Step­ping back into the lime­light

Brad Pitt on hubris, War Ma­chine and hav­ing ‘no se­crets’

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - JAKE COYLE

Brad Pitt and Gen. Stan­ley McChrys­tal — the in­spi­ra­tion to Pitt’s fourstar Afghanistan com­man­der in the up­com­ing Net­flix war satire “War Ma­chine” — would seem to be worlds apart. One, an af­fa­ble mem­ber of Hol­ly­wood’s elite; the other a hard-charg­ing life­time mil­i­tary man. But Pitt found one con­nec­tion with his char­ac­ter: a swollen ego, and the dam­age done.

“Hubris is a trap and it’s the trap of ev­ery great na­tion that has been No. 1 for too long. You start be­liev­ing your own stink,” Pitt says. “Any time I’ve got­ten in trou­ble, it’s be­cause of my own hubris.”

Pitt, at the mo­ment, may be par­tic­u­larly em­pa­thetic to such a dras­tic swing as the one that sank McChrys­tal via an in­fa­mous Rolling Stone pro­file. Pitt is now, for the first time since An­gelina Jolie Pitt filed for di­vorce from him last Septem­ber, step­ping back into the lime­light. He hasn’t been timid. In his first post-sep­a­ra­tion in­ter­view, to GQ, Pitt was un­usu­ally can­did, speak­ing frankly about his strug­gles with al­co­hol and the pains of di­vid­ing their fam­ily.

Pitt was sim­i­larly forth­right in a widerang­ing in­ter­view last week with The Associated Press. He called di­rectly — “Hey man, it’s Brad” — and over the course of half an hour, dis­cussed his present state of mind, his cur­rent at­ti­tude about act­ing and his alarm at the pos­si­bil­ity of ex­pand­ing the war in Afghanistan. Why the open­ness?

“I’ve got no se­crets. I’ve got noth­ing to hide,” said Pitt. “We’re hu­man and I find the hu­man con­di­tion very in­ter­est­ing. If we’re not talk­ing about it, then we’re not get­ting bet­ter.”

It’s un­doubt­edly a fraught pe­riod for the 53year-old ac­tor. He said he’s spend­ing his time now “keep­ing the ship afloat” and “fig­ur­ing out the new con­fig­u­ra­tion of our fam­ily.” “Kids are ev­ery­thing,” he said, of their six chil­dren. “Kids are your life. They’re tak­ing all the fo­cus, as they should any­way.”

He’s get­ting through it, he as­sured. “I’m not sui­ci­dal or some­thing,” Pitt said, laugh­ing. “There’s still much beauty in the world and a lot of love. And a lot of love to be given. It’s all right. It’s just life.”

Pitt was most keen to dis­cuss “War Ma­chine” and the strong pas­sions be­hind it. The film, writ­ten and di­rected by the Aus­tralian film­maker David Mi­chod (“An­i­mal King­dom”), is based on Michael Hast­ings’ 2012 book “The Op­er­a­tors,” which chron­i­cled McChrys­tal’s tu­mul­tuous and short-lived stew­ard­ship of the war in Afghanistan.

“War Ma­chine,” which de­buts on Net­flix May 26, takes a slightly fic­tion­al­ized ap­proach. Pitt’s char­ac­ter is named Gen. Glen McMa­hon, but the events and per­son­al­i­ties cov­ered cor­re­spond ac­cu­rately with McChrys­tal’s down­fall. The switch, made af­ter the project was an­nounced, saved the film from some po­ten­tially thorny le­gal is­sues.

“We had no in­ter­est in im­pugn­ing Gen­eral McChrys­tal or any of his guys,” said Pitt. “For me, the prob­lem is more sys­tem­atic.”

“The im­pe­tus for me was a visit to Wal­ter Reed,” added Pitt, who vis­ited the mil­i­tary med­i­cal cen­tre in 2014. “Those young men and women — who are ab­so­lutely heroic in a very har­row­ing sit­u­a­tion — their lives are for­ever changed and so are their fam­i­lies. It just re­ally made me ques­tion who is spend­ing this cur­rency of ded­i­ca­tion. Who’s writ­ing the check? Who’s mak­ing the or­der?”

Par­tic­u­larly galling to Pitt was the re­cent re­quest by ad­vis­ers to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials for sev­eral thou­sand more Amer­i­can troops in Afghanistan, a war that has al­ready spanned more than 15 years. It’s time to re­think what “win­ning” means, he says.

