Tye Sheridan Talks About ‘Last Days in the Desert,’ Using Silence as an Actor, Jeff Nichols, and More

By May 13, 2016

Tye Sheridan has emerged over the past few years as one of the most promising young actors of his generation, after his breakout work in films like Terrence Malick’s Tree of LifeMud, and The Stanford Prison Experiment. Poised to make an even larger leap into the pop culture mind with his role as Cyclops in X-Men: Apocalypse, the actor also has another film coming out this month as well with Last Days in the Desert, a smaller film from Broad Green Pictures that tells the well-known story of Jesus’ 40 day fast in the desert, while being tested by the Devil (both are played by Ewan McGregor).

In the film, Sheridan plays a young boy that McGregor’s Jesus stumbles across, who he soon learns is the son of a husband (Ciaran Hinds) and wife (Ayelet Zurer) living in the desert, the latter of whom is dying and the father, is trying to keep his son in the desert with him, despite his clear desire to seek out the rest of the world beyond the sand.

Holding his own against veterans like McGregor and Hinds, Sheridan gives an added depth to his character that few other actors his age could, and if you need an independent film to go see this weekend, I highly recommend Last Days in the Desert. You won’t be disappointed.

I recently got the chance to sit down and speak with Sheridan about the film as well, and you can find our conversation in full below…


Before we even start, I have to tell you that I love Mud

Oh, thanks.

Have you seen Midnight Special?

Yeah, I was at the premiere at SXSW for it actually. Very proud, very proud of Jeff. I love that movie so much, I love love love love that film. I can’t express how much I enjoyed that film, but you know what is it is it’s like, he made this movie that is I guess a father and son movie about these two guys on the road with this kid who has superpowers, but it’s so simple at its core, but it has so much heart. But at the same time, that movie’s huge.

It’s deceptively huge.

Yeah. Absolutely. It’s very similar to early Spielberg movies, but Jeff very much has his own style at the same time, and it’s very much like a Jeff Nichols film, and in ten years, that film will be remembered as one of the greats.

I would put Mud up there too.

Thanks. I would too. 

Looking at Last Days though, what I found really profound and evocative in this movie, was how quiet it was. Assuming the script was as simplistic with its dialogue as it is in the film, when you’re approaching that as an actor, is it exciting or challenging knowing that you’re going to have to fill in those gaps yourself?

Very exciting I think. I’m such a fan of silence. It may have started with Terrence Malick (who Sheridan worked with on Tree of Life), but there’s a technique that some directors use where they shoot a scene a couple of times with scripted dialogue and then they say, ‘Now do it, but don’t say anything.’ And you know, you might have a line where you ask me if I want eggs for breakfast and I say, ‘Yeah, that’s fine,’ but then there’s also when you ask me and I just do something with my brows or something that I wouldn’t have done in any other scene. But without the dialogue, like you said, you make up for the silence and you give it some kind of life and I think in this film the dialogue is very sparse, and reading the script it was only about 50 or 60 pages long I think. There’s not much dialogue in it, and while I love the simplicity of the dialogue, but I love the subtext behind it and the beats in the scenes as well. Like structurally, the movie is very simple, but there are complexities beyond the structure within the thematical messages and underlying tones of the film that may portray something else.

Well it’s very much structured like a Biblical tragedy in its simplicity, but depth.

Yeah! I called it a tragedy earlier, but it’s a tragedy. It’s like a biblical tragedy, but it’s not a biblical story at all either. It’s like a weird, origin of man tragedy. 

What was it like shooting those scenes with Ewan where he’s playing both Jesus and the Devil for you, as an actor having to work in the scene with him?

Yeah, well working with Chivo (Lubezki), he’s so inventive. I mean they’re during like steadicam shots on the edge of a cliff that overlooks the vast desert landscape with a sun coming down, it looked incredible. But when he’s doing both characters, we’ve gotta do it so fast so we’re shooting with natural light, so the light matches, so literally Ewan would do like four takes, run over switch clothes and put the jewelry on and turn into the devil basically. He would do it again too.

So basically, so when you do this, you’ve gotta take two Ewan McGregors in the frame who are not there initially and with all of these complex steadicam shots, you’ve gotta match the shots perfectly. So our steadicam operator, Colin Anderson, who’s worked on the new Star Wars films, and works with J.J. Abrams a ton, he’s incredible. And really, everyone who’s working on the film is like incredible with what they do so it was like being on a team of all stars, but I felt like the bat boy. But you know, I was learning from everyone at the same time and asking questions so it was good. 

But what was it like actually shooting the scenes where you are in the same shot as the two characters, how involved are you in that set up?

Well basically, if you’re shooting in an 2:5:9 aspect ratio (he picks up a piece of paper in front of him and a pen and turns it horizontally, dividing the frame into the three divisions) and we’ll split the frame up into three. So Ewan is standing here as Jesus, he’s here as the Devil, and then I’m in this division, so you basically just splice it together and keep the frame still. So you just stitch them together and splice when need be, but also it becomes like when needs be, really difficult when you’ve gotta pick like one of six takes that you like the most and then edit that together.

I don’t think most people will understand how difficult that may have been because you don’t notice it when you’re watching the film, like “oh cool, they’re in the same frame together!’ But you don’t think about the technical side of it. I mean some people do, you do, and I do, but most people not.

I really want to ask you about Ready Player One. How familiar were you/are you with Ernest Cline’s novel? Have you read it?

Yeah, I’m reading it right now. I hadn’t read it before…. Did you read it?

Yes. I love it.

It’s great right? I’m almost finished with it.

Well, I wanted to ask you this as a fan, because I know that Steven Spielberg said there would be changes made to the pop culture aspect of the book. How faithful is the film going to be?

It’s faithful. It’s very much a homage to the 80s and that era. You know you can just tell that Ernest Cline is just such a film, video game, everything buff, and he just loves the 80s, and it’s all incorporated into the book, and I love the world that he creates, and he’s such a visionary, and yeah, that translates into the film. But reading the book now, it’s so hard to condense like 300 pages into a an hour and a half, two hour movie. It’s a big movie, and the arc is pretty incredible. But all the big beats in the book, they’re all hit in the script. It is such an homage to it.

But you know what I think is added is there are much more, like you know the scene in the book where he gets through the first gate and he has to recite/reenact all of the lines from the Matthew Broderick film, and he’s just trying to figure out what the challenge is? There’s a lot of that in the film, and there’s much more references to the like early 80s, late 70s. It’s cool man and the vision behind the film – I haven’t been totally filled in – but I’m just as excited and intrigued as you are to see what they’re gonna do, and I mean who is better to do it than Mr. Spielberg? It’s an honor to be a part of the project, and to represent it.

Last Days in the Desert is in theatres everywhere now.

Make sure to keep checking back for more updates — right here on GeekNation.

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Alex Welch

Alex Welch

Alex dreams of meeting a girl with a yellow umbrella, and spends too much time* staring at a movie screen. His vocabulary consists mostly of movie quotes and 80s song lyrics. *Debatable