Ewan McGregor Takes on Philip Roth’s American Pastoral in Directorial Debut
For more than three years, Ewan McGregor had been attached to star in “American Pastoral,” the adaptation of Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a family thrown into tumult during the social upheavals of the Vietnam War era.
And for more than three years, this prestigious project wallowed at the studio. “When it got to the point where I felt the film may not happen, it was my wife that said to me: You should direct,” McGregor tells Made in Hollywood reporter Julie Harkness Arnold. “I’d wanted to direct for years. I’d never found a story I felt that was the right story for me. She opened my eyes to the fact that I should maybe think about directing this one. I went: Oh, my goodness, she’s right.”
One of Hollywood’s biggest stars, McGregor was confronted with a major — and potentially risky — career move. “I did a lot of soul-searching about it, and I was trying to be very honest with myself,” he says. “You’ve got responsibilities, if you direct, to the people you’re going to be working with. And I didn’t want to fail. I think that’s what we’re scared of always, isn’t it?
But I thought, when I really looked in my heart, I do see this story, I do feel it, and I’m ready to try and make that step into what I’ve always wanted to do, which is to direct. And here we are.”
Ewan McGregor Also Stars in American Pastoral
In the drama opening Friday, McGregor also takes on the lead role of Seymour “Swede” Levov, a successful businessman married to a former beauty queen (Jennifer Connelly), whose daughter (Dakota Fanning) disappears after being accused of setting off a bomb in a war protest. Along the way, the Swede grapples with the chaos in the country, his family and himself.
It’s a challenging task for any director, much less a newbie pulling double-duty in front of the camera, but McGregor felt he had a cinematic approach that would compliment the nuances of the novel.
“It’s quite complex,” he says. “I wanted to mirror Philip Roth’s writing in a way with the movie where I didn’t want to tell you what to think. I didn’t want to bring the music in, where you can do in movies, and really lead the audience. I wanted things to be more open than that.”
The movie also puts great demands on the actors, particularly Fanning, whose character Mary is not always sympathetic. “She’s really hard to describe,” says Fanning. “The thing that connects Mary, at all the points that we see her in the film, is the love that she has for her father contrasted with this repulsion that she feels for him too, and how difficult that would be to desperately want somebody and also hate them. I thought about that a lot. I think she definitely is radical, I think she is violent, volatile and uncompromising. … She also confronts and challenges the viewers in a lot of ways, too. I was excited by that because it’s interesting to get to play an uncompromising character.”
It was, in the end, the father-daughter dynamic that intrigued McGregor and convinced him this was the one to direct. “I’m a father and I was drawn to this father,” he says. “And I’m a father of girls. I’ve got four girls. And The Swede has a daughter Mary. There were things in their relationship that just touched me very deeply and I felt like I recognized things in it. … There was something about the essence of this man that I felt like I had to play him.”
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