Empire – June, 2004

ACHILLES – by David Eimer

Brad Pitt
Brave, beautiful and fiercely loyal. He’s the greatest warrior the world’s ever seen…

William Bradley Pitt has not starred in a film for over two years. Ocean’s Eleven his last outing, which might suggest that he’s either lazy or disenchanted with life as a screen idol. Not so, says the man playing the greatest warrior the world’s ever seen. "The gap was a bit inadvertent," he explains. "I’d been working on a couple of things but they didn’t pan out. And I was having a nice time. At the end I started getting a little itchy, but then this came along and I felt like it was a worthy project to go after. A story like this doesn’t come along very often."

A $200 million-plus re-telling of Homer’s The Illiad, arguably the biggest movie of recent years, comes along very rarely indeed. But when it does, it offers the chance to play a character who will become a screen icon. "I’ve never seen anything like it in terms of scale and scope." Shrugs Pitt, who’s slumped on a sofa, dressed in jeans and white shirt, fiddling with his blond hair, "but I can’t say that I changed my approach because of that."

Pitt is so laid-back he claims not to be concerned by the level of expectation surrounding his comeback role: "I don’t feel any pressure. I really don’t. Listen, it’s more fun when the film works and do well and it makes life easier, but it’s not my job to worry about that." Instead, he’d rather talk about Homer and how much he enjoyed playing Achilles. A research fiend, he spent six months prior to filming delving into the character.

"What I like about Achilles is that he’s formed by his experiences and not through any dogma," he continues. "He makes some grave mistakes, some of which are almost unforgiveable, but through that he is formed and becomes a hero." Achilles, hoever, is hardly your traditional hero. The most feared warrior of his age, he was a man with a serious anger management problem. Luckily, Pitt gave up smoking just before shooting started. "I miss the bitch," laughs the 40 year-old, referring to the tabs, "but she was trying to kill me and the homicidal rage that then ensued didn’t hurt the character."

That anger will become fully manifest in Troy’s ferocious battle scenes, which don’t shrink from the brutal consequences of war, 1215 BC-style. "it’s war and I don’t see how you can sugar-coat that," he says. "There’s this debate on how much blood you should show-the ratings board don’t like it, but I think you should show it as what it is if you’re going to portray it properly."

Portraying the battles properly, especially Achilles’ role, required a gruelling physical training regime. "It wasn’t me just throwing up some weight every now and again," points out Pitt, who’s still carrying a lot of the muscle he put on to play Achilles. "I had a trainer and he explained to me that I had to reach a certain level of discomfort each day if I wanted to be ready for shooting. But after a couple of months of struggling through it, it becomes a part of your everyday life and you acclimatise to the discomfort. And then it doesn’t worry you."

Nor was the rest of the shoot easy. "It was gruelling-the weather was brutal when we had all those 100 degrees days, but it was rewarding. I think it’s much tougher to be on something that your heart’s not in, or where you don’t know wherer you’re going." And while other members of the cast was hitting karaoke bars in Malta and downing margaritas in Mexico, Pitt was tucked in bed. "I was living a sort of monastic life, especially during the first part of filming. But I made up for it towards the end."

His fondest memories are of hanging out with peter O’Toole, who plays Trojan king priam, the father of paris and hector. "It was great, man, just incredible," he says. "That he’s got so much energy at that ahe and is that sharp is inspiring. He’s one of the greats and he really anchored the film for us. I remember being with him one night and him telling me about his love for Katherine Hepburn, and then we woke up the next day and found out that’s she’d passed away."

There’s a chance that troy could do for pitt what Lawrence of Arabia did for O’Toole, although the former, as modest as ever, merely smiles at the suggestion. "I should be so lucky," he says. But troy seems to have rejuvenated the ladies’favourite: he went straight onto the thriller Mr. And Mrs. Smith with Angelina Jolie, and is now making Ocean’s twelve. "That’s about hanging with the lads," he smiles. "it’s a democracy and it’s a lot of fun," He will miss his leather skin from Troy, though. "Listen," he laughs. "If men don’t wear skirts after this movie, then we’ve failed."