Deadline – February 10, 2012

OSCARS Q&A – by Pete Hammond

Brad Pitt is on a roll, even for Brad Pitt. Arguably the world’s No. 1 male movie star, he is at the top of his game, enjoying widespread critical acclaim for his 2011 output Moneyball and The Tree Of Life — which he both starred in and produced through his Plan B production company. Both scored Best Picture Oscar nominations but were troubled projects that likely would not have seen the light of a camera if not for Pitt’s determination and ability to make them happen. He has already won New York Film Critics Circle and National Society of Film Critics awards for best actor in Moneyball, and now he’s up for an Oscar for that role as Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane. He has smartly created a lasting career by working with some of the best directors around — he calls himself a “director whore” — and has become a first-class producer in the process. He sat for a wide-ranging conversation with Deadline Awards Columnist Pete Hammond that took place a few days after he learned of his multiple Oscar nominations.

AWARDSLINE: What was it about Moneyball that you knew, you just had to make this movie?
PITT: These guys (the Oakland A’s) are trying to survive in an unfair game, going up against conventional wisdom, starting from scratch and asking the questions “Why do we do what we do? Does it still make sense to us? Because we thought it made sense 100 years ago.” It’s a story of value, our own self-worth and this individual’s (Billy Beane) search for his own value in the process. It was such a relevant story for our time. I really hooked into it. Unconventional, difficult and unique and yet at the same time it had these undertones of what I loved in ’70s films. I put two years into this project and it went away and then put another year into it and it went away and I just couldn’t stand to see that happen on this one again. And Amy (Pascal, co-chairmen of Sony Pictures Entertainment) stuck with this: She is our patron saint at the end of the day. ’Cause she doubled down at a big risk.

AWARDSLINE: How did Bennett Miller come in as director after Steve Soderbergh dropped out?
PITT: I had been talking to him about this other film and Catherine Keener, who is a good friend of ours, said “You got to get him.” Bennett seemed like the perfect balance for the material — the shape it was in, certainly, at that time. He’s got an elegant touch. He’s quite literary minded, he has experience with documentaries and he’s painfully picky. And when we sat down we were speaking the same language and that’s always the best sign.

AWARDSLINE: When I heard that this project went south and that Soderbergh and Sony parted ways, I thought you would follow suit.
PITT: I still can’t tell you what makes a great film or any formula. They are all as individual as your children and are in constant movement and it takes a lot of people to come together and bring their ‘A’ game for a film to really work. But, yes, I wanted to stick with it. Steven is a friend of mine and that was certainly a tough week, but, you know, we’ve all been through it and it’s all fine.

AWARDSDLINE: Why did you want to hook up with Terrence Malick and Tree Of Life‘s particular material, knowing how difficult this was going to be? Let’s face it, there are some audiences that love it, and some that hate it.
PITT: I feel like we have done well if we receive those kind of distinct, polarizing views. Terry and I were developing something else and he invited me to produce. And there was a great mysticism behind this one. This was the one that Terry has been trying to make for two-and-half-plus decades. This is the one that he was dwelling on when he took his leave of absence. I was curious to see what this film would be. In reading the script, there was a familiarity for me, particularly in regards to my upbringing — and I wasn’t cast in it at that point. And then our lead actor (Heath Ledger) fell out and the whole movie was going to go away because it was independently financed. So, I said “Fuck It [laughter] I’ll do it,” just to work with Terry. I had a great experience with Terry, great conversations with Terry. He’s a kind, competitive, deep-thinking man. And the whole style of the way he approached filmmaking was unlike anything I had done before.

AWARDSLINE: How did you develop the character of Mr. O’Brien?
PITT: My friend said I was an absolute dick during the making of this [laughter]. I don’t remember that at all, but apparently I was. I found it to be a heartbreaking story of a man who doesn’t know how to get above those things he feels oppressed by. Instead he does the exact opposite of what he wants to do, he passes that bitterness and oppression on to his kids and then feels quite guilty about it, and tries to make up for it and then the cycle starts all over again. A man caught in this whirlpool, I found it quite heartbreaking.

AWARDSLINE: As a producer, is it hard to find good material now?
PITT: I imagine that it’s cyclical. I actually found it was easier to gain material in the first few years when I started than now, when it’s very competitive, but also, that’s the stuff that’s on everybody’s radar. Our mandate was to take on stories that might have a difficult time being made, or back filmmakers that we believed needed some extra muscle. And that’s where we started from. I am a bit of a director whore [laughter]. It is a director’s medium and I have so much respect for what they do.

AWARDSLINE: Do you want to direct yourself?

AWARDSLINE: That’s a fast answer. [Laughter] No interest in it, really?
PITT: Nope!

AWARDSLINE: Well that’s interesting, OK, you’re a born producer! [Laughter]
PITT: I like it and there’s something humble and pure about getting to be on that side of things, the other side of the camera.

AWARDSLINE: I just went to the 20th anniversary screening of Thelma And Louise at the Academy. You popped off the screen 20 years ago and you still pop off the screen.
PITT: Well thank you. I haven’t seen it since. I just remember Michael Madsen was fantastic. The perfect villain. There was a moment when I was getting beat over the head by Harvey Keitel on the first day on the set! With my own hat, and I thought this is great, man.

AWARDSLINE: And then you worked with [Robert] Redford for the first time with A River Runs Through It. Was that a good experience for you working with somebody like Redford, an actor-turned-director?
PITT: It was an incredible experience. I remember a friend and I, we put ourselves on tape and sent it in and somehow we snuck through and got in there. It was a big deal for me. A big coming-of-age kind of time. I remember [Redford] telling me, “Stop sighing, stop sighing, you’re letting energy out of the scene.”

AWARDSLINE: Interview With A Vampire, that was a huge movie. You and Tom Cruise got to work in New Orleans, which you have a real kinship with now as well. What was that for you?
PITT: I was miscast in that actually. I think I didn’t have that one figured out.

AWARDSLINE: Do you ever go back and look at these movies again and wonder?
PITT: No, I figure I will when they don’t let me work anymore and I’ll be this sad guy watching his glory days [laughter] — only kidding. No, I’m not really one for going back. Maybe I should, maybe it’s the smart thing to do. But it’s like I’ll see me and start picking up my tics, but I think about it because it’s all a moment in time for me. Seeing these films — I don’t just see the film. I see the people and where we were and the experiences and what was going on at the time.

AWARDSLINE: David Fincher, obviously you have a real relationship in terms of working with him several times now: Se7en, Fight Club and Benjamin Button.
PITT: He could teach a class. He is so knowledgeable about making films, story, the actual film itself and now, with digital for him, the technology and where it’s going and what you can do with it. I have come to this conclusion that I just wanted to work with friends and people I respect, and people I can have a laugh with and learn from.

AWARDSLINE: Do you have a favorite role that you’ve done?
PITT: Well, I mean, my favorite ones are those I’ve just finished [Cogan’s Trade and World War Z]. Cogan’s Trade is pretty strong, it’s unconventional as well [Editor’s Note: It is directed by Pitt’s Assassination Of Jesse James helmer Andrew Dominik]. Jesse is one of my all-time favorites I must say. I think (Warner Bros.) is a little ashamed by that one because financially it didn’t do too well for them ($15 million worldwide box office). I don’t know what it’s done in the long run though, but I think that is a film that just gets better and better.

AWARDSLINE: With World War Z, you’re back and that’s an unusual concept — zombies.
PITT: [Laughter] I know, I know … what the hell?

AWARDSLINE: This whole awards season thing: The campaigning, everything that goes on — Woody Allen has said “I don’t want an award that you have to campaign for.”
PITT: I understand that and I certainly was wrestling with the whole notion of a campaign. But that’s how it’s being framed. And it doesn’t have to be that. A lot of people broke their backs to make these films. These films have had a great response. It’s nice to talk about them, the Q&As, people who are interested in film and the process, like I am. It doesn’t have to be shilling for a vote. I think it’s how you approach it and how you look at it.