LEGENDS IN THE MAKING - by Anwar Brett
It's not only volatile French footballers who have a jaded view of our national
newspapers. There are Hollywood stars too who arrive to publicize their films
with a mixture of apprehension and doubt. But don't expect Brad Pitt to go feet
first into the collective throng of hacks who gather to hang on his every word,
in the vain hope that he will hang himself with one of them.
For Pitt, 29-year-old and a hunky, handsome star guaranteed to make red blooded
women the world over swoon, is more than just a pretty face. He graduated from
the University of Missouri after majoring in journalism, so he is well aware
of the tricks of the trade, but still trod warily into a recent press conference
to promote his latest film, LEGENDS OF THE FALL.
With a wide selection of the great and good of entertainment journalists from
all over the country, and most especially from each of the national tabloids,
the questions ranged from the pertinent to the impertinent. Such as the reports
of his romance with actress Gwyneth Paltrow.
"I've never been happier," grinned the actor. But what did *she*
think about the steamy love scenes he shared with co-star Julia Ormond? "I've
never been happier," the grin remains. A change of tactics is called for.
"How about your haircut, why is it now so short?" someone asks. "I've
never been happier," he jokes. "The reason for my short hair? Money,"
he laughs, and when someone else suggests he sold his hair, Pitt appreciates
the gag: "How's that for a story!"
In reality his short, cropped hair and beard are the requisite accoutrements
for his role as a cop on the trail of a serial killer in his next movie, "Se7en."
Light relief compared to his two most recent films, the gruelling "Legends"
and the equally exhausting "Interview with the Vampire."
"Any time you do films back to back it's a drain on your energies,"
he explains, serious for a few moments. "When I started IWTV I was really
tired, and it wasn't the most uplifting of pieces to be doing under those circumstances.
Did you see my character? He never smiled once."
With Neil Jordan graciously pushing back the start date of Pitt's role in IWTV
in order for him to finish his duties on LOTF, the actor's only obligation was
to keep his blond hair long -- "that was in the contract, 'don't mess with
the boy's hair' " -- but in spite of all it took out of him, and the rumours
that he rarely saw eye-to-eye with co-star Tom Cruise, Pitt professes to be
happy enough with the idea of doing a sequel.
"That would be fine, Neil Jordan's a wonderful man, and besides Louis
only comes in for five minutes, then all the other vampires rag on him and he
Whatever might happen in the future, a sequel to LOTF is highly unlikely, as
all the story there is to tell has been told in a rambling, epic tale of love,
passion and brotherly discord set against the backdrop of social change from
the dying days of the Old West to the middle years of the Twentieth Century.
Adapted from an 81-page novella by Jim Harrison, Ed Zwick's rolling, rollicking
yarn casts Pitt as the prodigal middle son to former cavalry officer Anthony
Hopkins, and brother of Samuel (Henry Thomas) and Alfred (Aidan Quinn).
While the boys differ greatly in personality, Tristan (Pitt) is the enigmatic
focus of their father's attention, the most spiritual and the closest to his
father's Indian former scout, One Stab. Yet they are bound by a strong love
that is tested by the arrival of Samuel's beautiful bride-to-be, Susannah (played
by rising British star Julia Ormond), who inspires bitter rivalries that threaten
to tear them apart.
With the spirit of optimism that met the beginning of a new century growing
overcast under the clouds of the Great War, history begins to overtake the boys
whose paths occasionally cross and meet in adult life, but whose innocence is
lost forever on the battlefields of Europe. These are impressive, quite astonishing
scenes, as tricky for the director to get right as they were for his young star
to perform without the risk of serious injury -- and various stories did emerge
at the time suggesting that Pitt had come close to real harm.
"I didn't have any of those injuries you might have read about,"
he laughs, "but it sounds good. I lost an arm! It's not like I did any
of that Stallone stuff, it was just good physical fun, the sort of thing that
gets you up in the morning."
As a story, LOTF has all the right juicy, melodramatic ingredients but it was
a long time in getting made, and through much of that time a test of director
Zwich's resolve. Only when he discussed the project with Pitt, hailed as the
coming thing in Hollywood after strong performances in the disappointing "Cool
World", the hilarious "Johnny Suede" and an eye-catching cameo
in "Thelma & Louise," did it all begin to come together.
"I have to say that this is the only role I've ever done where I felt
like I was the best person for it," Pitt explains. "Without wishing
to sound cocky, that was how I felt. Maybe I am cocky, I don't know, but I really
felt that strongly about it. I'd been a fan of Jim Harrison's books since my
college days, and when I heard that Ed was doing this movie I met with him several
times over the years to tell him how much I wanted to play Tristan.
"That character and what his family goes through always seemed very accurate
to me, it just rang true. Along with the wildness he has within him, Tristan
has this huge love for everyone around him. While I was doing it I didn't know
how the rest of the film would turn out, but I always felt I had an understanding
of where this guy was going."
Given his experience in Hollywood so far, it seems fairly clear that Pitt is
drawn more to stories set in the great outdoors rather than more internal, suburban
tales. Many have drawn comparisons between this film and what many would see
as his breakthrough role, in Robert Redford's "A River Runs Through It."
"I am very comfortable with shooting films outdoors," Pitt nods thoughtfully.
