TORONTO – The path to Ewan McGregor’s feature directorial debut was a long, winding one beset with bouts of insecurity – and a roadblock by a Quebec filmmaker.
The Scottish “Trainspotting” star says “American Pastoral,” out Friday in Toronto and Vancouver, isn’t the first feature he wanted to direct.
He previously targeted Alessandro Baricco’s novel “Silk” for an adaptation, but it was ultimately directed by Montreal’s Francois Girard with Keira Knightley in a leading role.
“I read that novel and thought I really wanted to direct that,” the two-time Golden Globe nominee said in an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival.
“That was a long, long time ago. And then I got the fear.”
McGregor was so serious about “Silk” that he planned to visit Italy with Oscar-winning British producer Jeremy Thomas to ask Baricco for the film rights. But he was scared off after reading an interview with the author.
“He said, ‘Only a master filmmaker will make my book into a movie,’ and I just thought, ‘Well, I’m not a master filmmaker,’” said McGregor, “and I got the fear and I didn’t do it – and then the film was made.”
After eyeing another film that also didn’t work out for him to direct, McGregor eventually came to helm “American Pastoral.” But only after a few pre-production hiccups.
McGregor first signed on to only star in the family drama, which is based on Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
He plays a successful 1960s business owner married to a former beauty queen, played by Jennifer Connelly, in Newark, N.J. Their seemingly idyllic family crumbles when their daughter, played by Dakota Fanning, becomes involved with a violent movement against the Vietnam War.
McGregor said the key cast was set but they couldn’t nail down a director.
In winter 2014, when it seemed like the project was dead and McGregor was starring in “The Real Thing” on Broadway, his agent told him: “Look, you’ve been looking for something to direct, maybe it’s right under your nose.’”
“I went, ‘What do you mean?’” said McGregor, “and he said, ‘Maybe you should direct “American Pastoral.”‘”
McGregor immediately sat down with the script and called Lakeshore Entertainment founder Tom Rosenberg to plead his case.
“I said, ‘Maybe I could do it, maybe you could trust me to direct it. This is how I think I can do it, this is how I see it and I’m so attached to the story, I love the story. I’m a father of four girls, I know all about bringing up girls and maybe I’m the right guy,’” he recalled.
“So they got back to me and they said that I could do it. That was huge and from that moment on I lived in it.”
And he was undaunted by the pressure involved with taking on such a revered novel.
“The truth is, I just saw it as an amazing story and I would much rather be tackling something complicated and interesting with my first movie than something banal and silly,” said McGregor. “I think that’s a good thing.”
McGregor’s upcoming projects include the third season of the Calgary-shot TV series “Fargo” and a big-screen adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast.”
He also hopes to direct again.
“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “The time it took me to find this story and have the courage to do it, I just hope it doesn’t take me another 15 years to find one.
“But I feel like I couldn’t really do it unless I have a story that I feel that passionately about.”