“Noth­ing that we’ve ever done has said that more troops are go­ing to do any­thing but cause any more dam­age, more loss of life and limb,” said Pitt. “We talk a lot about sup­port­ing our troops but I think sup­port­ing our troops is much more than giv­ing them money and a pat on the back. I think it’s be­ing re­spon­si­ble to how we use that ul­ti­mate ded­i­ca­tion.”

Trump’s top ad­vis­ers have said the pres­i­dent has not made any fi­nal de­ci­sion about adding more troops in Afghanistan.

In “War Ma­chine,” Mi­chod sum­mons some of the spirit of war come­dies like “Catch-22” and “M-A-S-H.” The film cap­tures an Amer­i­can mil­i­tary driven by pol­i­tics, il­lu­sions and per­sonal as­pi­ra­tions. Pitt’s gen­eral, with a deeper, gruffer voice than McChrys­tal’s, comes charg­ing into Afghanistan with out­landish delu­sions of grandeur and de­parts amid self-in­flicted scan­dal.

“We were tap­ping into a meld­ing of war and com­edy — two things that used to co­ex­ist quite con­formably, but in this day and age don’t,” said Mi­chod. “It’s very in­ter­est­ing to see how the two co­ex­ist in the pub­lic sphere given how strangely earnest all con­ver­sa­tion about war has got­ten in a pos­si­bly warped way. But there’s some­thing al­most truer in that kind of great com­edy treat­ment of decades past than the na­ture of the dis­cus­sion that goes on to­day.”

Mi­chod grants it’s an ap­proach that makes for some wild swings of tone in “War Ma­chine,” but he says a mix of ab­sur­dity and tragedy is ul­ti­mately more real­is­tic.

“At core, the thing to me that’s most pow­er­ful about ‘War Ma­chine’ and what made it feel im­por­tant to me was that it was about the way per­son­al­i­ties can have an in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful and of­ten a pow­er­fully dam­aged rip­ple ef­fect across the world,” said Mi­chod. “The movie is called ‘War Ma­chine,’ but that ma­chine is made up of in­di­vid­u­als, in­di­vid­u­als with their own strengths and am­bi­tions.”

Pitt said he dis­cussed the film with McChrys­tal. “I feel for him,” said the ac­tor. “He’s a prod­uct of us. He’s us.” McChrys­tal, who re­tired from the Army shortly af­ter re­sign­ing com­mand, has since launched a man­age­ment con­sult­ing firm and penned a mem­oir. He de­clined to com­ment for this ar­ti­cle.

Lit­tle about “War Ma­chine” is typ­i­cal for a Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tion. It would have never got­ten made, Pitt said, without Net­flix. The stream­ing ser­vice bankrolled the film for $60 mil­lion, mak­ing it one of Net­flix’s most am­bi­tious projects yet.

“The de­gree of dif­fi­culty on this one was 10,” said Pitt, “which is what makes it worth it for me to go get in front of the cam­era now.”

Through his pro­duc­tion com­pany Plan B, Pitt has be­come a re­mark­ably suc­cess­ful pro­ducer. He was be­hind two of the last three best-pic­ture winners (“Moonlight,” “12 Years a Slave”) as well as other ac­claimed re­leases like James Gray’s “The Lost City of Z.” At times, Pitt — though he’s prep­ping nu­mer­ous projects, in­clud­ing a pos­si­ble “World War Z” se­quel — sounded al­most as though his movie star days are be­hind him.

“I feel my­self as I’m older grav­i­tat­ing more to the pro­duc­ing side than be­ing in front of the cam­era,” said Pitt. “It’s a big com­mit­ment, a film, and it does take you away from your fam­ily. I just have to bal­ance that. It’s not less im­por­tant, it­self, it’s just not as im­por­tant as fam­ily. (‘War Ma­chine’) I loved be­cause it’s af­ter some­thing and we don’t know where we’re go­ing to end up. It’s a del­i­cate tightrope to walk.”


Brad Pitt as Gen. Stan­ley McChrys­tal in “War Ma­chine:” “I feel for him.”


Brad Pitt says “War Ma­chine” would never have got­ten made without Net­flix. It de­buts on the stream­ing ser­vice May 26.

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