PITT FINDS PARALLELS WITH JESSE JAMES – by Katherine Monk
Believe it or not, there’s a lot more to Brad Pitt than meets the prying eye of the celebrity tabloids and infotainment reporting pool.
Yes, Brad Pitt has a big bed. And yes, he and his partner Angelina Jolie may well have more kids, in which case, they will need an even bigger bed. But — believe it or not — there’s a lot more to Brad Pitt than meets the prying eye of the celebrity tabloids and infotainment reporting pool.
The actor and producer also has a brain — in addition to two blue eyes, a shock of ash blond hair and the so-called “sexiest body” of any man alive — and he’s used that educated and inquisitive noggin to crack open a few lingering myths close to the American soul in his latest film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which opens in select cities this weekend.
An esthetically spartan take on the latter days of noted outlaw and former rebel soldier Jesse James, the new movie — shot entirely in Alberta and Manitoba — features Pitt as the wily, paranoid and borderline psychotic anti-hero who, more than a century later, continues to embody the idea of the lost, romantic frontier where a man with enough grit and courage could recreate his own world.
The role is a natural fit for Pitt, if not for his all-American appeal, then for his place atop the celebrity totem because James — like Pitt — was a household name. Considered the first bona fide celebrity of the photographic age, Jesse James and his gang spawned a fame-based industry pushing everything from postcards and comic books to pictures of corpses and signature pistols.
Pitt is all too familiar with the modern forces of the fame industry.
“I happened to be watching CNN just last night, and I caught my name on the crawl — as though it were a hot news item or something — that Brad Pitt says he may have more kids. I don’t get it. That’s not news. To be honest, I worry about journalism because we don’t have the gatekeepers anymore. We don’t have the editor making a decision anymore, it’s the populace.”
Pitt says because websites and e-news outlets are hit-based agenda-setters, it’s the news item that attracts the most viewers which earns the banner headline — not the most important story of the day.
“My concern is that a real democracy only works when its population is well-informed, and right now, I don’t think the American people are getting the full story about anything. I crave a Cronkite. I crave straight news. I would much rather be aware and depressed than blissfully naive.”
“Acting can bring you closer to who you are . . .
but it’s really the stories we get to tell (as actors) that makes it rewarding as human beings. I feel very proud of a movie like A Mighty Heart. I’m proud of its relevance and the example it sets out for people. You know, I do feel a sense of freedom. I can make these decisions about what movies I want to make, and the people I want to work with.”
On The Assassination of Jesse James, Pitt says the first piece of the puzzle was director Andrew Dominik. The material, and its potentially subversive qualities, all came later.
“The great thing about working with someone like Andrew is that he sees things from a slightly different perspective,” says Pitt.
Pitt compares the arc of Jesse James and his assassin Robert Ford as something similar to a Chapman-Lennon relationship.
“Here’s a guy like Robert Ford who has low self-worth and feels underappreciated for who he is, and he meets his hero. He’s enthralled by that relationship, and he wants to be like him, but he’s still a young man who never fully understood the consequences of Jesse’s life,” says Pitt.
“He never fully gets it, and when he’s spurned, he turns.”
The scenes between Jesse (Pitt) and Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) are full of a strange tension, and an almost skin-crawling sense of idolatry. When asked about the homoerotic overtones that permeate each frame, Dominik said the whole movie “felt a lot more gay without the voice over” but he didn’t go out of his way to tone it down, or play it up.
Pitt says simply: “Isn’t every guy a little gay?”
He laughs as he says it, but he’s not entirely joking. “This is a movie about two men with a very strange bond that’s never been fully understood. That’s part of what makes this such an interesting story to play out because you can find your way through each moment emotionally. No one knows why Jesse took off his gun belt and decided to dust a picture — with his back turned to a man he thought might kill him in his own house,” he says.
“Was he expecting his gang to come to his rescue or was he just weary and tired of running and looking over his shoulder? I had to try it both ways — and that’s when you really can test the truth of the moment — and it was the latter that felt more truthful.”
Whether they all nailed the empirical and historical truth in the film doesn’t matter to Pitt. He says the important thing is questioning established mythologies, and that’s a major theme behind The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
Not only does the movie place Jesse James in the context of the Civil War, but it implodes the frontier and the western mythos as complete fantasies and, in doing so, challenges one of the central constructs of the American identity: Namely, the worship of celebrity instead of noble human pursuits.
“I’m happy you say that. I can’t really make those critical leaps — it’s not my place. It’s your place to do that, and I have no problem with what you’ve stated. But I’m loath to say anything about celebrity and Jesse James lest people draw the parallel between Jesse James and my own celebrity,” he says.
“But I will say I think it’s important to dissect these myths because we’ve become a soundbyte culture. Information has lost its context, and without context, it has no meaning,” he says.
“I think the Internet has affected how we connect with each other and how we come to understand each other . . . and not in a good way. We’ve lost the nuance of interaction, and that’s a big part of being human.”
Pitt says he’s given up on trying to stop the ubiquitous celebrity chatter. “I learned long ago that I can’t stop what people say about me, or what people write about me. But I can still live my life. And even though the whole celebrity thing is very loud, I can find the quiet time with my family,” he says.