Ewan McGregor and the cast discuss American Pastoral at the Toronto International Film Festival…
When a high-profile actor decides to turn his eye to the director’s chair, the decision generates a lot of interest over how they’d handle their role. A lot of eyes were on Ewan McGregor as he took on American Pastoral, a film adaptation of Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel. The story revolves around Seymour ‘the Swede’ Levov, an all-star high school athlete turned successful businessman in his hometown who is seemingly living the American Dream with a beautiful wife and daughter. Their world is shattered though when their daughter is radicalized against the Vietnam War and runs away after an act of terrorism in their town. As the Swede attempts to locate her, his life takes a downward spiral as he discovers people aren’t just what they seemed.
At the Toronto International Film Festival, McGregor and his co-stars Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Uzo Aduba and David Straitharin were on hand to discuss the movie. “I never really felt like I dropped the director role and stepped into the actor role,” McGregor said. “Its all par and parcel the same thing, really. It was the same thing and felt quite seamless to me. The last couple days I wasn’t on set as an actor, I was the director during the 90s reunion scenes. I felt it was a different process for me because I was coming in with notes to speak to the actors and then stepping back out to look at the monitor whereas for the rest of the movie we were in discussion about the scene in the middle of doing it which I always felt would be a good place to direct from.”
McGregor also commented on the directors he’s drew worked with, stating he was influenced by “all of them”, and made an interesting point about actors turned directors. “As actors I think we have a unique position where we do witness lots of directors and directors don’t really get to see other directors work. That’s a very unique thing. Danny Boyle doesn’t spend a lot of time on Martin Scorsese’s film sets, you know what I mean?”
It was also revealed that McGregor’s process was almost that of a play, letting the actors rehearse on the set first without the cameras rolling rather than moving from point A to B on the set so they could allow themselves to find new facets to explore and remain animated and natural. “It was really a wonderful experience,” Connelly said, “having that space and room to open things up before narrowing things down. I think we did that even before we started filming in conversations. We would bring our questions to the table and that was a form of exploration that we had on a daily basis. You could really breathe into it and find things maybe you’d be too afraid try if you were already committed to other choices.”
As the youngest member of the main cast, Dakota Fanning was playing a character whose experiences are far different from her own having grown up in a turbulent period in American history, yet no less relatable to today’s world. “When I was making the film I was thinking about it in the context of the movie and in the time the movies takes place. Now I think I have more of a perspective on it having watched the film and a lot of people have mentioned the parallels between now and then. With any film you hope its moves someone and starts a conversation, so if this film does that for someone I’m happy about that and realize that history does, in fact, repeat itself and that is unfortunate.”
Having such mainstream attention is something that is new to Uzo Aduba after her Emmy-winning performance as Crazy Eyes in Orange is the New Black, but she has an extensive background in theatre productions and was excited to work on American Pastoral simply for the energy she felt in McGregor and the rest of the team. “I read the script and then got a phone call from Ewan one day and I came to it primarily because I love working with passionate people, excited artists and people who have visions that make you feel compelled to be a part of. I think that’s really exciting for me as an actor to be a part of so when we were speaking on the phone, his energy and voice was so passionate that matched what was on the page. The word I would use to describe it would be change or progression. You don’t always get the opportunity to work with people who are always excited and feel like bringing new ideas to something. That is what made me want to be a part of it.”