PITT, BRAD (TROY)
PITTING HIMSELF AGAINST THE JOB
Brad Pitt wanted to test himself as an actor - and as a man nearing 40 - as he took on the role of Achilles in Troy, his first ever Hollywood epic, and a film with a crisis of conscience at its heart. Jenny Cooney Carrillo reports.
Interview by Jenny Cooney Carrillo:
Brad Pitt stars in the epic drama Troy as Achilles, the greatest warrior alive. The 40-year-old actor, married to Jennifer Aniston and star of films including Interview With A Vampire, Seven, Fight Club, Snatch and Spy Game, is regarded by many as one of the greatest stars in Hollywood. But the down-to-earth actor is as humble as ever when he meets the Hollywood press in New York to talk about the film and his role.
The film is directed by Wolfgang Petersen and inspired by the Iliad, an epic work written by ancient poet Homer in the 8th Century BC, 300 years after the fall of Troy. Set in ancient Greece, it tells the love story between Paris, Prince of Troy (Orlando Bloom) and Helen, Queen of Sparta (Diane Kruger). When Paris steals Helen away from her husband, King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), Menelaus unites all the tribes of Greece to steal her back again.
Troy is under the leadership of King Priam (Peter O'Toole), defended by the mighty Prince Hector (Eric Bana) and surrounded by a wall that has never been breached. But Menelaus recruits the greatest warrior alive, Achilles (Brad Pitt), and they start a war that brings down a civilization.
What do you think of the need for these kind of mythical heroes in today's society?
I think we definitely have a need for inspiration and direction and that always comes from example. That's why history is there for us to learn from. But then you get into what's the definition of a hero? Is it the comic book version or is it the more human version? And I guess that's just whatever speaks to the individual's interest. The Iliad itself is surprising in that if you read it today, it's amazing how heavily the theme still resonates in this climate we are in.
Could you relate to Achilles in his quest for greatness?
There are parallels there for the quest of some kind of immortality if your focus is fame, I guess, but that's not mine. When I look at this Achilles character, I see something much deeper, more trying to find meaning for your life, your purpose, why we are here and 'I don't want to die'. So a lot of who he is is about sort of running from death in a false sense, and trying to leave a monument to yourself so that you're going to live on. I don't think George Washington really cares that there is a bridge named after him at this point!
So what attracted you to this role?
The story is one of the greatest of all time and once you really break it down, how many of our contemporary stories are derived of some element of the Iliad. It's an amazing piece of work and that's why it is still around. So I wanted to be part of that. I thought the themes of it today, as I've already mentioned, still resonated. And then the character itself, I had never been part of this kind of old-style Hollywood epic so I wanted to know how I stood up in that form.
There is a great crisis of conscience and the film wrestles with that. What spoke to me most about Achilles, and if I can get a little actor-ish on you for a moment, was this idea; I feel just caught up in dos and don'ts and very puritanical values without really having experienced a lot of life and I believe you have to first go to extremes and make mistakes that will ultimately lead to success. So what I liked about Achilles was that he was a man forced by these experiences or his responses to these experiences - and they were often extreme and often despicable, certainly after the Hector fight - but through all that, he was able to get past himself and accept a greater humanity.
Achilles is a great warrior and we are now seeing a lot of characters going to war in movies. Is it a coincidence? And do you think you would be a good soldier?
If you notice in Hollywood, there will be a slew of films that come and they all follow some kind of theme so you'll see four asteroid movies that are going to bomb the world and each movement is cyclical. Now we're going to see a lot of Gladiator style films, because that opened the door for Alexander the Great and this film.
Does it have something to do with the climate of the war that we sit in? I think so. And there are a couple of themes in the film that resonate and I think there is something to be learned from. When King Priam comes to Achilles asking for the favor, Achilles is trying to hold on to some form of abstinence and says, 'if I do this for you, you're still my enemy in the morning' and Priam says, 'you're still my enemy tonight but even enemies can show respect'. And that line just floored me, because ultimately what we're left with, whatever justification is to being there, is the tragedy of war.
There is also the idea that once you take on vengeance, you take on the same evil that you were succumbed by and I like these ideas. But as far as me as a soldier? I was always the guy who got to stand out in the hall for not following instructions, so I would have a real internal problem. At the same time, it would be a weird struggle because you need to defend what you love and yet the angst of harming someone, that would be really conflicting to me.
What kind of physical training and discipline did you go through for this film?
It's amazing what an impending midlife crisis can do as a motivator (laughs)! I figured, 'what the hell, I'm going to be 40, so let's see everything falling apart!' So I really did everything by the book religiously, taught by the people who would know what they're talking about. And it hurt! It was a lot of work; I started about six or seven months before the film started shooting and carried that on into the six months of shooting and I had to be really diligent about it with the meals and the sleep and the work-out and on top of that, severe sword training and fight training.
Did you get any injuries on this film?
I got a lot of little nicks and bruises and cuts but you just let them go. I expect to get some of these on a movie this big so I don't pay attention to them. But if you've got something for tweaked tendons, I'll take that (laughs)!
How did you feel working with Hollywood legends such as Peter O'Toole and Julie Christie on this film?
Peter O'Toole was amazing. He's on the list of the few actors I looked up to when I was growing up, including Nicholson and Duvall and Brando. And Julie Christie for me was a pinnacle too. I was afraid we were going to have some subplot read through the film because she was the maternal character but like the hottie too, and you can see it right in her eyes that she still is one!
When you pulled out of the film The Fountain last year, a lot of Australian crew lost their jobs and were upset. What was behind that decision?
That was a worthy project with Darren Aronofsky, who I think is a great visualist and storyteller. I worked with him for a year-and-a-half probably, every day working on the script and this whole juggernaut was moving and the price was going up and up and it was close to a hundred million because the project was so ambitious, but everything needed to be thought through and my belief is that it needed more time to incubate and there were major holes that still needed to be worked out.
Yet this whole machine was now moving and I thought we were heading for a little Hindenburg scene, so that was a painful decision especially because of my friendship with Darren, but I had to put the brakes on and take the bullet there to save us from a cannon ball later. Since then, I'm pleased to say the thing is really strong again. It's going to be shooting later this year in Canada with Hugh Jackman in the role so it's just one of those stories that was painful at the time but the project is better now.
How has your life changed since Jennifer finished Friends?
It's great for Jen. I like watching her at such an interesting time because it's a transition phase for her. There is the melancholy of saying goodbye to an era that was very important to her and she had amazing experiences with, and then the excitement of the unknown, of what the next era is going to be. So she is right in the middle of that and there is a lot of pleasure and pain. I find those times are when you find the next direction ... and it's family for us, no question. We're just heading that way because it's a natural progression and the right time. I'm working on Oceans 12 and she can now come and be with me and enjoy this time before we have the responsibility of children.
Is it true you are working with the great architect Frank Gehry to rebuild downtown Los Angeles?
I'm an architectural nut, a junkie for it, and through this I have been able to meet Frank Gehry, who is one of the guys I most respect. After they finally built his Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown, I think it injected soul into that area and there are thirteen more acres around the Disney Hall with a chance to build more of what he started. So he asked me to sit in on a kind of 'inner circle' of interested people who serve as a think tank to try and get things going in that area.
Published May 20, 2004
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