‘American Pastoral’ Adaptation Adds Some Big Names & It’s Just The Latest In Exciting News About This Project
Just when you thought Philip Roth's legacy couldn't get any grander, a whole slew of big names have signed on to Ewan McGregor's film adaptation of Roth's novel American Pastoral , a celebrated, Pulitzer Prize-winning effort and one of Roth's finest. According to Variety, these include Uzo Aduba, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Connelly, David Strathairn, and McGregor himself, as well as, most recently, Rupert Evans.
American Pastoral sets up its narrative at a high school reunion many years after the events it will actually focus on — it's a conversation between Jerry, the brother of high school sports champion Swede Levov, and the narrator Nathan Zuckerman, who idolized Swede in his adolescence. It tracks backwards from there, describing the turmoil beneath the veneer-smooth exterior of Swede's life. (Nathan only spoke with Swede personally twice before his eventual death.) This turmoil culminates in his daughter committing a violent act of terrorism in protest against the Vietnam War and fleeing into hiding. The impacts of this event on both Swede's psychology and the community at large are the primary focuses of the novel.
McGregor will direct and star in American Pastoral, playing Swede himself. Several of Roth's short stories and novels, including Portnoy's Complaint, The Human Stain, and just last year The Humbling, have been translated to the screen, and they invariably attract casts of the caliber that McGregor, too, has assembled. Rupert Evans announced his entry into the project on Twitter, getting at the essence of the novel in the process — the fallacy of the "American Dream."
So in preparation for the film, which is scheduled for a 2016 release date, let's take a look at who will play which character in this adaptation.
Ewan McGregor As Seymour "Swede" Levov
The Scotsman best known for his roles in Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge, and the Star Wars prequels will play the high school athletic sensation-turned-suburban husband Swede Levov, the guy at the center of it all. Unfortunately, Levov will die of prostate cancer before the novel is over, an all-too-mundane ending that's also very appropriate for the whole crushing-American-dreams undertone of it all.
Dakota Fanning As Merry Levov
Swede's daughter Merry is really only alluded to during the catch-up conversation with Nathan Zuckerman at the outset of the novel because she's been all but written out of the Levov family; however, she's also the one who eventually reveals the fallacious nature of the picture-perfect suburban family. She'll be played by Dakota Fanning, who can absolutely still pull off a high-schooler at age 21.
David Strathairn As Nathan Zuckerman
Though he really only serves as a third-party observer and one-time Levov worshipper, Zuckerman — played by David Strathairn — is the not-quite-objective lens through which the story is told. Zuckerman slowly reconstructs the events that caused the Levov family to crumble through newspaper clippings and conversations with Swede's brother Jerry.
Uzo Aduba As Vicky
Vicky is one of the employees at Swede's Newark-based leather factory, a loyal foreman who remains with — and helps defend — the factory through the riots of 1967. She's briefly present in Swede's account, where Vicky is a kind of figurehead that proves his open-mindedness. But in the hands of an incredible actress like Uzo Aduba, she could be developed into a real woman with agency, a family, and responsibilities rather than a token.
Jennifer Connelly As Dawn Levov
Swede's first wife is a pageant queen who succumbs to depression after Merry runs away and eventually plans to leave Swede for another man. She'll be played by Jennifer Connelly, who is most recognizable for her roles in A Beautiful Mind, Requiem for a Dream, and Blood Diamond. In American Pastoral, Dawn is a pretty essential example of each character's failure to understand the mind of the other — as close as Swede purports to be to his wife, he ultimately doesn't understand either her mental illness or her affair. (He, too, has an affair in the wake of Merry's disappearance, likely with Molly Parker's character Sheila Smith — in the book, the character's name is Sheila Salzman.)
Rupert Evans As Jerry Levov
The Hellboy actor was the most recent to sign on to the American Pastoral adaptation, playing Swede Levov's brother Jerry. Jerry is responsible for many of the revelations about Swede's tumultuous personal life that come to light throughout American Pastoral. Constantly in his more accomplished brother's shadow in adolescence, Jerry matures into a respected surgeon as well as a critic of his older brother.
Hollywood has been churning out a number of high-profile book-to-movie adaptations recently, so American Pastoral seems to be part of a larger tendency in filmmaking right now. It's not necessarily a new trend, but has developed more and more in recent years. Not that I'm arguing — that trend has led to some great products like Beasts of No Nation, Steve Jobs, and Brooklyn, the upcoming Saoirse Ronan film. Aside from American Pastoral's central cast members, other actors involved now include Molly Parker and House of Lies' Valorie Curry. It's just McGregor's second directorial effort and his first feature-length film, according to his IMDb page, because the director originally tapped for the project, Phillip Noyce, decided to step down. But McGregor will supported by a great cast and strong writing, so I have high hopes for this one.