Ahead of Directorial Debut, ‘American Pastoral’ Star Ewan McGregor Reveals Deep Connection to Judaism
Actor-turned filmmaker Ewan McGregor talked about the role of Judaism in his life, how it connected him to his directorial debut about a Jewish businessman, and his decision to raise his children according to the faith in a recent interview with The Jewish Journal.
The 45-year-old said that one reason he signed on to direct and star in “American Pastoral” is because he had never played a Jewish character, though Judaism has “been such an important part of my life for 20 years.” He added, “The fact that my first movie as a director is to tell the story of this incredible Jewish man makes me very proud…From quite early on in my adult life, the religion I was seeing and being amongst the most was Judaism.”
The Scotsman said he was raised as a secular Protestant in Crieff, where there were no synagogues or Jews. He was first introduced to Judaism in his early 20s when he met his wife, Eve Mavrakis, a Jewish production designer with French-Greek roots, on the set of a British television show. Mavrakis had mostly been raised in Beijing by her non-observant French-Jewish mother, an ardent Communist. Mavrakis and McGregor married in 1995 in a secular ceremony in France, but as they talked about starting a family, he said, he saw his wife’s religion become “more vital in her life.”
The couple raised their four daughters as Jews — something McGregor said was not a problem for him, since he had been brought up with no religion and therefore had no spiritual guidance to offer. He also called his daughters’ bat mitzvahs — at a Conservative synagogue in London — “some of the best days of my life. I was really moved not only by my children, but by the occasion itself.”
McGregor returned home from his “American Pastoral” press tour in order to break the Yom Kippur fast with his family, though he admitted that he did not refrain from eating that day, because he needed to gain weight for an upcoming film role.
The “Star Wars” actor said he admires Judaism “because everything seems to be debated so much, as opposed to preached. I’ve always enjoyed that. And the tradition marks things that are very useful to us.” He also referred to the Jewish practice of sitting shivah — the week-long mourning period — which helped a friend of his with the grieving process. Still, he has yet to convert to Judaism, explaining, “I don’t have faith in my heart, so it would have been sort of a falsity, I think. And my family has never asked me to do it; that was never an issue.”
“American Pastoral,” based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction novel of the same name by Philip Roth, is about Seymour Levov, a successful Jewish businessman and former high school star athlete from Newark, NJ. Levov — nicknamed “The Swede” because of his blond hair, blue eyes and good looks — watches his middle class life fall apart after his radicalized daughter (played by Dakota Fanning) participates in a deadly anti-Vietnam War bombing and then goes into hiding.
“American Pastoral” premieres in theaters today, Oct. 21. Watch a trailer for the film below: