He’s just graced our screens with a knock-out performance in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and now the heartbreakingly handsome Brad Pitt is back for the sci-fi adventure film Ad Astra, in which he plays an astronaut journeying across the solar system to search for answers about his missing father. Yep, it’s that cool.
Directed by James Gray and produced by Brad’s company Plan B, the film also tackles heavier topics like masculinity and self-discovery, both of which Brad feels passionate about. How do we know that? Well, he said so himself. Here, Brad explains why he decided to take part in the film, the challenges they faced, and the personal discoveries he made along the way.
You first met James Gray at Sundance in 1995, right?
That’s right. I had called him up after seeing Little Odessa. We just became immediate friends, as you see with James. He’s great for conversation, and we had been friends ever since. We always talked about doing something together. Ad Astra was the one that finally lined up for us. He said, “I got this thing I’ve been bouncing around…” It was Ad Astra, and it just felt like the original idea he had was contrary to most sci-fi films. It came from a quote that’s attributed to Arthur C. Clarke. “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” In other words, either aliens exist, or we are completely and utterly alone, and either one is equally scary. This was a really unique jumping-off point.
The other thing was our early conversations - or what was emerging from the film - were about this difficulty to connect, and these questions of masculinity. What are the things that hold us back, in our training as men, from having deeper, more fulfilling relationships, not only with the people we love but with ourselves? Those two ideas were enough for me. It felt right. It was my old friend James. I thought, Let’s go see what this thing is.
Were you drawn at all to the idea of the mystery of this character’s journey? Was piecing together that puzzle part of the appeal?
Definitely. You have to know that you don’t know. One does not know what the film is going to be when you jump off. It’s always a gamble. These were big ideas; very difficult ideas to get across in two hours, in a film format. I had no idea how we were going to get there. I’m not sure James even knew, but it was worthy of the journey.
There are definite influences in Ad Astra from Joseph Conrad; especially in the novel Heart of Darkness, which became the movie Apocalypse Now. That movie had a famously challenging shoot, but the finished film is widely considered to be a masterpiece.
We had to keep reminding ourselves, they didn’t have that thing figured out. They had to even reach out for help from others. And that’s OK.
At the same time, the character’s journey is very different. While Willard in Apocalypse Now slowly descends, it seems like Roy, in Ad Astra, actually warms up as he reckons with the ideas that he’s held all his life. Did that strike you?
In retrospect, I think we were originally heading towards that dark night of the soul, where our character has to go to the furthest reaches of our solar system to find himself utterly alone, to not have anyone else to rely on, or any TV to distract, or to escape with. So, he’s really left having to confront the self. The self with all of its griefs, all its buried pain and regrets.
Going back to those ideas about masculinity, I think we’ve grown up with these ideas: that we must be strong at all times, that we must not show weakness, that we must be capable. And we must not let anyone disrespect us, which is the one that always makes me laugh. Talk about a fool’s errand.
In my life, I’ve come to believe that it’s being open - for your kids, for your loved ones, your friends, and yourself - that you have to look at. You have to be able to fully acknowledge yourself. Really, what we’re talking about is really knowing yourself. Or constantly trying to know yourself. And being open about that with others.
You say that was something you’ve learned on your journey. Did it take a while to come to that realisation?
Yes, and I think it was why I was even drawn to this film at that time. It’s something I certainly was focused on, looking at, and questioning at that time. I think James was in the same place. Then, we all get out of it what we get out of it.
Do you think that there’s an end to that road, or do you think it’s an ongoing thing?
I think it’s ongoing. I think it’s always something you’re striving for. I’ve failed multiple times since then. This morning, probably. But then you get back on the horse faster and you can redirect.