It’s not uncommon in cinema for actors to delve into directing, and the latest name to move behind the camera is Ewan McGregor. Adapting Philip Roth’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel of the same name, American Pastoral focuses on a political divide in late 1960s New Jersey that tears a family apart. McGregor also takes the film’s leading role, playing Seymour “Swede” Levov, a respected and successful glover that lives with his former beauty queen wife Dawn (Jennifer Connelly) and their troubled daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning). With the Vietnam War raging on, Merry’s radical views cause tensions to run high in their upper middle class household. A damaging explosion in their local town sends shockwaves through the community, and Merry mysteriously disappears.
Ewan McGregor’s movie career really kicked off in Edinburgh in the nineties, as it provided the setting for his work with director Danny Boyle on both Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. Since then, he has gone onto appear in Star Wars, Moulin Rouge!, Big Fish and many more, cementing his place as one of our finest exports. He returns to the capital to present family drama American Pastoral, adapted from Philip Roth’s award-winning novel of the same name. Directing for the first time as well as playing the leading role of Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov, he took to the red carpet at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse, and I was fortunate enough to attend.
Amidst the premiere buzz, he spoke passionately about the project to which he has been attached to for a number of years as an actor, but described directing as ‘a different ball game’ and an ‘incredible opportunity’. Because of the big budget and star-studded cast, he mentions that it feels like somebody’s second feature and excitedly states that he’d love to go back a step to make his ‘first’ film, possibly a small indie romance that would unfold in contemporary Scotland. As he gets moved along the packed media line by his entourage, I receive a signal that there is time for two questions only. I greet him and we shake hands, and I ask the following…
Being both director and leading actor in American Pastoral, how did your acting process change without having someone else there to offer direction and guidance?
“I think I really had to trust my instincts as I always do as an actor. In terms of doing takes on myself, I would just trust the feeling that I usually have when I’ve got it. You know, when you’re doing a series of takes I suppose you’re aiming for something or a certain feeling, and when I felt like I had that I would move on. When it starts to feel real, that is when its at its best.”
Which director that you’ve worked with has had the biggest influence on you as a filmmaker?
“It’s difficult to say! I think all of them do. There are lots of directors I’ve worked with that teach you what not to do, and then there’s those that teach you what to do! The truth is that I could mention three names of directors that I’ve loved working with, and they all work in entirely different ways. There’s no correct way to do it. It’s very much about who they are and their characters. I directed just the way I like to be directed, I suppose. I do believe that filmmaking is a collaboration, and I loved collaborating with the actors and the crew on American Pastoral.”
American Pastoral opens nationwide on Friday 11th November.
See the trailer:
Photograph by Filmhouse