Funny Games - Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
MICHAEL Pitt and Brady Corbet, the two polite sociopaths at the centre of Michael Haneke’s American remake of Funny Games, talk about how they approached the material and what they are seeking from their careers…
Q. What was the appeal of playing two such psychopathic characters?
Brady Corbet: Honestly, when I met [writer-director] Michael Haneke about it I wasn’t really thinking about the role. I was really just thinking about doing something with him. I would have been glad to play a fucking bus boy in the film! I was more interested in the end result and the experience of working with a guy like that.
Michael Pitt: Mostly, for me, it was a good project. It had a really good script. I also knew that it would be really difficult for me to work with Michael Haneke but I knew that he’d make me a better actor, so I didn’t feel like I should not do the film.
Q. Had you seen the original and were you surprised that no changes had been made?
Brady Corbet: Yeah, I had seen the original. But halfway through I stopped bothering to read the rest of it. There was a certain point that I realised it had just been translated into English. So I was surprised, but kind of pleasantly.
Q. Do you think mainstream audiences are ready for something like this, which is as bleak as it is experimental?
Brady Corbet: I’m definitely interested. I would have been really f**king interested to see this movie come out in America, in English, in 1997. That would have been really interesting. It’s got to be f**king frustrating for Michael because since [his original] there have been movies trying to touch on the same thing but not even coming close to this film. So I’m curious. But if this film makes $1 or £100 million it’s the experience that’s satisfying, which it really was. If I like a film I don’t really worry too much about its reception. It’s when I’ve worked on a project [such as Thunderbirds] that I’m really dissatisfied with that I’m really concerned with how it’s going to be received. In that case, I’m either hoping that not too many people see it, or they don’t beat down on me too much. Something like this I feel very happy with, so it’s OK because it’s different. We’ll see what happens.
Q. How much did you learn from the experience of working with Michael Haneke?
Brady Corbet: He’s really, really amazing. I just directed something for the first time and I told Michael that it wouldn’t have happened without him. It really wouldn’t. It’s not finished and we’ll see what happens but so far I like what I’ve seen. But it was lovely to spend time with someone who’s so committed to these very, very radical ideas. And it’s nice to see somebody has radical eyes at 67-years-old as opposed to 16 or 26, or a lot of these kind of Doogie Howser filmmakers. He’s really special.
Michael Pitt: Doogie Howser? [Laughs] I’m sorry I just flashed back… It’s been a long morning. I think the biggest thing that Michael taught me was… it’s more that he reminded me that, hey, you’re smart, so be smart. I think that’s the biggest thing that maybe I learned from him – to be intelligent, because I am intelligent.
Q. How long did you get to work together to build the relationship you share on-screen, which is often unspoken?
Brady Corbet: We went sailing together…
Michael Pitt: That’s right, we did.
Brady Corbet: Michael doesn’t really rehearse…
Michael Pitt: I don’t?
Brady Corbet: I meant Michael Haneke…
Michael Pitt: [Laughs] That’s all I did was f**king rehearse!
Brady Corbet: But seriously, in the first few weeks of pre-production we were learning how to sail. I don’t know if that was responsible for our rapport on-screen or not but that was it.
Michael Pitt: It’s strange that he doesn’t rehearse given his theatre background and also the way that your dealt with is similar to the way that you’re dealt with when you do a play. But I guess he just picked actors that he knew would do what he wanted them to do.
Q. Does he shoot many takes?
Brady Corbet: Yeah. Sometimes he’s got it in two, but other times he doesn’t have it in 12.
Q. How easy is it to switch off from playing a character like this?
Brady Corbet: I don’t think that we play emotionally damaged characters. I really feel like we’re just a device [for the film]. I think it was much harder on Naomi [Watts], Tim [Roth], and Devon [Gearhart], the young boy in the film. But even he was a pretty happy go lucky kid. He seemed to be able to turn it off and on, so I don’t think it was following him home at all.
Q. Did you devise any back-story for your characters?
Michael Pitt: No, but that was kind of the point. I tried to approach it how I normally approach a character, by looking into his past or the psychology of why he’s doing what he’s doing, but every time I did that I just hit a wall. Like Brady was saying, it’s more of a device. It’s almost like they don’t exist.
Q. You both seem to be actors that are interested in working with good directors and finding challenging projects rather than taking the more obvious mainstream route and trading on your good looks. Is that fair to say?
Brady Corbet: Absolutely. I’ve made some mistakes and made a couple of decisions that were just based on paying my rent but I’ve only made one really grave error in my life and I don’t want to make the same mistake twice. I mean it’s one thing to make a bad film that you went into with the best of intentions, but it’s another thing to start a project that you know is shit and then it is shit and there’s no way to really justify what it is that attracted you to begin with. It’s not a question I ever want to have to answer again. I love cinema, I live for it, I’m a total cine-file and I’ve had the ultimate education by working with these guys. So, it’s been great.
Michael Pitt: Ah, you know, I’m a f**king idiot! I’m not going for the cash, as of yet. But to tell you the truth, from where I started to where I’m at right now I’m loaded in retrospect to the opportunities that I have. As far as money and the scheme of the world, I don’t cash in. I do films because I’m sensitive and maybe stupid, and that I feel like I’m going to have fun on and feel like I’m going to have a good experience with. It’s not about punching in and selling soap.