Toronto: Ewan McGregor Used Danny Boyle's Technique While Directing 'American Pastoral'

Ewan Mcgregor Jennifer Connelly Getty H 2016
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Ewan Mcgregor Jennifer Connelly Getty H 2016

"You can't plan a movie and execute it how you'd build a house," he explained of his directorial debut. "It doesn’t work like that. It’s a sort of magical happening, the creation of a scene."

When shooting his directorial debut American Pastoral, Ewan McGregor borrowed a technique from Danny Boyle.

The actor, who also stars in the adaptation of Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a "perfect" American family that is torn apart by the social and political upheavals of the 1960s, told reporters on Saturday that he rehearsed with the actors alone on the set before shooting — a ritual Boyle repeated with McGregor while making Trainspotting, Shallow Grave and A Life Less Ordinary.

“It’s something that’s missed out in the process and can seem to be a waste of time,” McGregor explained at a press conference held the day after the film’s world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. He said he's never liked it when directors told him exactly what he’d be doing in a scene: “[As actors,] we don’t just get wheeled out of our trailers to say our lines and then get wheeled off again.… I want to be part of making those decisions, so I made sure not to do that [on my set]."

“You can’t plan a movie and execute it how you’d build a house,” he continued. “It doesn’t work like that. It’s a sort of magical happening, the creation of a scene, and everyone was involved in making that happen.”

Jennifer Connelly appreciated the intimate rehearsal time. “That was a wonderful experience, because you can really breathe into it and try things that maybe you would feel too inhibited to try if you were already committing to those choices,” she said.

Valorie Curry added, “Being part of the collaborative environment that Ewan facilitated…made me feel so free and empowered to go to the extreme places, and I know I was asked to, and when I look at the performances, I think everyone was asked to. Everyone not only met but also exceeded those requirements and expectations. It’s a stellar company to be part of.”

As both director and star, McGregor switched between the two roles and only had three days on set when he wasn’t acting. “We’d have a discussion about the scene and then go do it,” he explained of his helming style. “We all feel it when we get the take.… I’ve always trusted that as an actor.”

Though he and producer Tom Rosenburg discussed the relief they felt that the adaptation has earned Roth’s approval, McGregor says he isn’t prioritizing a follow-up directorial effort.

“I don’t know. It’s an interesting thought, because on the one hand, it’s been the most incredible experience, and I would long to do it again. And on the other hand, it’s a very costly experience, because for 16, 17, 18 months of your life, it’s like you’re carrying something very precious. It’s a funny thing, like you’re looking at a story but trying to be a husband and a father and a human being. I can only assume that’s why it’s taken me 15 years of wanting to do it to do it, because I had to have a story that I was so burning to tell to justify that commitment, I suppose. Now, the idea of jumping straight back into it, I couldn’t. I couldn’t unless I have that story."

“I hope very much to find the next story,” he added. “I’m not going to rush into it. I hope the story will find me and that I do get the opportunity to do it again.

American Pastoral hits limited theaters Oct. 21.