I LIKE TO PLAY DEEP CHARACTERS – by MarÌa EstÈvez
He has been seducing the audiences of all generations since his debut in Thelma and Louise. This month he steps on Achilles’ heel in Troy, the epic superproduction directed by Wolgang Petersen.
Vanity Fair has catalogued him as the “typical American” and this tag fits Brad Pitt perfectly. Blond, tall, blue eyes and most handsome, this movie heartthrob, for whom generations and generations of men and women sigh, turned 40 years old a few months ago; he stars as Angelina Jolie’s lover in the film Mr. And Mrs. Smith; is happily married to Jennifer Aniston and becomes a Greek god for the big screen playing Achilles in Wolfgang Petersen’s odyssey: Troy. This summer, the fashionable legs won’t be Beckham’s, but Pitt’s, who, with his warrior mini-skirt, will allow the world to admire his thighs, seducing with swords and more than one will enjoy the fetichism of his weak heel in Thelma [sic, I’m sure they meant Troy]. Actor, architect and now producer, with his new company Plan B, which he created with his wife Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt enjoys again with characters that show his unique physique. Snatch, Twelve Monkeys or Fight Club stay behind, [movies] where he tried to hide his beauty under makeup and show the audiences his talent of interpretation. Once the crisis was over, Pitt leads the list of forthy-somethings that the world admires as if they were teenagers; his allies in this triumvirate are Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp, although Orlando Bloom tries to grab their position at any cost. Brad Pitt seduces and surprises playing Achilles in Troy, he knows, not in vain, what it is like to be considered a demigod, a moniker he received when he started in the movie Thelma and Louise. It is precisely because of actors like Brad Pitt, that modern history worships actors as if they were member of Olympus.
We are witnessing a revival of epic cinema. Why do you think this is happening?
Who knows? Obviously, Gladiator opened the door to a certain extent. Personally, I believe it’s a combination of circumstances and has a lot to do with the fact that studios have enough money to do so, that has a lot to do with it. I think it is the appropriate time for Warner Bros. to spend the amount of money they were willing to spend. I suppose it is a cyclic process. You also have the hope that a good script has landed on their table and that they decided they had to do it. But it is clear, that this doesn’t usually happen.
What is the hardest part of a film like Troy?
The physical effort. The hardest, at the end of shooting, is that it keeps getting harder to follow the pace, especially when dealing with action scenes that require physical effort and you don’t know when you’re going to be finished. This makes me a little nervous. If you start running and you know you have five kilometers ahead of you, you can calculate what pace you need to endure. But if the five miles turn into seven, then eight and then ten… I can’t explain it any other way. That is why a shoot like this ends up being very chaotic, very complicated.
Did you think a lot about what Achilles was like, and what went trough his head?
Of course, that’s where research comes in. When you read the script, you realize that behind it there is a great story, Homer’s Iliad. It has a lot of strength but after reading it for the first time, I still could not identify exactly where it was coming from. And it’s there where discovery comes in, things start to come out to the surface. To get deeper into the subject made me feel more confident and I felt more interest for the subject. And then, you need to get it out of you, because it starts to itch.
How do you choose your projects?
I’m never clear about it until I finish the last one. I know people organize them and have coming engagements while they are shooting, but I believe that this usually doesn’t turn out right. Really, it’s never too clear… I suppose that what you look for is something you have never done before. You want to find something new. I guess that most of us get engaged with projects from the very beginning and do whatever is necessary to get them ahead. But directors know they can count on me for smaller films.
Do you think that the audience wants to see you in roles precisely like this one, as Achilles?
I am not the best person to answer to that. I don’t know what the people want, if I knew, maybe I would try to go in the opposite direction. I like playing characters I am interesting in understanding deeply. And I tend to think that if it is new and refreshing for me, there will be more people to whom it will seem interesting. I don’t want to feed that big machine.
What is Wolfgang Petersen like?
He’s a great guy. He was in charge of a huge production like this one, the biggest I have worked in and he was always so nice. The infinity of things that can go wrong did not bother him. He gave us a lot of freedom about how we wanted to build up the characters and he has a great sense of humor. You need someone like him to handle a production of these dimensions. I couldn’t imagine it would be so big. I know it was the war of Troy and I also know the limitations of the technology, but I did not imagine it would be this big.
