In James Gray’s Ad Astra, Brad Pitt plays an astronaut traveling to the farthest reaches of our solar system to find his lost father and grapple with existential questions. And at the heart of the film, Pitt said at its Venice press conference earlier today, was the exploration of what constructs of masculinity mean and whether they need to be broken down.
“Having grown up in an era where we’re taught to be strong, not show weakness, don’t be disrespected,” Pitt said, “There’s a certain value in that, but there’s also a barrier that’s created with this kind of embracing of the self, because you’re denying, in a sense, those pains or the things you feel shame, whether real or imagined.
“We were asking the question, is there a better definition for us? Does being more open provide you with a better relation with your loved ones and with yourself? At the end of the day, that’s certainly what we were after.”
Of the film’s more technical aspects—particularly the zero gravity sequences—Pitt said he consulted with friend George Clooney, who had starred in Gravity. “Doing a space film is a little bit like a Peter Pan stage production, hanging from wires,” he explained. “George and I exchanged some discomfort stories.”
Gray said Pitt’s vulnerability as an actor leant itself to exploring those themes. In creating the character, he explained, “The key is you cannot worry about being liked or hated or sympathetic or unsympathetic. You can only worry about being honest to who you are, and about being willing to be vulnerable or open. Sometimes that will lead you to dark places and people will love it or hate it, but you can’t worry about that. I tried to establish that dialogue with Brad, Brad certainly did with me, and you let the chips fall where they may.”