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Spouses McGregor, Winstead have ‘incredible connection’ in ‘Gentleman in Moscow’

Chemistry continues for couple on new Netflix series
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ewan McGregor and Alexa Goodall star in Paramount Plus series “A Gentleman in Moscow.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Paramount Plus

When Ewan McGregor first met Mary Elizabeth Winstead on the set of the FX series “Fargo” in 2016, he couldn’t deny the chemistry that crackled between them.

“We didn’t know each other but there was an incredible connection in our work instinct. We just knew how to play these scenes almost without rehearsing,” the actor says on a video call from New York.

“It’s always felt like that.”

McGregor and Winstead, who were both married to other people at the time, found their on-screen spark translated to real life. They tied the knot in April 2022 and share a two-year-old son. But the couple were eager to work together again.

So when McGregor was offered the lead in Paramount Plus’ “A Gentleman in Moscow,” an adaptation of Amor Towles’ 2016 novel of the same name that premieres Friday, he encouraged Winstead to audition for the series as well.

“[Ewan] was reading the book to get more of a sense of the world, and he just started looking at me and going, ‘Oooh, there’s a woman in this book that’s very interesting and you should take a look at it,” Winstead says during an interview in Toronto.

“So I started reading the book as well and really fell in love with the role, fell in love with the world, fell in love with the writing.

Directed by Sam Miller, “A Gentleman in Moscow” follows 20th century count Alexander Rostov, played by McGregor, who is forced to reinvent himself after being sentenced to a lifetime of house arrest at a lavish hotel in the wake of the Russian Revolution.

Winstead plays Anna Urbanova, a glamorous actress who becomes romantically involved with Rostov while staying at the hotel.

“Aside from being each other’s partners, we love acting with one another,” says Winstead.

“There’s nobody I find more fun to act opposite than Ewan because he just brings so much out of me. He’s so charming and fun and he has such a spark and energy to him that’s infectious.”

Still, Winstead says it was difficult filming some of the series’ more emotionally weighty scenes with someone she’s so close to in real life.

“Having it be so connected and so true with my real-life partner, sometimes in my head I’d be going, ‘No, don’t cry, stop crying, just stop!’ It was harder to control because I did feel so much so naturally.”

McGregor says reading the script for “A Gentleman in Moscow” gave him the same feeling as when he read the script for his 1996 breakthrough “Trainspotting.”

“When they gave me the script for ‘Trainspotting,’ they said, ‘We’re not offering you the role. We just want to know what you think.’ And when I read that script and that character Mark Renton, I knew that it was the role of a lifetime. And I felt very similar with this.”

Though the series is a period piece, McGregor says it feels pertinent to today’s world in light of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

“The backdrop of our story is the revolution that led Russia to where we are today, to (President Vladmir) Putin. We started mounting the series before Putin invaded Ukraine, but it happened while we were making this show and it felt terribly relevant.”

Winstead adds that through the series, “we see the building blocks” for where Russia is currently.

“We get to see how there were people at that time who believed in a better Russia and maybe had good intentions, and to see how a dictator can take those good intentions and turn them into something nefarious,” she says.

“I think that’s really heartbreaking to see some of the characters in the show start out from a place where they think they’re doing something for the greater good and have that be squandered.”

Winstead says that after filming such heavy scenes, she and McGregor were “always pretty ready to get home and shed the vintage clothes and have dinner with our son and give him a bath and crash.

“We didn’t stay in character (at home) but we would run our lines together for sure,” laughs McGregor, adding he would often be learning lines after putting their son to bed, because Rostov is “a very wordy character.”

One aspect of Rostov that McGregor couldn’t shed at home was his formidable moustache, which the actor insisted on growing naturally rather than opting for prosthetics.

“A stuck-on moustache is always going to be restrictive because you can’t really move your face properly with one on. If you move your face, it starts lifting off and it’s something that you end up thinking about,” he says.

“The count is not thinking about his moustache, so I didn’t want to be either.”

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