Is it harder to prepare for a movie now that you are forty?
Well, you’d be amazed at what a mid-life crisis can do for you: it gives you wings to withstand all the physical torture you have to undergo. I am always revaluating myself, on the job as well as in life. I love getting older because of the wisdom you acquire. It grows by moments.
It has been said that Achilles’ legs aren’t yours…
What do you think? [He laughs] It’s all me, baby! I don’t know what else to tell you.
Being an actor who has everything, is commercial success still important?
Well, when a movie works it is a lot more fun, but when I think about my favorite movies, I realize that not all of them succeeded when they opened. It took some time for people to accept them. But I do not like talking about the highs and lows of my career. I believe that life is a succession of small ups and downs. Or, at least, I haven’t seen any first class port yet.
You have participated in many successful films like Seven, Interview with the Vampire or Fight Club, but, what do you think when you look back and see films like Seven Years in Tibet or The Devil’s Own?
In The Devil’s Own we had a lot of problems with the script. When we started shooting, the script that I had read and liked was gone. I suppose we had different opinions, it’s something that you can’t fight. And about Seven Years in Tibet, I love it. I spent hours and hours hanging from the slope of a mountain and I had a great deal of time to think, to look inside myself. Mountain climbing is a perfect metaphor for life. When you are that close to death you feel more alive than ever. It’s like a mind battle: you against the mountain. I did a lot of things I didn’t imagine myself capable of. That’s the memory I keep from that movie.
When you decide to do a movie, do you take any precautions?
You take risks in all the movies. There is no way of knowing. If a movie turns out to be below your expectations, bad luck. I don’t know what the risk points are that I should avoid. I have seen good scripts get destroyed and how directors have improved others that weren’t so good. Sometimes you need to look for other points of view and things get strained. I am very much a perfectionist in all my movies. There is always something you notice and you always ask for a second shot of everything. But that’s all. Every time I start a new project I get very involved. Of course, there are great actors I would love
to work with. For instance, I love to see Robert Duvall acting and others like him, and I would love to coincide someday with him. But the truth is that I like to compare projects more than to choose them according to the actors that participate in them.
Was it always clear to you that you would succeed in Hollywood?
I have always been steered in certain directions and it’s been my thing to make an effort to achieve other goals. I speak in general but, at the beginning, they thought I would fit well in soaps. But, the truth, that was not for me. And, after making Legends of the Fall, the whole story about being a leading man got started. And I thought: “Well, that’s there. But before I want to try other options, research a little and then we’ll see”. You have to start from the bottom. The more things you try, the clearer it will be, what works for you and what doesn’t. If you believe in it, you have to keep going. The fact
of rejecting projects is a part of the business. Besides being a good way to find out what your place is. You have to fight for what you want.
Why did you and Jennifer Aniston decide to create your own production company, Plan B?
We stumbled across many good stories, and the idea of being part of them and form them seems very interesting to us. Besides, we wanted to help creators that we respect.
How has marriage change your way of thinking about work?
I have always seen it as a piece of paper. Mi relationship with work will remain the same it was, but there is something new, a dedication to the other partner that I respect a lot. It surprised me a lot. We are still human beings capable of being committed. Now it is harder to spend a long time away from home. I have always liked traveling, but now being at home has a special attraction.
As an architecture afficionado, what do you think of the places where you have shot films?
Around Casablanca I was very impressed with the edifications, the way they are positioned one on top of others, it very hallucinating. There are interesting architects everywhere, in Portugal, Barcelona… I made a small project, but most of the things that people think of as small are great to me. I made a couple of things I am very proud of. Now I am doing some sort of experiment with pre-fabricated materials, everything quite cheap. It’s something that can only interest someone crazy about it, but I felt like building something.
You had psychological therapy for a year and a half. What happened to you?
