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The Cast of American Pastoral
Credit: Matthew Brookes

We’re used to seeing Ewan McGregor attached to buzzy projects like Star Wars and Moulin Rouge, but for his latest film American Pastoral, the star stepped into an entirely different role—director.

"I've been wanting to direct for years and years, but I didn’t want to do it to fulfill some sort of checklist. I waited until I had a story I was burning to tell," said McGregor when we caught up with him and his Pastoral co-stars Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, and Uzo Aduba at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Philip Roth ($10; amazon.com), the film centers around a seemingly perfect American family in the late '60s that starts to unravel when their daughter (played masterfully by Fanning) gets involved in radical political upheaval stemming from the Vietnam War.

Credit: Richard Foreman, Jr./Courtesy of Lionsgate

McGregor also stars in the movie as Seymour “Swede” Levov, the father and head of the household that struggles with his daughter’s new normal. "As soon as I knew that was I going to direct and star in this film, I practically lived in the novel for like nine months,” says McGregor. “What I found was that this story is really about family and exploring the evolving relationship between a mother, a father, and their daughter.”

And as father of four daughters himself, it was a subject that he immediately connected with. “The film is a very extreme version of someone losing their daughter and right around that time my oldest daughter Clara was starting to talk about going away to college. Subconsciously, I was thinking a lot about that transition in my own life. It was not as radical, but still an exploration of loss for me as a parent to think about her leaving for school.”

McGregor also brought his experience as an actor into the director's chair. “I would often clear the set, so there was only me and the other actors in the scene and we would work on it together. I wanted Jennifer and Dakota, and the rest of the cast, to have their imput into what a certain moment should look or feel like. I tried to make it a satisfying experience for everyone—it certainly was for me.”

American Pastoral is in select theaters this Friday. Check out the trailer above.