While sitting atop the Castel Saint Angelo in Rome waiting to interview Angels & Demons star Ewan McGregor, I had a panoramic view of the city and the beautiful chaos that makes life in the Eternal City tick.
The traffic is crazy and there are people everywhere. It’s an intense place, even more so, I imagined, if you were shooting a big budget Hollywood picture that takes place in some of the city’s busiest spots.
“The funny thing is I didn’t shoot any of it in Rome,” McGregor said when asked. “I shot in this place called Caserta. There’s a palace in Caserta that I thought it sounded really romantic, so I arranged for my wife to come over and spend a weekend with me, but it’s a dump, a horrible place. I’m sorry but it’s just a suburb of Naples that’s exploded around this old palace. It’s really nasty. Not a good place.
“Apart from that I did most of my stuff in L.A. because my character is mainly inside the Vatican and of course, the Vatican didn’t want us to shoot inside their buildings so they built the Sistine Chapel on the Sony soundstages in L.A. They also built the exterior of St. Peter’s Square, this huge, huge set, in the parking lot of Hollywood Park Racetrack in south L.A. That was cool. I saw it from an airplane. I was landing at LAX and I looked down and thought, ‘God, that’s a big set… look at that.’ Then I realized it was ours.”
Despite never having stepped foot in an actual church during the shoot, McGregor convincingly pulls off the roll of Camerlengo Patrick McKenna, a priest who acts as the pope’s right hand man in the film adaptation of Dan Brown’s novel.
“We had a priest from New Jersey who came over and was our religious advisor for any of the technical things,” McGregor said, “the ceremonies and the ritual stuff. But he also gave us a kind of idea of what would be going on behind the scenes during those ceremonies and humanized it for us.
“It looks so precise from the congregation’s point of view but in actual fact behind the table there is a guy with matches trying to light the incense. He put that into it for me which was great.”
The training paid off, he says, at least superficially.
“I didn’t get to understand the meaning of all the ceremonies; why everything is in a certain order, but I did learn enough to look like I knew what I was doing, hopefully.”