I collapsed, so I decided to try it to understand how I functioned on the inside. To me, therapy is like going to class about yourself. And it is the healthiest thing in the world: it helps a lot. I believe that if everyone got analyzed, there would be no wars. Personally, now that I am married and thinking about having children, I want to be sure that I will not inherit them my disfunctions, no matter how harmless they are. I want to understand them. Besides, I find it fascinating. I used to think it was for loonies, but in reality it’s nothing more than a class about yourself. It’s not necessary to have problems or to be in crisis. When I look around, at all the conflicts that exist in the world, it seems obvious to me that it is a problem of perception. Before you can do something about it you need to understand how you perceive things. There aren’t good or bad ways of doing it, but this will help you to see how others perceive them. It is interesting for me and I believe that everybody should do it. I believe that we could avoid wars in this way.
You are preparing Ocean’s Twelve, the sequel of Ocean’s Eleven. What is your funniest anecdote about George Clooney?
Oh, well. I don’t know. Clooney is haunted by a few legends. First, I don’t think that in that movie he looked as effeminate as they say [he jokes]. And, second, the thing with the bad breath isn’t true. At all. At first what interested me the most was working with Steven Soderberg. They sold me Ocean’s Eleven with the stellar cast, I see that clearly now, in hindsight. Something like it hadn’t been done in a long time because it is financially impossible. And the idea seemed like fun, so all of us took the plunge. When you work with so many people, the interest in you gets diluted and you end looking at what the others are doing. Everyone is trying to bring out the best of themselves.
It has been discussed, that you have gotten those marked abs by smoking three packs a day. Is that true?
[He laughs] Who said that? Was it me? I’m quitting. Cigarettes take your appetite away. Three weeks ago, I didn’t smoke for a weekend and I realized I was starving. But the truth is that I do not work out. I simply have this strange metabolism. [He shrugs]
Is it irritating being Brad Pitt?
Sometimes. [He laughs]
Do you believe that there is too much attention focused on stars?
Yes, and I also believe that this attention should be focused on the directors. It is them who tell the stories and they are much more interesting. I love directors. They are fascinating people, extremely bright. Stardom is like a game and has its ups and downs. The objective is to keep being an artist, not a celebrity.
Do you have plans to work behind the camera?
No, because I have other interests and there are a lot of guys I like that are doing it very well. I would rather build something architectural.
Have you had a mentor or someone who has guided you in your career?
It’s strange, but no, nobody in particular. I think I absorb more from other actors. Cruise is a very skilled businessman. Norton is very inventive. Benicio knows how to get inside a character. Clooney handles the business like no one else, he has a great time and know how to it better than anyone else I know. So I guess I have been picking things from my colleagues.
What is your favorite part of the ones you have played so far?
I like them all, for one reason or another. As a matter of fact, I think my one-second role in Being John Malkovich. In the hands of Spike Jonze, it seemed to me like the best thing I had ever seen. But the last movie I really liked was Chopper. I think that the Eric’s [Bana] portrayal of the character is an illumination of the sociopath. The irreverence and the structure of the movie were, curiously, the central part. The argument A takes you to the B. I love it. I just saw a Russian movie titled The Return, really overwhelming. I also loved Adaptation.
To many actors, the Oscar is the biggest reward of their carriers. Is it one of your goals winning one?
I believe that I am not being considered for that. There are too many awards. In my opinion, they should all be concentrate in one. TV was invented to sell stuff. Awards were invented to give a movie a second impulse. It’s all about the money. At the same time, it is fun for us to go, look around and see what the rest has been doing that year. I don’t mean to put them down, I am all for them. I don’t know. The only thing I do not want is to get one when I’m old out of compassion. I don’t want that!
Do you feel that with the opening of Troy, you will be again the center of attention?
The question is that there is so much competition out there that you have to stand out. Personally, I would prefer to do things and hide, because you become more a celebrity than an actor, and the more people know about you, the less they will believe when you play a character. You run that risk. I am worried about saturation, but look at consumerism, it’s everywhere. As a matter of fact, it has become an interesting art.
Would you like to work with your wife in a movie?
They say that it’s the kiss of death for couples that work together. [He laughs] And I have learnt from the past; no need to name names, right?