Ewan McGregor’s genre-bending new film will mess with your head

Ewan McGregor in Mother, Couch
(Image credit: Courtesy of TIFF)

Ewan McGregor, Taylor Russell, Rhys Ifans, and Ellen Burstyn are just a few of the stellar actors in Niclas Larsson’s debut feature film, Mother, Couch. The Swedish director had an A-list wish-list of performers for the intimate yet ambitious movie, which recently premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, but he couldn’t believe his luck when the all-star cast started to sign up for the project. 

“You don't really dare to think to get a cast like this,” admits Larsson, speaking exclusively to Total Film from Toronto. “You sit in your little bubble for so long writing your silly little jokes and you hope that you'll attract good people – and then you basically ask them to do it for free. So, I sent the script to Ewan [McGregor] because I was a big fan of what he did in Mike Mills’ Beginners. Ewan was the first to sign up.”

The Exorcist icon Burstyn – who plays a character called Mother in the film – was the toughest sell. “Ellen took some convincing because she's a method actor and she needs to really know her character,” reveals Larsson. “She was scared. She was actually terrified of Mother, so I made her a promise. I said to Ellen: ‘I promise no reshoots, no ADR sessions, nothing like that. If you give me three weeks, you’ll never have to return to Mother.’ I kept my promise.” 

Larsson is no stranger to working with A-listers, having previously directed two award-winning shorts for Vogue with Alicia Vikander and Anna Wintour. How does Ewan McGregor compare? “Ewan is wonderful,” the filmmaker enthuses. “He's perhaps one of the most emotionally in-tune people I've ever met. He's so aware and hyper-focused of everything I throw at him. Ewan is the loveliest man.” 

Taylor Russell and Ewan McGregor in Mother, Couch

(Image credit: Courtesy of TIFF)

Most of the surreal and haunting action of Mother, Couch is set inside a remote furniture store where a mother sits on a green sofa and refuses to leave. Adapted by Larsson from the Swedish novel Mamma I Soffa (by Jerken Virdborg), the movie is an intriguing mix of genres. It’s a family drama and a comedy, as well as a horror, but Larsson is astutely aware that the film is not for everyone. 

When quizzed about the polarising nature of the project, the director reveals how that was always part of the plan. “Does it scare me? Not at all,” he says with a smile. “I'm the same when I watch movies. I can f*cking hate a movie, but then I hear that other people absolutely love it. Sure, it takes an acquired taste to like a movie like this – but then again, if you have that acquired taste, you really enjoy it and it’s for you.”

There’s another reason why the Swedish director is more than happy to be part of a contentious project: “This is my debut feature and I can't go safe. I have a long career ahead of me, but I will be the most boring person in the world if I made a safe film. That’s not me.” Too right. 

Mother, Couch played at the Toronto International Film Festival 2023. A release date will be announced in due course.

For everything else the year has in store, check out our guide to all of 2023's upcoming major movie release dates