Ewan McGregor to take on Philip Roth's classic novel American Pastoral in directorial debut

43-year-old will also star in the film

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The Independent Culture

A screen version of Philip Roth’s masterwork American Pastoral would be a major challenge for any director, let alone a first-timer. But apparently that does not deter Scottish actor Ewan McGregor, who plans to make his directorial debut with an adaptation of the novel.

The 43-year-old will also star in the film, which is scheduled to begin shooting in September. “I’ve wanted to direct for years and wanted to wait until I found a story that I ‘had’ to tell, and in this script I knew I had  that story,” the Trainspotting star said in a statement.

Adapting Roth’s book for the screen would be “a great privilege,” he said, adding: “I’m looking forward to the challenge of being on both sides of the camera.”

McGregor will act alongside Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning in the film, which is being produced by Lakeshore Entertainment. “Ewan’s talent goes far beyond his on-screen work, and we’re excited to be working with a director who is as passionate as we are about telling the story of American Pastoral,” said Lakeshore’s chief executive, Tom Rosenberg.

McGregor might seem an odd fit for Roth’s protagonist, a blonde, Jewish-American businessman named Seymour “Swede” Levov, whose comfortable, middle-class New Jersey existence is blown apart when his daughter plants a bomb to protest the Vietnam War. Levov and his family thus become unexpectedly entangled in the political and social upheaval of the 1960s.

 

Widely considered the first of Roth’s great, late novels, American Pastoral won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 and was included in Time magazine’s 2005 list of the 100 greatest novels written in English since 1923. The novel was also the opening book in what the author described as his post-war “American trilogy”, followed by I Married a Communist (1998) and The Human Stain (2000).

Should McGregor’s film meet with wide acclaim, it would be the first of several Roth adaptations to do so. The first adaptation is also thought by many to be the finest: the 1969 film Goodbye, Columbus, starring Ali MacGraw, was based on one of the author’s short stories and nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Lakeshore has produced two previous Roth adaptations: The Human Stain (2003), starring Nicole Kidman and Anthony Hopkins; and Elegy (2008), starring Penelope Cruz and Ben Kingsley. Neither was ecstatically received by critics. The Humbling, starring Al Pacino as an ageing and unhappy actor, is based on Roth’s penultimate novel; it was released in the UK in December 2014, to distinctly lukewarm reviews. Now 81, the author recently announced his retirement from fiction writing.

McGregor, who took the helm of the project following the departure of the original director, Philip Noyce, only adds to an already heavy workload with his directorial duties. After appearing in the recent turkey Mortdecai with Johnny Depp, he is due to star in an adaptation of John Le Carré’s spy novel Our Kind of Traitor, and in a biopic of jazz musician Miles Davis with Don Cheadle.

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