Ewan McGregor talks American Pastoral and his future as a director.
I was lucky enough to see American Pastoral, Ewan McGregor’s directorial debut, at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. The film is an impressive directorial debut and one that I have been raving about to my friends and colleagues since I saw it at TIFF. American Pastoral was adapted from a Philip Roth novel, and was written for the big screen by John Romano. The film tells the story of a upper-middle-class family man named Seymour. He leads a seemingly perfect life with his beautiful wife Dawn and his daughter Merri until the day that Merri blows up their local post office. This one days changes their picture perfect lives forever.
American Pastoral is the type of film that will stick with you for days after watching it. I saw the film about a month ago, and I am still thinking about it. After being stuck in my head for a few days, I knew that I had to try to get an interview with McGregor to talk about his film. It is always so fascinating to see an actor become a filmmaker but with McGregor, he transitions with such ease that it becomes nothing short of astounding.
Throughout the week of October 16, 2016, We Live Entertainment will be posting a series of articles about American Pastoral leading up to the film’s release on Friday, October, 21, 2016. Each article will focus on one of the stars of the film. There will be a single article dedicated to Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Uzo Aduba, and Valorie Curry while star/director Ewan McGregor will be featured in two articles as American Pastoral is his baby after all.
Kicking off American Pastoral week is my interview with McGregor. Ewan and I discuss the Toronto premiere, his transitioning into a director, working and directing his co-stars, and even, his future plans for his next feature film.
How was it premiering this film at TIFF? I was there at the festival.
You were there, it was great, and it was an amazing experience to be there. I’ve been at that festival a few times, as an actor, and so to be there, I mean to be anywhere, premiering a film you’ve directed is pretty amazing situation. Thank you. I had to pinch myself really, and I got so carried away on stage introducing everybody on stage because I’ve been introduced on stage by directors for twenty-five years and so to be doing the introducing was just a great thrill and especially with this cast of actors. I was very very excited, as I still am.
Awesome to hear that. I think this is your strongest performance and also believe that you did a flawless job as a first-time filmmaker.
Oh, thank you so much.
No problem, I wanted to the point that out and I said it in my review as well.
Thank you, Thank you very much.
What is the struggle of being a director and an actor at the same time? And how do you find that perfect balance? I feel like you let every actor have at least one scene where they really shined, and it didn’t feel forced at all. It just felt very natural that everyone had their moment. So where do you find all that balance?
Well, it’s not intentional in a way, it’s just that I am an actor and I love acting, and I love the kind of acting that I was able to enjoy with this cast. Like I, we didn’t, I had no actor that um, sort of movie star acting, I suppose where they’re not interested in playing the scene with you. And there’s a sort of school of acting, I guess, where people come with their performance, and when the camera is nice and close on them, boy do you get it and then in a wide shot when the camera’s looking over their shoulder you’re not getting anything at all. I don’t like that kind of acting, it’s not …
I’m more interested in creating a scene that feels like a little reality you know between action and cut. Where you get lost in it, and it feels real, and I had these amazing actors to do that with in this film, so and I think the writing is such that it, that, that, that just the acting is allowed to shine. And I can only direct as an actor, I can’t you know, I wanted the camera to be nice and still and Martin Ruhe photography’s beautiful, but I was inspired by movies that, um, allow the acting to really tell the story as opposed to the camera really or no that’s not fair to say, I would say in this case it’s both, but films like Leviathan, there was a Russian film that has very very still frames and that all of the acting happens in these frames that barely move.
And then um, and also very little coverage and uh, I couldn’t be quite as brave as that in this film, I had to be sort of more sort of classical I suppose, but I still wanted the acting to be telling the story. And the cinematography, the framing is there to support the acting as opposed to the actors having to work to make a framework, which is sometimes how it goes, comes about. It’s just more satisfying for the actors that way, and I think the more satisfied you are creatively as an actor, the better the work is that you do. And I would always rehearse with the actors alone which was amusing at first because (laughter) you know, I’d say, “Okay, clear the sets, just time for the actor and the director’s, actor and director to rehearse.”
And then I would shut the door on the set, and it would just be Jennifer and me on our own. We’d sort of giggle like we were getting away with something. (Laughs)
It allowed us to then, and I would always be honest about this is how I imagined the scene, because I had imagined the scenes I found a lot of locations, I knew how things were going to work out and I, I would show that to the actors and then if they felt like it worked that way then we would shoot it like that and if not, we would explore, and we would discover the scene together. So that as well, allows the actors to feel like there’s nothing worse as an actor than walking on set and everything’s set up and you know, there’s a mark on the floor and someone says, “That’s where you are.”
And when you say that line can you walk over there. I mean, it’s just, then it just feel a bit like painting by numbers and you wonder who decided those things and um, and they’re not playing the part. How do they know? How do they know that’s what I do in this scene? You know?
Totally. I was so disappointed when I heard that after the film premiered at TIFF that you said you didn’t want to direct another movie right away because I was just so blown away by this and want you to direct again.
Oh I will. Oh no no no, I will. But I don’t think it could immediately because it took me 20 years to find this story and I and I really do want to do it again, absolutely, because I loved it so much and I’m so proud of it. I look at the film and I think that’s the film that I wanted to make, so I’m really proud of it, but I just feel like I’ve got to wait for the next story and I’ve got to think about, my feeling about doing another film now is that it should be very different. Like the directors I love the most turn their hand to different genres of movie making and Danny Boyle for instance would be my sort of, was my first director, you know, and I made a sort of defined me as an actor in my early years, I guess, and somebody who I hugely admire and respect.
Like the directors I love the most turn their hand to different genres of movie making and Danny Boyle for instance would be my sort of, was my first director, you know, and I made a sort of defined me as an actor in my early years, I guess, and somebody who I hugely admire and respect. And, you know, he’s made all sorts of different kinds of movies, zombie movies, love stories, films about Scottish heroin addicts (laughs).
What have you and the style of the movie changes based on the story or what does the story demand, and so I would like to be like that if I could as a filmmaker. And so my feelings about my next one, if there is you know, if given the chance to do it again, would be that it should be much smaller. Like I feel like this is almost like a second movie really, you know, with a budget and the actors and the backing from Lake Shore and, I feel like it’s a bit like a second movie, and I should go back and make my first, you know. (laughter)
So I’d like to go and do something, probably, my feeling is it should be in Scotland and it might be with young people, teenagers, or 20 you know, early, young people. I don’t know if I’d like to not be in it, just to see if, I loved being in this one, but I’d like to see what it’s like not to be in it. I’m not really sure if anything more than that at the moment. I just feel like it should be quicker, and then the style should be completely different, whatever demand, whatever the storyline demands, but um, maybe like handheld or maybe shot in 5 weeks. I don’t know quite yet.
Regardless of what it is, I’ll go see it I promise you.
Ok. I appreciate that.
Well, thank you so much for talking with me, it was a pleasure. Best of luck with this film. I really loved it.
Cheers, take care.
American Pastoral opens in limited release on Friday, October 21, 2016 with a wide expansion planned for Friday, October 28, 2016. Be sure to check the film out for yourself and come back to We Live Entertainment and let us know your thoughts on the film.
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