Brad Pitt on turning undertold stories into movies: ‘Every film needs some champion’


JUDY WOODRUFF: He is one of the world’s biggest
and best-known movie stars.
But, these days, Brad Pitt is spending as
much time helping get films made as acting
in them.
He is both the star and producer of the new
movie “Ad Astra,” which opened this weekend.
Pitt recently spoke about his various roles
with our Jeffrey Brown as part of Canvas,
our arts and culture series.
BRAD PITT, Producer/Actor: I do what I do
because of my dad.
He gave his life for the pursuit of knowledge.
JEFFREY BROWN: The film is called “Ad Astra,”
Latin for the phrase “To the Stars.”
And it is about a journey into the far reaches
of our solar system.
But for the tortured soul at its heart, Major
Roy McBride, this journey is also very much
inward.
Brad Pitt says his friend director James Gray
pulled him into the role by quoting a line
from the man who wrote an earlier mix of space
epic and introversion, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
ACTRESS: Please describe your current emotional
state.
BRAD PITT: I’m steady, calm, ready to do my
job to the best of my abilities.
He pulled out this Arthur Clarke quote that
said “Either We’re not alone in the universe
or we are alone, but either outcome is equally
terrifying.”
And that was a very interesting starting point.
I never thought about, what if we’re alone
here?
And then what?
JEFFREY BROWN: Is that what this became for
you?
BRAD PITT: Certainly, as far as the genre
was concerned, I mean, we’re always — we’re
either fighting aliens to save ourselves or
they’re imparting some benevolent wisdom on
us.
And this idea that, whoa, what if it’s — what
if we’re alone here?
Then are we focusing on the right things?
ACTOR: We have what looks like unidentified
rovers approaching our position.
JEFFREY BROWN: Set in what it calls the near
future, “Ad Astra” has its share of fast-paced
action, including a car chase on the moon.
ACTOR: We need backup ASAP!
We’re being ambushed!
JEFFREY BROWN: And it has more than its share
of breathtaking beauty.
This is a film to savor on a big screen.
But it’s mostly concerned with a middle-aged
man, Pitt’s McBride, with a hole at his core,
now in search of his last father, Clifford,
played by Tommy Lee Jones, himself a space
hero who disappeared 30 years earlier while
leading an expedition to Neptune.
Clifford, we learn, may be alive.
BRAD PITT: My father is alive, sir?
ACTOR: We believe so.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, in a further twist, behind
a new threat to the Earth.
Pitt, who grew up in Springfield, Missouri,
son of a man who ran a trucking company, took
the father-son issues in the film to heart.
BRAD PITT: We often discussed growing up with
this kind of Marlboro Man image of, you don’t
show weakness.
Certainly, where I grew up, we didn’t — you
didn’t complain.
If you broke your arm or you cut yourself,
you just dealt with it.
You move on, and you almost deny it.
But then we started questioning, well, are
we doing the same with our — how we really
feel?
Is that being cut off, you know?
And is there something more to look at and
embrace here?
Would we be better fathers and sons, better
partners, better lovers, better friends if
we were more — would we be more whole?
JEFFREY BROWN: I mean, it’s interesting, because
you get to sort of acted out on screen in
a movie.
BRAD PITT: Yes.
I would say it’s…
JEFFREY BROWN: And then apply it to your life,
perhaps?
BRAD PITT: It’s a bit of a luxury, what we
do, because we get to spend months really
dissecting that idea.
I think of my dad, who worked 8:00 to 6:00
five days a week, and then a six day on Saturday
a half-a-day.
He wouldn’t have that kind of luxury.
He would just be tired, you know, and then
have to take the kids out for a baseball game
or something.
JEFFREY BROWN: Pitt’s performance in “Ad Astra”
is utterly restrained and internalized, so
understated, one reviewer wrote, it hardly
looks like acting at all.
BRAD PITT: This is Major Roy McBride.
I’m attempting to reach Dr. Clifford McBride.
JEFFREY BROWN: And it’s very different from
his other big film this year in Quentin Tarantino’s
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
He says it’s all about tone.
BRAD PITT: Dad, I would like to see you again.
Tone is that thing that’s not understood.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, what does it mean?
BRAD PITT: Well, you could have a script,
and you could play comedy, or you could play
horror.
It just depends on how you shoot it and how
you play the scenes.
I mean, it’s wide open.
And this one — I think this one’s going to
be really, really contained and really simple.
And the danger in that always is that it’s
boring and flat, yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: And so how do you…
BRAD PITT: You know who did it best?
Tony Hopkins in “Remains of the Day.”
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.
EMMA THOMPSON, ®MD-BO¯Actress: Am I to take
it that, after all the years I have been in
this house, you have nothing else to say to
me?
ANTHONY HOPKINS, Actor: You have my warmest
congratulations.
JEFFREY BROWN: But so how do you do it?
I mean, how do you show that much emotion
without really showing it?
BRAD PITT: It’s an amazing thing about the
camera.
It’s like watch — when you watch a news report,
and you are really moved by someone experiencing
something in real-life time.
It’s real.
And so our job is to interpret whatever the
scene as something that’s real for us.
And, I mean, I could be thinking about something
completely different than what’s really happening
in the scene.
But if I’m feeling that, then it reads.
It’s true.
And truth reads.
JEFFREY BROWN: Sometimes, we say acting means
something kind of phony, right?
BRAD PITT: Yes, I have always objected to
that.
JEFFREY BROWN: You have?
BRAD PITT: Yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: Because?
BRAD PITT: Because it’s the antithesis of
that, when it’s good.
JEFFREY BROWN: These days, Pitt is as much
producer as actor.
His Plan B Entertainment company produced
“Ad Astra” and has been behind a number of
recent acclaimed films, including “12 Years
a Slave” and “Moonlight,” movies outside the
megaplex box.
Why is that important to you?
What do you get out of it?
BRAD PITT: Storytelling.
I’m a kid who always loved films.
I love films now.
And in that we get to be a part of stories,
really beautiful, important, powerful stories
that I wouldn’t be right as an actor.
So, in that sense, it’s still storytelling,
and I’m really proud of what my partners and
I have been able to put out into the world.
JEFFREY BROWN: Are these stories that you
think otherwise wouldn’t get told, when we
look at what’s happening with Hollywood?
BRAD PITT: No, it’s often the case, you know?
They — every film needs some champion behind
it to get it across the finish line, no question.
JEFFREY BROWN: You’re, what, 55?
BRAD PITT: Yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: Do you feel like you have been
building a career on your terms, making it
work, or is it something that just happened
to you?
BRAD PITT: It’s all those things.
It’s like winning a game show to be let inside
the doors of the studio and given a shot.
JEFFREY BROWN: You still feel that?
BRAD PITT: Oh, in the beginning, no question.
That is.
It’s like — it’s hitting the lottery in some
way.
I think it’s different.
More talent is getting opportunities now with
streaming, you know, thank God.
But what you see is, there’s this tremendous
talent that’s been there all along.
It’s been both.
It’s been — I have been pushed to do things
I didn’t feel right about.
I did them and I learned, OK, always do the
things you do feel right about.
And then you find out some work, some don’t.
So it’s all these things.
It’s by design, yet it’s by — by fate, and
it’s by many more factors beyond — beyond
me.
JEFFREY BROWN: Brad Pitt takes off to the
stars, “Ad Astra” now playing nationwide.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Jeffrey Brown
in Washington.

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