Long dreaming of stepping behind the camera, actor Alex Pettyfer (I Am LegendElvis & Nixon) made his directorial debut recently with the Tribeca-premiering Back Roads, in which he also stars.

Based on a novel by Tawni O’Dell, Back Roads centers on Harley (Pettyfer), a young man living in backwoods Pennsylvania, who is forced to become the caretaker for his three sisters after his father is murdered and his mother (Juliette Lewis) is sent to prison.

Reading the script for the project years ago—when he was 18 years old—Pettyfer never consciously set out to make Back Roads his first directorial outing, only coming back to the project years later when he realized that it had never been made. “I approached Michael Ohoven, one of the producers, about ten years later, and it was just my pure love for the story and wanting to see it get made,” Pettyfer told Deadline yesterday, explaining his ultimate decision to step behind the camera. “Just out of pure luck and coincidence, I managed to muscle myself into directing the film, which is baffling.”

Appearing at Deadline’s Tribeca Studio with a large group of his co-stars, including Jennifer Morrison, Nicola Peltz, Chiara Aurelia, Hala Finley and June Carryl, Pettyfer reflected on his experience in acting, and how that has helped him as he’s set out to direct. “I worked with Lee Daniels and Steven Soderbergh. I’ve had a great group of directors that have surrounded me in my very short-lived career, [in] which I’ve always sat behind video village and watched,” the director said. “I don’t think you can ever prepare for that kind of journey. But I had good people around me, so I feel very fortunate.”

Also at the fest with her own feature directorial debut, Sun Dogs, Morrison commented on Pettyfer’s directorial prowess and those aspects of Back Roads that made the project as exciting as it was challenging. “The way that Alex envisioned the film, a lot of things are in one take, so there’s no room to mess up. It felt like theater. There was really complicated camerawork, where you needed everything to land exactly right technically, but then you also had to be exactly right emotionally, with your lines, with your movements,” the actress said. “There was so much that had to go exactly right for a take to work because he wasn’t going to cut it up and he wasn’t going to have a bunch of coverage. So my heart would be pounding before every take.”

To hear more about the making of Alex Pettyfer’s Back Roads, click above.

The Deadline Studio at Tribeca is presented by Nespresso.