Huffington Post – October 31, 2011

Brad Pitt Talks ‘Tree Of Life’, Working With Terrence Malick, Jessica Chastain

By Sarah Dean

Hollywood stalwart Brad Pitt talks about his role in Terrence Malick’s hugely ambitious and passionate masterpiece The Tree Of Life, in an exclusive interview for The Huffington Post UK.

Pitt stars as an overbearing father in 1950s Texas, and also co-produced the film. Malick’s big-screen spiritual quest took home the Palme d’or from this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and impressed and baffled critics alike.

Below, Pitt talks about working with the elusive Malick, the process of filming one of the most talked about films of 2011, and his co-star Jessica Chastain:

How did you first encounter Terrence Malick’s work?

I found it later, as seems to be the case with most of my favourite films, in Badlands, and what a revelation it was at that time. I just hadn’t seen anything like it. It spoke to a certain endemic behaviour in America that was deep-rooted and not spoken about.

How did you get involved in The Tree Of Life?

We were developing something with him [Malick] that we’d been working on for a couple of years, and this came up, and he invited us in to help produce. Another actor was involved and he fell out, and I said, “What the hell. It’s Terry Malick. Let’s go.” And I think this particular story was quite personal to him.

But, upon reading it, I found it quite personal as well. And now, looking at it, I see it as completely universal. That story of negotiating your way from being a child to becoming a young adult, and the micro-events that seem macro to the individual and that hone you and shape you and the people who you bounce off of. Meaning, in this film, the parents.

How liberating was it for you as an actor?

It was a really interesting experiment. And it’s true that the best moments I have experienced for myself, have discovered for myself, were not necessarily scripted or certainly not planned. And this is a film that could not have been preconceived.

And Terry’s been after that for some time. And, just what I was saying earlier, now directors are catching onto that, whether inspired by or not, they’re starting to look for that same thing. But, he, to me, was the front-runner. In fact, he’s directed a film since – he didn’t even have a script. He had more of a blueprint for scenes, and the actors came in wearing their own clothes and no makeup, and free-formed it. And I think he’s trusting in the editing process to start. You know, what he discovers in a day.

And I’ve come to believe this is a defining difference in the great directors and good directors. He loves all his characters. He really loves them. Through all their foibles and tribulations. He loves them. And he laughs and laughs. When they get angry, he laughs.

He had reportedly been working on the film’s concept since the seventies?

Yeah. It was the mythical one. The mythical Terry Malick piece that never got made, which, again, was enticing for me, to jump in and go see what it is. But, like, the kids did not even – they weren’t allowed to read the script. And they had their little closet of clothes, and whatever they would put on that day, by choice, was what they shot in. And then he would tell them right before a little bit about what the scene was about, and off we’d go.

Was there anything else unusual about working with Malick?

I’ll tell you what else he did that I never experienced on another film. He got a permit for the entire block, and we were free to move wherever we wanted to move. Meaning, if we wanted to walk out the front door, he could either follow us with the camera or let us go. If he followed us out, there’d be a Fifties car parked, and either way, maybe two kids jumping rope all day, you know, just in case he had wanted to shoot in that direction. And so it gave you this immense freedom to remove yourself from a scene, rejoin a scene, kick a kid out of the scene, bring him back in. It was very, very interesting.

How important was it for you, to be known as an actor in the film but to also be a producer working with Malick?

Yeah. Well, I have great pride, you know, standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Terry. The producer, I find, is just the support group for the author, for the sculptor, the storyteller. And most of the time, it’s just getting out of the way.

What did you learn about him as a person?

You know, Terry is so open in his thinking, and a very gentle spirit. Very kind. But the thing I learned about him that I didn’t realise, he’s actually an amazing athlete, and quite competitive if you put a ball in his hand. Really competitive. But we did things that, you know, from a more rural or country or Southern upbringing that you couldn’t get away with on films.

Like the dog would bite – a crazy dog – and the dog would bite the kids. And the kids are used to it, because that’s their playground. And a laugh. He’d laugh. Because that’s what we grew up with, I guess.

What was it like to work with Jessica Chastain?

Well, I think we’re going to see. I think she’s just starting. We’re going to see some great things from her. She’s really committed, and she herself has this elegance that you can’t attain unless you’re born with it. We’re going to see some really interesting stuff from her.