CTV – September 09, 2007


Before Brad Pitt set one foot into his Toronto press conference for “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” a buzz stirred the room. The Venice Film festival had just awarded Pitt a best acting prize for his portrayal of the infamous American outlaw.

Arriving in a white suit and wearing a newspaper boy’s cap, the affable Pitt said nothing about the prestigious win. His focus was discussing director Andrew Dominik’s cinematic take on the iconic Robin Hood figure of the Old West.

Set against smokey saloons, log cabins and wide vistas of open country in the 1880s, Dominik gives audiences an intimate and surprisingly more interior view of the legendary gunslinger’s state of mind. Tired of living on the run, James foresees that the end of his career – and his life – is close at hand. The heroic bandit almost seems to beckon death as a way of escaping the brutal demise he’s sure will befall him one day.

“The film picks up at the end of his life,” says Pitt. “He’s coming from a place of great paranoia, most of it justified.”

Celebrity a surprise

In preparing for the role, Pitt was startled by the fact that James was such a tabloid figure in his day.

“I understood the myth around him growing up in America,” says Pitt. “Getting into the story I was surprised to see how much of a tabloid quotient of media he got at the time. It was curious to me to see that.” In fact, Dominik’s new flick is as much about celebrity culture as it is the dusty Old West.

“Fame is a funny thing,” says the A-list Hollywood actor, whose own tabloid notoriety gives him something in common with the iconic James. “I know the deal. I understand the trade off. There are also great perks to what we do – the chance to travel, to see the world. The only time it is unmanageable to me is when it is a full frontal assault on my kids.”

As Pitt says, “Unfortunately there is no line today. In this day and age that’s the only thing that bothers me.”

Praise for Affleck

Pitt is not shy about acknowledging Casey Affleck’s contribution to this new telling of the Jesse James story. Portraying the man who betrayed James and later brought him down, Pitt says he and other friends of Affleck have long known what the actor could do. The opportunity to show the full extend of his acting chops had simply not found him.

“This was a coveted role. To see Casey score like this is nice,” says Pitt.

As for the big start of his own career, Pitt says it was the love of movie making, not fame, that lured him on. “Funny enough, in some way we make this deal,” says Pitt. “But on the other hand you don’t really know what you’re getting into. The focus at the time is on acting, the love of making movies, of telling great stories.”

Fame, at its most feverish pitch says Pitt, “Can be discombobulating.”