The cast of ‘American Pastoral’ praise rookie director Ewan McGregor

Actor/director Ewan McGregor, actors Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning speak onstage at the 'American Pastoral' press conference during t

Jonathan Doyle

Ewan McGregor has been to the Toronto International Film Festival many times before, but he’s facing a new form of pressure this time around. In addition to starring in the new adaptation of Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “American Pastoral,” the actor’s making his directorial debut.

Given all that was at stake, the rookie director had no problem diving deep into the source material. From the time McGregor landed the job in late 2014 until the beginning of production, he was completely immersed. “I read it whenever I had a moment to be reading,” he explained at the film’s TIFF press conference on Saturday afternoon. “I had a really great recording of the book by Ron Silver that was on whenever I was driving or in a hotel room or flying. I sort of lived in his novel.”

In this story of a family torn apart by the social upheavals of the ’60s, Jennifer Connelly plays the wife of McGregor’s Seymour “Swede” Levov. Asked about her experience working with the first-time director, Connelly praised his actor-friendly methods, which included extensive rehearsals. 

“It was really a wonderful experience having that space,” she said. “Having the room to open things up before we had to start narrowing things down.”

Dakota Fanning plays the couple’s newly radicalized daughter, who goes into hiding after an act of rebellion has unintended consequences. For Fanning, the experience of acting alongside her director came with some unique rewards. 

“When you connect with another actor in an intense way in a scene, really the only people that can ever truly understand that connection is the person that you're working with,” she revealed. Since that actor also happened to be the director, Fanning knew her best moments would end up onscreen.

While McGregor is clearly proud of his directorial debut, he’s not sure he has the time or the energy to do it again. 

“For 16, 17, 18 months of your life, it's really like you're carrying something very precious and it's a funny thing. It's like you're looking at a story and you're trying to be a husband and a father and a human being and really you're focused on this thing, so it's quite a costly thing to do. I can only assume that's why it's taken me 15 years of wanting to do it… to do it.”