Ewan McGre­gor steps be­hind the cam­era on ‘Amer­i­can Pas­toral’

In his di­rec­to­rial de­but, the pro­lific ac­tor adapts Philip Roth

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FEATURES - By Amy Longs­dorf

A cou­ple of years ago, af­ter Ewan McGre­gor sent his el­dest daugh­ter Clara off to col­lege, the screen­play for “Amer­i­can Pas­toral” landed on his desk.

The script, an adap­tion of Philip Roth’s best-seller, jug­gles a hand­ful of themes, but at the heart of the story is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween a fa­ther and his prodi­gal daugh­ter.

Not sur­pris­ingly, McGre­gor con­nected im­me­di­ately with the char­ac­ters, and set about bring­ing them to the screen, which re­quired him not only to star in the movie but also to make his de­but as a di­rec­tor.

“When I read the script for the first time, it broke my heart be­cause I know how you feel about your girls as a dad,” says McGre­gor, 45, who has four daugh­ters with his long-time wife, Eve Makrakis.

“Clara’s 20 now, and she’s not in the house when I wake up in the morn­ing any more. It’s strange, and it’s this lit­tle loss. It’s per­fectly mun­dane and or­di­nary, and she’s still very, very much part of our lives, but she’s not in the house in the morn­ing at break­fast.

“So that was hap­pen­ing, and I was think­ing about it when I first read the script, which is why it drew me so hard, and why I was so at­tached to it.”

McGre­gor stars in the movie as the Swede, a for­mer Golden Boy liv­ing in Old Rim­rock, N.J., in the early 1960s. He and his wife Dawn (Jen­nifer Con­nelly), along with their daugh­ter Merry (Dakota Fan­ning), seem to be the pic­ture-per­fect fam­ily.

But, in many ways, the Swede’s life is just an il­lu­sion. As so­cial un­rest rocks Amer­ica, thanks in part to the Viet­nam War, a lo­cal gas sta­tion is blown up. Merry, who dis­ap­pears in the af­ter­math, is ac­cused of light­ing the fuse.

Now that “Amer­i­can Pas­toral” is hit­ting screens, McGre­gor ad­mits that he’s happy with how the film turned out.

“I’m very proud of this movie,” he says. “I’ve wanted to do this for so long and I got this in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­nity to [di­rect] not only just any film but this one, and I’m proud of it and I think we did a re­ally very good job of it.

“I think it rep­re­sents Philip Roth’s novel in a good way and I think the act­ing’s amaz­ing across the board in the film.

“I think it’s a great film for women. There’s so many great fe­male per­for­mances in this film ... so I’m re­ally happy about that.”

McGre­gor teases that, as the film­maker, he never con­sid­ered any­one for the cen­tral role be­sides him­self.

“I didn’t think to not be in it when I be­came the di­rec­tor,” he says with a laugh. “No one can play this part like me! The cast­ing couch was very in­ter­est­ing. Some­what of a solo af­fair, but any­way.”

All kid­ding aside, McGre­gor says he found John Ro­mano’s adap­ta­tion the per­fect dis­til­la­tion of a novel which many con­sid­ered un­filmable.

“I thought John Ro­mano beau­ti­fully pulled out the cen­tral story of Roth’s [look] at Amer­i­can his­tory through this fam­ily,” says McGre­gor. “The mother and the fa­ther, who are the prod­uct of the post-war gen­er­a­tion of the ‘50s, sort of em­body the Amer­i­can dream.

“And then their daugh­ter em­bod­ies the ‘60s, or this pe­riod of Amer­i­can his­tory when the ‘50s gen­er­a­tion and their chil­dren’s gen­er­a­tion col­lide in a spec­tac­u­lar way, with Viet­nam and all that was hap­pen­ing in Amer­ica.”

While shoot­ing a movie on a tight bud­get over the course of a month might have chal­lenged some fledg­ling film­mak­ers, McGre­gor found the process sur­pris­ingly easy. For the ac­tor­turned-di­rec­tor, it all came down to be­ing pre­pared.

“I spent so much time in the book from late 2014 when I was do­ing ‘The Real Thing’ on Broad­way to when I be­came the di­rec­tor to Septem­ber (2015) when we started shoot­ing,” says McGre­gor

“I just re­ally lived in this book. I tried to soak up as much of what I felt Roth was ex­plor­ing ... and I di­rected it in such a way that it re­flected how I felt about the book.

“So all of the [hard] work was done be­fore we hit the set. When we did hit the set, it was very easy for me some­how be­cause I’d spent so much time think­ing about the Swede. He’s in the mid­dle of all my imag­in­ings of the film; I felt like I had never been bet­ter pre­pared to play a part in my life.”

A na­tive of Scot­land, McGre­gor has, for the last two decades, been one of Hol­ly­wood’s busiest ac­tors, ap­pear­ing in ev­ery­thing from Ge­orge Lu­cas’ “Star Wars” pre­quels to ro­man­tic come­dies like “Sal­mon Fish­ing In The Ye­men” and “Begin­ners” to big-bud­get ac­tion ex­trav­a­gan­zas like “The Is­land.”

In many ways, McGre­gor is still best known for play­ing a heroin ad­dict in Danny Boyle’s “Trainspot­ting,” the movie which helped launch his Hol­ly­wood ca­reer.

When the film came out, he and Boyle were best mates but they had a fall­ing out more than a decade ago. Re­cently, the pair rec­on­ciled and joined forces for “T2: Trainspot­ting 2,” which is due in the­aters in 2017.

“We’ve shot it al­ready and it was amaz­ing,” says McGre­gor of the movie which re­unites nearly all of the orig­i­nal char­ac­ters. “I fin­ished my last day on ‘Amer­i­can Pas­toral’ on a sound­stage at Warner Bros. up in Burbank. I fin­ished on a Fri­day, and I just lit­er­ally got in the car and I felt lighter.

“I felt like I’d been car­ry­ing this weight or re­spon­si­bil­ity for 16 months. Then I walked to my car, got in my car and I thought, ‘Oh no, I don’t have it any­more. I’m done. It’s too late to do any­thing to ‘Amer­i­can Pas­toral.’

“So I was happy that on Mon­day I flew to Scot­land and started shoot­ing ‘Trainspot­ting 2.’

“Af­ter hav­ing been the di­rec­tor for 16 months, I won­dered what it would feel like to only be act­ing. I just sat in my trailer. I read the news­pa­per. I chat­ted with the other ac­tors. It was great.”

PHOTO BY RICHARD FORE­MAN

Merry Levov (Han­nah Nord­berg) and Swede Levov (Ewan McGre­gor) in “Amer­i­can Pas­toral.”

PHOTO BY RICHARD FORE­MAN

Ewan McGre­gor on the set of “Amer­i­can Pas­toral.”

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