VENICE, Italy—Brad Pitt is having quite a (shirtless) summer—first as a head-bashing Hollywood stuntman in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which is garnering the actor considerable Oscar buzz, and now as an emotionally-barren spaceman in Ad Astra.
The film, which made its world premiere at the 2019 Venice Film Festival, sees William Bradley Pitt play Roy McBride, a decorated astronaut who must travel to the edge of Neptune to find his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones), whose Colonel Kurtz-esque meltdown may be triggering a doomsday event.
According to Pitt, he and director James Gray (The Lost City of Z) have “been friends since the mid-'90s, since his first film, Little Odessa, and we’ve talked over the years about doing something together… I just see James at the pinnacle of his storytelling with a foot in the great cinematic heroes and yet an emergence of his own voice, and his own personal view.”
Pitt, whose company Plan B also produced the film, explained that the three-year journey to bring Ad Astra to the screen wasn’t easy. “This has been the most challenging film I’ve ever worked on because this story James devised is so delicate, and every clip of a frame too early or music or voiceover could tip the thing over and be too much, or be too obvious,” he said. “It was a constant effort just to try to maintain this balance, and try to keep this story unfolding in a very subtle, delicate way.”
One of the main themes in the film, Pitt said, was toxic masculinity—a topic that constantly arose in early conversations between star and director.
“In retrospect, I look back on our early conversations—James and I—and what we were really digging at, without labeling it so much, was this definition of masculinity,” offered Pitt. “Having grown up in an era where we were taught to be strong, not show weakness, don’t be disrespected, and so on and so forth, there’s certain value in that as far as entering into the world and holding your own, but there’s also a barrier that’s created with this kind of embracing of the self, because you’re denying, to a sense, those pains or the things [that make] you feel shame, whether real or imagined, the regrets in one’s life. Looking back, we were asking the question: Does actually being more open provide you with a better relationship with your loved ones, with your parents, with your kids, and with yourself?”
Over the course of the packed presser, Pitt also opened up about the advice he got from Gravity star/pal George Clooney about acting in outer space (“George and I shared some discomfort stories”), as well as his general thoughts on the cosmos (“I find space… an unbearably inhospitable, lonely type of existence… I’m much more comfortable out in nature.”)
Eventually, he was asked whether he wants to win that elusive Academy Award.
“Man, I just want to get this film out!” exclaimed a chuckling Pitt, before adding, “Every year, I see amazing talent getting acknowledged and amazing talent not getting acknowledged. And my feeling is, when your number comes up, it’s great fun, and when someone else’s number comes up it’s usually a friend, so it’s great fun still. How was that for a dodge?”