Ewan McGregor (Obi Wan Kenobi) has been cast as the lead in Paramount+’s upcoming UK drama series A Gentleman in Moscow, replacing Kenneth Branagh, news that came as Paramount Premium Group CEO David Nevins laid out his vision for Paramount+’s international expansion and talked creativity at the Edinburgh TV Festival.
Emmy-Award winning actor McGregor will play Count Alexander Rostov who, in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, finds that his gilded past places him on the wrong side of history, in the adaptation of Amor Towles’ international best-selling novel that heads into production later this year.
McGregor’s character synopsis continues: “Spared immediate execution, he is banished by a Soviet tribunal to an attic room in the opulent Hotel Metropol, threatened with death if he ever sets foot outside again. As the years pass and some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history unfold outside the hotel’s doors, Rostov’s reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery. As he builds a new life within the walls of the hotel, he discovers the true value of friendship, family and love.”
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Branagh was announced in the role back in 2018, as Deadline revealed at the time, but McGregor will now play the Count.
McGregor said: “It’s an amazing, wonderful story and I am very excited to get to play such a fabulous role.”
Paramount content chief Nevins, who also oversees Showtime, made the announcement today at the Edinburgh TV Festival during an interview conversation with former Sky Studios exec and new BAFTA CEO Jane Millichip, during which he also unveiled Antoine Fuqua’s Showtime series King Shaka.
The Paramount+ International original will be produced by eOne in association with VIS, the international studio division of Paramount Global, and will air on Showtime in the U.S. It’s the first production to come through eOne’s first-look deal with Tom Harper’s company Popcorn Storm Pictures.
Harper said: “The book is a rare and delicious treat and I fell in love with it the moment I picked it up 6 years ago. We are thrilled that Amor entrusted this brilliant team with bringing the Metropol to life and couldn’t be more delighted that Ewan will be playing the Count.”
McGregor will be an executive producer on the series alongside showrunner Ben Vanstone (All Creatures Great and Small, The Last Kingdom), Harper (War and Peace, Peaky Blinders), Xavier Marchand (Nautilus, Mrs Harris Goes to Paris) and author Amor Towles, whose novel has sold more than four million copies worldwide.
McGregor is represented by UTA, Narrative and Sloane Offer Weber & Dern.
Paramount+ plans to commission 150 international originals by 2025, and A Gentleman in Moscow will debut in 2023 in the UK and all Paramount+ international markets, alongside other British originals such as The Flatshare, Sexy Beast and No Escape. The service is set to launch in Italy next month and Germany, Switzerland, Austria and France later this year before ramping up its distribution. Comcast joint venture SkyShowtime will launch in several other territories adjacently.
Nevins told Deadline in an exclusive interview before his Edinburgh session that Paramount was taking a more measure approach to the streamer’s rollout than other global services, but predicted launches across Europe and numerous other territories within the next few years.
He noted how the international expansion had led him to reassess the potential of projects such as Sexy Beast, which is based on the 2000 British gangster film of the same name. It was first pitched to him when he was only leading channel Showtime, but he had felt it was not right solely for a U.S. cable audience.
“There’s a reason why Sexy Beast was not greenlit when I first saw it five or six years ago,” he said. “Now, I’m looking for a subscriber in Bristol or Aberdeen — those subscribers are just as good as a subscriber in Denver or Houston. But we’re not making Sexy Beast just for the British market. I think it’s gonna do well in the U.S. and the UK, and I think it will play in Italy and France too. The kinds of things that I’m focused on are hopefully going to move across territories.”
He noted that Paramount’s local commissioning infrastructures in Europe, where the company has numerous linear channels, would help Paramount+ reach its target of international series orders. In the UK, where Paramount owns terrestrial network Channel 5, this model has already led to several significant commissions.
Back in the session, Nevins pointed to the impact of global streaming when addressing how Paramount and Showtime have lent into existing IP. “It’s not a coincidence that this rise of franchise and known IP corresponded with the explosion of choice in a non-linear environment,” he said. “That is the Darwinian ecosystem of television.”
He noted how Halo had become second most watched show on Paramount+ with an audience far broader than those that play the video games, while Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladiesm a spin-off of the 1978 musical movie, was about bringing a “beloved movie that’s transcended generations… into a new age.”
He also pointed to series remake of Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo whose progenitors had smaller, more cult followings. “They can be treated quite differently,” he added.
Elsewhere, Millichip questioned Nevins whether he believed the U.S. entertainment industry had a duty to respond to the politically-charged decision making of the Supreme Court, such as the repealing of Roe vs Wade and relaxing of gun laws.
“I don’t know if I have a duty but I certainly have an interest,” he replied, noting that the recently commissioned BBC co-production The Woman in the Wall, starring Ruth Wilson, which explores the Catholic Church’s notorious Magdalene Laundries, where ‘fallen women’ were sent to atone for ‘sins’ such as adultery and teenage pregnancy.
“It will inevitably feel like it’s reflecting the moment we are living in now,” he said.
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