Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel American Pastoral is a decades-spanning story about an American family dealing with the repercussions of tragedy. Mary, the daughter Dawn and Seymour “the Swede” Levov, commits a terrorist act to protest the Vietnam War and then disappears from her parents life.
Jennifer Connelly plays Dawn in the film adaptation of American Pastoral (entering limited release October 21, 2016), which was directed by her co-star, Ewan McGregor. Screen Rant spoke with Connelly about her experience playing Dawn over the course of three decades of the character’s life.
Your character, Dawn, had the biggest arc — storywise— to me. How was playing that, for you?
Jennifer Connelly: It was really interesting. I was very drawn to her as a character. I thought it was a very interesting challenge, and a great opportunity to get to play someone who goes through so much, and through so many transitions.
I read that in 2006 you were circling this role before, I don’t know if that’s true or not.
Jennifer Connelly: It was many years ago, that may be accurate that that was the year. I was attached to make the film back then, and it never got made, so it was off my radar for about a decade. And then they came back with it, and I was very happy to see it again.
Ten years later, did that give you more perspective on the character of Dawn?
Jennifer Connelly: Different perspective. Certainly it would’ve been a different performance if I’d done it that many years ago.
What did you learn from Dawn personally throughout that journey, cause we went through roughly three decades with her, seeing her arc kind of go down. Cause she starts off very sweet and very picture perfect female beauty queen, essentially. So what did you learn from playing that character?
Jennifer Connelly: I just tried to understand her as a person. She’s someone who’s very different from me, and someone who’s different from anyone I’ve played before, and I just tried to kind of understand her perspective and what she was experiencing. I had a lot of compassion for her. I thought she experienced something very devastating. And you said she’s someone who’s essentially a beauty queen, and I think that that’s interesting, cause she’s someone that was struggling to understand her real essence, distinct from her appearance. And I think she’s kind of haunted by that image. People make decisions about her because of that image, and because of that experience of having been a contestant in a beauty pageant. And I think it’s particularly devastating for her when the thing that she finds solace in, and the place in which she finds the most purpose and meaning—which is in her relationship with her daughter—turns out that her daughter abandons her and rejects her. That completely dismantles her. And then at the end, later in her life, the way she chooses to survive is to sort of rebuild herself in this image that is very resonant with the first image we have of her. It’s this sort of—you know she has this facelift, and she kind of becomes the thing that she never wanted to be. I found that very, very sad. But also it’s very poignant and kind of beautiful. I just was very moved by her. And I thought there was a real sweetness to her, also. There’s a real fragility. She’s strong, but there’s a real fragility to her.
When Dawn sees Mary at the funeral, what do you think’s going through Dawn’s head?
Jennifer Connelly: I think she is completely stunned to see her. I think you can see—people have said “oh, what’s it like to play this mother that abandons her daughter?” I don’t think she’s ever abandoned her daughter. And I think that there’s—she’s always been there. And I think that it’s potentially the beginning of—I’d like to think it’s the beginning of a new chapter that they can have together.