Empire – December, 2007


It would be hard to argue that there’s a bigger celebrity in the world right now than Brad Pitt, which makes the irritatingly handsome star the perfect choice to play the title character in Andrew Dominik’s instant classic (but tough to get on a poster) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. James was the most famous man of his day, an outlaw idolised by many for his rebellious ways, particularly aspiring hoodlum Ford, who craved his attention and then took his life. Empire sat down with Pitt at the Toronto Film Festival to talk fame and ill-gotten fortune.

Why did you feel that the Jesse James story should be retold?

I didn’t really see this as a retelling. I only understood the myth as we understand it in American folklore. But (Ron Hansen’s) book was great, and thematically wonderful. The only thing it doesn’t really have is a plot! It’s about human behaviour as much as it is names and legends It feels kind of timeless. I think this film is Mean Streets good. But it’s a weird movie, very idiosyncratic, and there’s only so much you can do with the story.

How do you perceive Jesse James–as a Robin Hood figure or a psychopatic killer?

The film picks up during the last years of his life, and he was coming from an area of real paranoia, which was largely justified, and it consumed him and was responsible for a lot of his erratic reactions. But it’s also true to say that there’s that Robin Hood aspect to him, which was based on truth, and that he did help to perpetuate. He was also a ruthless killer during the period before the film starts.

The release of the film’s been delayed several times–you actually shot it two years ago. Was it a difficult shoot?

It was, and it was always going to be difficult to shoot it in the ten-week slot, but all the stories that the film was a train-wreck, I think, really helped us and worked in our favour. The movie’s so much better than some people expect.

Did you enjoy the fact that the movie deals with the mythologising of celebrity culture?

That’s not why I chose the role, or even what I think is the main point of the story, but there is an element of that in the film. Getting into the story, I was surprised to see how much of a quotient of tabloid media was alive and well at that time. They were operating with sensationalism, and not much has changed.

Do you feel as though you live under the microscope?

Really, the miscroscope is not on me that much, and it has nothing to do with my actual life. But it can be tricky for a young actor, because you don’t know what you’re getting into. You just focus on this life because you love movies, and when this other thing comes along it can be discombobulating.