comes much later. All of that felt very true.

At first the relationship between the Count and Anna is charged and sexy and she has the upper hand, but it becomes much more tender. Did playing it change when you found yourselves with your spouse in a story about family?

McGREGOR Yeah. It’s difficult to describe, really. I’ve had people saying, “Oh, you’ve got to work with your wife” with horror, but it’s such a pleasure to do. When the camera’s rolling, I’m not looking across at my wife. I’m the Count looking at Anna. But we have such an instinct with each other when we’re working, it’s as good as it can get.

WINSTEAD Obviously, it’s amazing to work with someone that you love and also that you respect and admire as an actor. And to me, there was an added benefit of the ease that we have with one another. When you’re starting to work with someone, you don’t know what you’re going to get. (Laughs) And sometimes it can be difficult to go to an emotional place with someone that you maybe have trouble connecting with. That’s obviously not the case with us.

Ewan, you also did a movie with your daughter Clara recently, “Bleeding Love,” and your daughter Esther has acted in your series “Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Is working with your family a particular pleasure for you these days?

McGREGOR Yeah. The more you do of this, the more you want to do it with the people you love. In a broader sense, I suppose you want to be working with people that are able to challenge you or stretch you. And after doing it for 30 years, that becomes harder and harder to find, I think. So working with people that you love and respect makes it all the more worthwhile.

This story first appeared in the Limited Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the issue here.

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Hoa Xuande photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg for TheWrap

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