"I much prefer it to being on a soundstage. But I don't agree that LOTF
is like ARRTI -- I play a much more active character here, and I get to wear
Where Redford's film took Pitt to the idyllic Montana countryside, "Legends"
was shot in the even more remote area near Calgary, in Canada, requiring cast
and crew to relocate and spend lonely nights together around the campfire during
"We didn't have much choice but to bond together after that," he
smiles. "We were out in the foothills of the Rockies with not a whole lot
to do out there, except hang out with each other. We did a lot of riding, and
had a great bunch of wranglers who helped us out with that. They took us on
cattle drives and called us 'the Hollywood boys.'
"Pretty soon the log cabins we shared became the meeting ground for everyone
on the weekends. People would sing when the crew came out. Henry would play
guitar, Aidan would fart -- he became known as 'Wind in the Pants.' But being
there on location all the time made it very easy to get into character. We had
an amazing set, and when we had down time we'd take the horses out in those
wide open spaces."
In spite of Aidan Quinn's more anti-social tendencies, it is clear that a bond
of friendship did exist between the actors, born out of the isolation of this
particular film and the respect that is inevitably built during a long and gruelling
"I feel so loyal to those guys," adds Pitt. "Maybe because we
were up there in that camp. I mean, Alfred is the toughest role in the whole
thing because on paper it actually reads as very pathetic. The role needed someone
who could bring this grace to it, and that was Aidan.
"Samuel also needed to be played by someone very special. I think Henry
brings this pureness and sweetness to the role. And then there's Julia, this
classic beauty, but with beauty coming from the inside as well. Ed had seen
her in this HBO film about Stalin, and just off one conversation with her felt
she was right for the role.
"He and I flew out to New York, she Concorded in from London -- it was
like this big studio production -- but we all made it happen in like twelve
hours. We did one reading and there it was, she was cast."
Asked about working with the ubiquitous Anthony Hopkins who obviously enjoys
his role as the grizzled and increasingly sickly patriarch of this turbulent
family, Pitt is enthusiastic in his praise.
"He's the king," he says, with a note of admiration in his voice.
"You know how a Great Dane can bark, or a lion roar, and you'd feel the
force of it as it parts your hair? It was kind of the same thing with Tony,
when he yelled the whole room would stop. He was great to watch because he was
so simple and yet so penetrating."
And yet, in spite of such illustrious company, the production rested on Pitt's
shoulders, not only because of the size and importance of his role but because
when things got sticky with the studio he agreed to defer part of his fee in
order for the film to be shot as Zwick wanted.
"It looks like being a shrewd decision on his part now the film's doing
well," Ed Zwick adds. "The money is so secondary," sighs Pitt,
"it's not why you do what you do. It doesn't make you sleep any better
That said, Pitt remains one of the most sought after actors in Hollywood, his
star is still rising and his asking price -- measured in millions of dollars
for each role -- is rising with it. But he has some problems with the whole
subject of huge star salaries, an ethical issue that he candidly puts into perspective.
"I've gone back and forth on this issue of salaries and truthfully they
are a little high. But at the same time it's a business, and compared to what
movies bring in and the part you played in that, who knows what's fair. It gets
so crazy out there, people have no concept of money and the figures they offer
can be crazy. I don't really know how I feel about it. Bottom line, are actors
worth it? No, they're not.
But if someone offers it to you, are you gonna say no? I know I'm not.... There
should always be a balance in salaries, they go up, they go down, but to me
the important thing is the characters you're offered, whether that sounds like
crap or not."
Down to earth and engagingly honest, Pitt has known what it is to dream of
the sort of salaries that he is being paid now.
"You always do what you can to put food on the table," he continues.
"There was a time when I dressed up as a chicken and had to stand on a
corner in 100 degree weather, having cars drive by and flip me off. But I got
paid seven bucks an hour so what did I care?"
For all his easy going charm and earnest midwestern manners, Brad Pitt has
been working hard to reconcile his current success in his chosen profession
with the huge media profile it creates and the public adulation that goes with
"I haven't quite made my peace with that yet," he agrees. "I
don't understand all the media stuff and why it's there. I don't know if this
is the way it's always been, but when it starts to get into personalities then
it seems less about movies and more about interpretation and images. I don't
understand that. It's become a phenomenon in itself."
In Quentin Falk's acclaimed biography of Anthony Hopkins, the fiery Welsh star
is reported to have made his views clear on the LOTF set: "We're only making
a film, not finding a cure for cancer." It's an attitude that echoes the
wisdom of Hopkins' own hard-learned experience, and if Brad Pitt has learned
nothing else this advice will stand him in good stead in the years, and movies,
And if he truly is as self-assured and natural as he comes across in the, admittedly
slightly artificial, atmosphere of a press conference then he should have little
to worry about from the usual pitfalls and distractions that tend to engulf
less prudent Hollywood stars. He is, it seems, an actor who has his priorities
right and his head screwed on.
"You know, all this attention comes from some really dirty corners, and
it doesn't mean much in itself. It's not the focus of your work, it's just something
uou have to put up with. It's a compliment, it's very nice, but it's not what
the work is about. All I'm after is finding things to do which are interesting
and that I haven't done. It's as simple as that."