Angelina Jolie Pitt wrote the script for By the Sea (in theaters Nov. 13) not knowing anyone would ever see it, let alone that she’d direct and star in the film alongside husband Brad Pitt.
In addition to exploring the subject of grief — the real-life pair play Vanessa and Roland, an estranged married couple who check in to a hotel in 1970s France while grappling with an unnamed sorrow — Jolie Pitt wanted to do a project where she could have creative freedom. “I always wanted to be on a set where I could explore and improvise.”
So when it came to making the film — which also stars Mélanie Laurent, Melvil Poupaud, and Niels Arestrup — that’s exactly the atmosphere she created. “I tried to make it clear to everybody that I wasn’t sensitive if they thought something should be said a different way, but I was surprised by how much people stuck to [the script]. A lot of our improv was in the behavior — though the crazy stuff didn’t make it into the film. It went awry,” she says. “We would try big crazy things, and then go, ‘Okay, that’s too far.’”
What’s too far exactly?
“Brad and I had this one day when we were like, ‘Let’s just do ridiculous things and see what happens.’ By the end of it, he had pissed all over my shoes, I had packed up the entire [hotel] room to leave, and he wrote ‘pillhead’ with an arrow on my head with a Sharpie while Vanessa was sleeping.” She laughs. “So it was interesting. The script led us to many beautiful discussions about life and loss. It bought everyone closer.”