Washington Post – May 16, 2011

Brad Pitt on Christianity and “Tree of Life”

By Anthony Kaufman

Brad Pitt at the Cannes Film Festival Terrence Malick’s long-awaited cosmic family drama “The Tree of Life” had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday morning, engendering lofty conversations about faith and the impermanence of life from star Brad Pitt.

“I grew up with Christianity,” said Pitt, who grew up in the Midwest in a family of Southern Baptists. “Some things worked for me and some things didn’t.”

In the film, Pitt stars as a strict father, raising three boys in Waco, TX in the 1950s. The impressionist film interweaves the story of the family’s growth and personal tragedies with surreal cosmic interludes, complete with extended sequences charting the universe’s creation and the earliest forms of life on earth, from jellyfish to dinosaurs.

“I grew up being told that ‘God is going to take care of everything and it doesn’t always work out that way; and if it doesn’t, that’s God’s will.’ I’ve got my issues,” Pitt admitted during a press conference after the premiere. “Many people find religion gives them opportunities. I found it very stifling as an individual and a tightness to it that the father character carried with him.”

The movie received a strongly mixed reaction after its morning world premiere, with audience members streaming out of the theater during the final minutes and a chorus of boos and a smattering of applause with the end credits.

But the mysterious nature of the project and director Malick’s process drew Pitt to it, and inspired him, said the actor.

“The best moments were not preconceived,” explained Pitt, who likened Malick’s looser, improvisational process to someone carrying around a butterfly net and trying to catch moments rather than direct them. “I’ve tried to go more in that direction,” said Pitt, “Making an intense study when you go into it, but then let it go where it takes you.”

“It was all about capturing an accident,” added Jessica Chastain, who plays the idyllic mother of the family.

If the finished product wasn’t always clear to the actors during the film’s making, Pitt explains, “Yes, it’s a leap of faith, and that’s the point.”

Asked why he’s chosen to make more arty films recently, Pitt added, “Like the film itself, you want to discover, you want to find something new, and that’s been my focus. About 10 years ago, I started thinking about my favorite films, and they weren’t the big commercial things; they had more depth and they were asking a lot of the big questions.”

The famously reclusive director of “Badlands” and “The Thin Red Line” was not at the press conference to speak to the film himself.

His collaborators defended his decision. “He wants the work to stand on its own,” said producer Bill Pohlad.

“I think the most sincere gesture he can make to the audience is to let them interpret it on their own, each individually,” added producer Sarah Green, “and any input corrupts the process.”

Pitt likened Malick to the builder of a house. “He wants to focus on making them,” he said, “and not the selling of the real estate.”