The films that brought Brad Pitt global star power, in an almost cult-like way, Fight Club and Se7en and, before that, Thelma and Louise, are long gone. Never mind that he’s closing in on 50 (well, he’s 49 in December), Pitt retains the kind of incandescent star power that outshines everyone else in the room. Rarer still is a bona fide movie star who talks candidly about what he does with his kids on his days off, or what hour he got to bed last night.
I’m speaking to Pitt for other reasons, though. His friend Andrew Dominik, the New Zealand-born Australian director of cult hit Chopper, has a new film to promote, the dense pulp thriller Killing Them Softly, which Pitt’s company Plan B has produced. Just as he does with the Jolie-Pitt Foundation – a humanitarian aid organisation he set up with his fiancee, Angelina Jolie – Pitt is using his clout to ensure the kind of films that made him a superstar continue to see the light of day.
”I want to make a movie that says something about our time, that’s relevant,” Pitt says of Dominik’s movie, which had its world premiere at Cannes in May. ”Not necessarily about current affairs, but who we are as people. I want to work with filmmakers that I respect [as well]. It’s a collaborative sport. I want to make sure I’m in good hands if I’m gonna do something that takes me away from home.”
Pitt and Dominik, 44, became firm friends after their previous film, 2007’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, drew critical praise – although it failed to deliver at the box office.
The pair share a keen interest in original storytelling. ”I choose by feel, that inexplicable feeling: something new, something different,” Pitt says of his often unpredictable career choices, which range from playing a frenzied hobo in Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, to a hilarious Irish gypsy in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch, to a cool, calculating hitman in Killing Them Softly.
”Andrew has become a great friend of mine and Jesse James remains one of my personal favourites. I thought he made one of the best movies that I’ve been a part of – and he was really struggling to get something made.
”So when he came up with this idea, then I fit into it, I was thrilled. I knew immediately.”
Killing Them Softly, which co-stars Ray Liotta and Australia’s Ben Mendelsohn, among others, is set in an apocalyptic America, at the time of the 2008 US presidential election (its timing to this year’s race is coincidental, Pitt insists). Lashings of black humour abound, in a violent, unpredictable picture of a robbery gone wrong. It drew widespread praise upon its unveiling at Cannes.
”It’s a violent world we live in,” Pitt reasons, when pressed on the film’s brutality (the title refers to Pitt’s character’s preference to take out his targets from a distance). ”One of the many things you try to impart to your kids is to prepare them for life on their own and respect for the world at large… The film’s also a metaphor for business: business can be Darwinian, very cut-throat. The killings are metaphorical in that way, for me. It’s not a nihilistic violence, either. There is some care and thought for the [victim] to try and make it comfortable for them. It’s just an unfortunate part of their business.”
These days, Pitt is careful with his career choices. Working with Jolie, for instance, is not on the agenda, although he will happily take turns at staying home with their extended family. (”I worked a lot last year. This year, mum’s working a lot. So I get to be dad.”) He also has another project under way with Dominik, as a producer of a left-of-centre film about screen icon Marilyn Monroe. There’s also a cameo due in Steve ”Shame” McQueen’s next film.
The Missouri-raised Pitt, who famously dropped out of college to chase his film-star dream, remains as enthused as ever by the medium, in an industry that he can now command, seemingly at will, to play ball. ”Films always made me curious,” he says. ”[They] made me want to get out and travel and meet people who react differently about things than I do, who have a different point of view.
”I have a distinct memory of seeing Saturday Night Fever, an R-rated movie. [I was fascinated by] this New York family, the idea of a boisterous, gregarious family who are hitting each other, yelling at each other. They seemed ferocious, but there was a lot of love in it. I just remember seeing that, and being really affected by it.”
Killing Them Softly is in cinemas from October 11.
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