Ewan McGregor and Dakota Fanning star in “American Pastoral,” an adaptation of Philip Roth’s acclaimed novel. (Courtesy Richard Foreman)

Ewan McGregor wears a new hat with ‘American Pastoral’ directorial debut

Known for consistent good acting in dozens of films from “Trainspotting” to “Star Wars,” Ewan McGregor makes his directorial debut with “American Pastoral.”

“The truth is, sadly, I have been on set with directors whose judgment I don’t respect, and you end up directing yourself anyway. So I’ve done it before!,” said McGregor, recently in the Bay Area to promote the movie.

Although he has long wanted to officially try his hand behind the camera, a manageable schedule and the right project didn’t materialize until director Phillip Noyce stepped down from the film; McGregor already had been hired to play Swede, the protagonist in the adaptation of Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1997 novel.

So McGregor threw his hat into the ring. “They took a couple of days and they got back to me and said yes. I was amazed!” he says.

McGregor thought a lot about different angles of the story about a man who lives the American dream with his beauty queen wife (Jennifer Connelly), until, in the 1960s, his daughter (Dakota Fanning) becomes an activist and turns their world upside down.

“I wanted to try to see all sides of all arguments,” he says. “That’s what I got out of [Roth’s] book. I never felt like he told me which one he thought I should have. It was up to me.”

Directing his own performance was the last thing he worried about. He spent nine months preparing the movie, and the character was at the center of everything.

“I knew who he was, and I just did it,” he says.

McGregor also wanted to make the feel movie timeless. In re-creating the era, he didn’t want to make a so-called period film.

Its impeccable effects include the use of a digital technique that made McGregor and Connelly appear younger in earlier scenes, as well as special makeup to make McGregor look older later. The actor used photos of his own father as a guide.

“The very last shot is like my dad looking into a mirror. I’ve turned into my father! One of the great certainties of life,” he laughs.

McGregor says he didn’t much care for the suits Swede wears, but he does love hats.

“It’s a shame. I’ve got lots of hats,” he says. “And every time I’m going out, I go… ‘should I?’ ‘Nah.’ The trouble is, when you do it, you’re the guy in the hat.”

IF YOU GO
American Pastoral
Starring
Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, David Strathairn
Written by John Romano
Directed by Ewan McGregor
Rated R
Running time 2 hours, 6 minutes

American PastoralDakota FanningEwan McGregorJennifer ConnellyMovies and TVPhilip Roth

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