American Pastoral is the second feature adaptation this year after Indignation based on a Philip Roth novel, and coincidentally both titles were helmed by two guys making sublime directorial debuts: Ewan McGregor and former Focus Features chief James Schamus.
Thematically, the movies are companion pieces, exploring moral complexities swept under the carpet in 1950s-’60s America, as well as Jewish-American life post World War II. But while Schamus’ Indignation deals with the ramifications of sexual awakening in a button-down society, American Pastoral is a powder keg about a family’s splintering during a Vietnam War radical laden era. McGregor and Jennifer Connelly play Swede and Dawn Levov. He was the high school football star, she the beauty queen. Swede goes on to oversee his father’s luxury glove factory in Newark, and married life in the suburbs seems grand. However, Swede and Dawn’s daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning at the top of her game) grapples with a stutter throughout her youth, but as she gets older, refuses to be limited either by that handicap or the power of President Lyndon B. Johnson. So, Merry fiercely rebels: She joins a group of yippies, bombs the local post office and goes into hiding, sending her parents into a downward spiral.
In this video, McGregor discusses how the opportunity arose to make his directorial debut on a project he’s been attached to for many years. McGregor told Pete Hammond, “My agent said, ‘Look, you have been asking me to find something for you to direct for ages. Well, I think it might be under your nose.’” As Schamus can attest with his mounting of Indignation, “Roth is notoriously difficult to adapt,” so it was a while before a shooting script for American Pastoral (based on the author’s 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel) was ready. Also seen here are Fanning and Connelly expounding on their characters as well as the movie’s scene-stealing actress Valorie Curry who as, enigmatic Weather Underground operative Rita Cohen, becomes an important contact for Swede. Unless – as Curry suggests – the Swede is just imagining her. Lionsgate is releasing the Lakeshore-produced movie on Oct. 21.