The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford - Brad Pitt interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
BRAD Pitt talks about his passion for The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford as both star and producer and why the story of Jesse James has long fascinated him.
He also talks about his continued work as a producer with his production company Plan B, fatherhood and how he comes to choose his roles and filmmaking projects…
Q. Do you see any parallels in this film with modern celebrity culture in the sense that Jesse James and Robert Ford almost have a celebrity/stalker relationship?
Brad Pitt: There are certain aspects of celebrity that I understand, although that’s not the main point of the story, but it is one of the by products. I certainly understand what its like to be hunted and have a bounty on my head but at least nobody is pointing guns at me [smiles]. The Jesse James character is certainly caught up in his own celebrity; he’s weary of living an alias and has really lost himself in the perpetuation of this outlaw life.
There’s another interesting aspect of celebrity in Casey’s character – in Robert Ford – that has an equivalent to today in the sense of this blind desire for fame without any real understanding of the consequences. Ford had the idea that through fame he would receive some personal validity, but he didn’t. I feel that these are not the main themes, but certainly themes that are at play in this film.
Q. Playing Jesse takes you from moments of intense calm to moments of extreme violence, often without dialogue. How do you prepare for a role like that?
Brad Pitt: We had a pretty good blueprint in the script that Andrew [Dominik] wrote and from our discussions. I guess it was just about keeping the reins of this mercurial aspect that worked against him knowing that there was an inevitable end, or believing that there was an inevitable end. But for myself, I’m from the same area that the film takes place and I had the luxury of working on the script with Andrew for a good year before the film started, so I was already intimate with the story and felt quite prepared walking into it.
Q. Given that Jesse was such a violent man, were you able to shake him off before you went home at night?
Brad Pitt: I’ve heard stories about that kind of thing but I have been lucky never to have had that affliction, I am usually ready to get on to other things.
Q. The film recalls the quote from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance that when the legend is bigger than the story you print the legend…
Brad Pitt: It’s a good observation, and this is more of a disassembling of the myth. Jesse was known as a kind of Robin Hood character and also it was known that his exploits were somewhat dubious – however, he perpetuated this myth. Our film really takes place at the end of all that, the last year of his life, at the end of all that celebrity. He and Robert Ford come into collision and collusion but it is a fair observation.
Q. The film has taken a long time to be released and there were stories of at least three different versions being cut. What’s your reaction to that?
Brad Pitt: Three versions? There were 43 versions [laughs]. It’s not the case. This is a very complex, slow burn, ’70s style of story telling and it deals with a lot of psychology, so it has to be just right. We were fortunate to have the time we needed to get it just right. The first version was four and a half hours long and I thought it was fantastic.
Q. This film isn’t as obviously commercial as something like, for example, Ocean’s Thirteen. Does that ever play a part in your decision-making process?
Brad Pitt: The choice or decision to take on a film certainly isn’t calculated as far as doing something that will be successful against something that will have a smaller audience. It’s all a gamble to me, I don’t bet on the horses; I just go with the story that speaks to me and that I feel strongly about which is this one. More importantly, I go with the people surrounding it and that I’m surrounded by and in this case that was Andrew and Casey and the rest of the cast.
As far as this having a bigger audience, I don’t even think that way. I come from the belief that all good films find their time whether it’s on opening week or sometime later. That’s certainly true with some of my favourite films that might relate to this film in terms of cadence like Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, or McCabe & Mrs Miller or Days of Heaven. I found them 10 to 20 years after they were made. My main concern is quality and I think there is quality to be found in all categories of filmmaking. That’s it for me, I keep it very simple.
Q. As well as starring you are also the producer. Why did you set up your own production company?
Brad Pitt: I got into it to be part of stories that wouldn’t necessarily be right for me as an actor. I got into it also seeing how films can go off the rails and thinking that I had something to offer there. Our simple edict has been great storytellers and great stories and that’s been our focus and it’s proven to be rewarding for us. As for the future, we have several things on the table. When we first saw Chopper we were pretty much blown away with it, I thought it was a very important film and very authentic original storytelling.
Q. Why call the company Plan B – that sounds like hedging your bets?
Brad Pitt: Plan B was for lack of a better title, I’m not that crazy about it myself. I had another partner at the time whose name was Brad and it was an uninspired uncreative day.
Q. As a new father, how do you find the balance between your work and your family?
Brad Pitt: Funnily enough, I get more done because there are no excuses. Family comes first so I only have this specific window of time available to me and because of that I actually get more done.
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- Read our review
- Brad Pitt interview
- Casey Affleck interview
- Andrew Dominik (director) interview
- View our Jesse James photo gallery
- Brad Pitt talks parenting at Venice
- Brad Pitt at Venice in photos
- Jesse James preview