‘Ad Astra’ Director James Gray on Breaking Down “All-American Astronaut” Myth With Brad Pitt

The indie stalwart chats about his new space epic, navigating the Fox-Disney merger and why he’s not afraid to take on Trump in his next movie.

Back in 2011, director James Gray happened upon two science articles that provided the seedling for his latest film, Ad Astra. The first chronicled an experiment to split the atom that posed a small, but real, risk that all known matter in the universe would be destroyed. The second dealt with NASA’s quest to enlist astronauts with schizoid personality disorder, who would be ideal for deep-space missions because they wouldn’t have to interact socially. Enter Brad Pitt as the space thriller’s protagonist, and suddenly Gray, who is best known for indies like The Immigrant and Two Lovers, was working with a budget much bigger — $87.5 million — than any of his previous outings. Ahead of Ad Astra’s world premiere in Venice, Gray, 50, talked with The Hollywood Reporter about whether he’s gone mainstream, how the film landed in the crosshairs of Disney’s acquisition of Fox, and why he’s bringing Donald Trump’s father to the big screen.

What was the mind-set behind casting Pitt as your lead?

I thought about a very retro, almost 1960s idea of the all-American astronaut. The idea was to break down the myth of what it means to be traditionally masculine, macho. And the only way you can really break down the myth is to start with the myth. There’s this whole mythology that comes along with [Pitt], and that’s what you can play with.

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