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Fury - Brad Pitt interview

Fury

Interview by Rob Carnevale

BRAD Pitt talks about the appeal and the challenge of playing tank commander ‘Wardaddy’ in David Ayer’s World War II drama Fury.

He also discusses the logistics of filming inside a confined space, how he might feel if one of his own children were called up and what he hopes audiences – and veterans – will take away from the film. He was speaking at a press conference held to close the London Film Festival (2014).

Q. What did you make of Wardaddy when you first read the script? Did you get a lot of back story?
Brad Pitt: Yeah, I got a lot of back story. I got endless emails at 3am… just a barrage of back story that never makes the film but certainly informs the character. When I was talking to the veterans, they painted this picture of the exhaustion, the mental fatigue, the cold, the hunger, the accumulative effect of seeing trauma and horror and inflicting horror on a daily basis. We took that apart and began to film.

Q. There has been a lot discussed about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These men are clearly damaged in war, which the film deals with very respectfully. As performers, how important was it for you to bring that kind of truth?
Brad Pitt: It was precisely that. Again, it’s the picture they painted. The standard issue soldier experience seems to be the same on either side, so this was again not a film about sides and winning. For me, this was a film about that accumulative psychic trauma, that dent in the psyche that every soldier carries to some extent and endures and is then meant to go home with. I just want to add one other thing to that. There’s a fantastic book on the subject that helped me a lot. It’s by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman and it’s called On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society.

Q. How was your relationship with Logan Lerman off-camera? It can be very thorny on-screen but he also emerges as something of a father figure… He’s mentioned there was some conflict on the set…
Brad Pitt: Well, you’ve got to understand that when the film starts, we’ve been together for three and a half years and we just lost the fifth member of our family. So, at that point a new kid comes in and it’s that time in the war where the survival rate of a tank crew was not so good. At that point, they [the top brass] were having to pull people off the line and put them into tanks with no experience, and we had to harden him quickly because we need to get him to function or we may not be going home. The conundrum of it is that the Logan character comes in with everything we value at home – stability, ideals – and everything that we’re missing and have lost and now long for. But at the same time, it has to be crushed because we have to get him to perform.

Q. Was there a point in the preparation where every character had a back-story of who they were before the war?
Brad Pitt: We all had very specific back-stories. We worked a good three months at least, probably more, before the camera even started rolling.

Q. What do you hope cinema-goers will take away from this movie once they’ve seen it? What effect do you hope it will have upon them?
Brad Pitt: I mean, first I hope that the soldiers themselves walk away and feel that they were respectfully recognised and that there’s truth in it. You know, war is hell. Talking to the vets, and even vets who were recently home, one guy said: “Listen, war is ludicrous.” If you look at it, it’s ludicrous. So we don’t.” It is an amazing fact of human nature that one year we can be chopping each other up and the next year we can be sharing a pint. We seem to often devolve into conflict no matter how much we evolve and I think this film represents that.

Q. Do any of the cast have an insight into the warrior within? Could you use violence to protect your own ideals and the people you love?
Brad Pitt: I partially just answered that. It is true, we can talk and talk and talk and we can better ourselves. But we always seem to slip back into conflict.

Fury

Q. Did you take away any lessons from this experience as an actor and producer?
Brad Pitt: Absolutely. I was kind of given an honorary degree as producer on this one. But I learned a lot from this film. I really did. The greatest thing an actor can experience is discovery. The greatest thing an artist can walk away with is to learn something about themselves and the world and this was one of those. I think I can speak for all of us on that front. We all walked away absolutely enriched and for me specifically it was a real study in leadership, in earning one’s respect and being responsible for others. I walked away knowing I’m a better father because of the experience.

Q. What was shooting in such a confined space in the tank like?
Brad Pitt: First of all, there’s nothing agronomical about a tank. It’s not made for habitation in any way. There are no steps to get up it or down it. You get inside and if the turret moves you can take an appendage out or you can take it right off. You can lose your fingers putting the lid down. We were always getting banged up on something. But there became this point where we were forced to familiarise ourselves with the tank where we all found our little comfort spots. You’d know where your coffee wouldn’t vibrate off a position – cold instant coffee, by the way. I actually became quite proprietorial about the tank – it was our home. But you think of the real guys who lived in it – they literally sleep, eat, crap, fight, all of it inside the confines of this tin can.

Q. By coincidence your wife, Angelina Jolie, has also made a World War II film with Unbroken. Did you sometimes exchange research?
Brad Pitt: [Smiles] It was actually a lovely experience. We don’t normally work at the same time, we just got our schedules all cocked up, so it ended up this way. But I was studying the European theatre and she was studying the Pacific theatre. I was studying tanks and she was studying bombers and it was good fun for us. But where we deal with the psychic damage of the soldier, her film focuses on the triumph of the human spirit against horrific odds. It’s a very uplifting and very beautiful film.

Q. Is it possible to compare Aldo Ray [from Inglourious Basterds] with Wardaddy?
Brad Pitt: I don’t see it. They’re distinctly different animals to me.

Q. What would you think and what would you do if the US Army called up one of your children for war?
Brad Pitt: Well, if they call, they call and I don’t think there’s much you can do. I would worry as a father. I would make sure he was trained as best he could be and I think I would start praying.

Read our review of Fury

Read our interview with writer-director David Ayer