Washington Post – October 06, 2007


Almost every story written about Brad Pitt and his new movie, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” has drawn parallels between the actor and the outlaw. Both idealized, hunted men, known the world over and not really known at all.

But there are shades of Pitt in the assassin as well as the outlaw. Pitt has said in the past that he sought fame, in part, because he expected it to salve some internal longing.

He speaks the same way now of “the coward,” Robert Ford, a man who views “celebrity as an attainment of some kind of self-worth.”

Of course, it doesn’t work out that way — for Pitt or Ford.

Pitt never could have wished for the kind of crazed celebrity he grapples with today, one that puts thousand-dollar bounties on pictures of his children and that gives him a sentry-like awareness of lurking paparazzi.

What is perhaps most surprising is how accepting Pitt seems of the insanity of his celebrity. “You know, when I first started, it was such a cacophony of grabbing and want. And I found it very discombobulating. And that was on a much smaller scale,” Pitt says on the phone from New York during a lunch break on the set of the new Coen brothers movie, “Burn After Reading.” “But now — and I’m sure it has something to do with having kids — none of it concerns me or fazes me.

“Now it’s like, ‘What’s the worst thing?’ The worst thing is that they get in the kids’ faces and they jump that line,” says Pitt, who, with partner Angelina Jolie, is a parent to four young children. “So, if it’s not that, then it’s just ‘Okay,’ and I can go on about my business.”

And he does understand the comparisons between himself and Jesse James, or what Pitt calls the “easy angle.” They grew up in roughly the same area of Missouri. They came from relatively unremarkable backgrounds and grew up to strike the strange nerve of public fascination.

“I was a bit dumbfounded to see that tabloid journalism was alive and well at that time,” Pitt says.

He also says he never really considered those similarities while making the movie. The 43-year-old was drawn by the chance to tell the oft-told story of the infamous robber in a different way. The movie is more Greek tragedy than classic western, Pitt says.

“I mean, I shoot my gun what — once? Twice?”

The tale picks up as James is winding down a life of crime. Much of the bandit’s gang has been snuffed out, and paranoia is increasingly taking hold when two brothers, including Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), worm into his small circle of loyalists.

Or seeming loyalists: As the title suggests, Robert Ford, simultaneously a sycophant and traitor, killed James with a gun his outlaw hero had just given him. Some historians suggest James had gotten careless; others say he knew what was coming and orchestrated his own death.

The actor has his own theory: James “was looking to see if there was anyone he could trust and if that would not be the case . . . then nothing was gonna change. And he couldn’t live that way,” he says.

Trust and deceit will also be central to “State of Play,” a remake of a BBC drama that will bring Pitt, who plays an investigative reporter, to Washington for five weeks early next year.

Turns out Pitt is a bit of a journalism junkie who has given quite a bit of thought to the state of the industry — no doubt because of his time spent under its microscope.

“I believe in it so much . . . as we see more and more the complexities of situations, that it’s not just ‘Star Wars’ — good against bad. I see the importance of it more than ever,” he says. His fear is that, especially on the Web, news organizations are placing more emphasis on stories of popular interest than on global importance.

“You’re going to have people and their whims dictating what the lead stories are going to be,” Pitt adds. “Or what the stories are going to be at all.”

Or — he seems to imply — how many of them will be about him.