The Many Revolutions of Brad Pitt
The superstar with multiple Oscar nominations has everything: a brilliant career, a partner he wants to marry and, in "Moneyball," a seeming disaster he turned into a masterpiece. Still, Hollywood's producer-actor confesses to earlier bouts of depression and a relentless need to question just about everything (himself included): "This idea of perpetual happiness is crazy and overrated."
The idea of making a movie about math, as Pitt jokingly describes Moneyball, is one of them.
The project began its long journey five years ago, when Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal showed Pitt Michael Lewis' 2003 nonfiction book about baseball team GM Billy Beane and the statistics wunderkind who helped him transform the Oakland Athletics. At the time, writer Stan Chervin and director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) were developing it with a decidedly comedic touch. Pitt looked at the screenplay, and at Beane himself, and wanted to go in a different direction: "I read the book, and this idea of second chances and how we sometimes let ourselves be rated too much by others -- we put so much emphasis on a paycheck or what a magazine says -- made me think, 'Oh my God, there's something much bigger here.' "
He offered to leave the film with Frankel, but the director graciously departed, allowing Pitt to develop the story as he saw fit. Not a baseball fan (though he says he loves sports, especially football and soccer), it was the nuances of Beane's character that intrigued him. And so, working with producers Michael De Luca and Rachael Horovitz, he brought on Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List) to script and asked his friend Steven Soderbergh (Ocean's Eleven) to direct.
Pitt comes alive recollecting the enthusiasm he felt at getting them all on board, literally rubbing his hands with glee, but after Soderbergh reworked Zaillian's screenplay, Sony had second thoughts. "We were supposed to leave on a Sunday to start shooting, and Steven handed it in on a Wednesday or Thursday, and the studio was not feeling good," says Pitt. "It's not that they didn't like the idea; they did not like the price" -- about $60 million.
What happened next has been amply recounted: how Pascal pulled the plug; how she gave Soderbergh and Pitt several days to shop the project; how everybody passed. "Nobody wanted to buy disgraced goods," he adds. "It was dead."
But Pitt refused to let it die, calling Pascal and urging her to stick with the movie. "There would be no Moneyball without him," says producer Scott Rudin. "He saved it single-handedly, and he deserves the credit for its existing at all."
Pitt now approached Miller, the relatively untested director who had made only one feature, 2005's Capote (along with the 1998 documentary The Cruise), and who flew from New York to meet him, sitting with the star in a modernist house on his compound, surrounded by tools and models and outlines for his architectural ventures.
Pitt was cautious, given that Miller had made nothing since Capote. "It's usually a warning sign when a director doesn't work for many years," he explains, "but it's because he's so choosy. The fact he had such an investment in the material -- which was apparent in our first meeting -- was a big green light for me."
Now he had to persuade the studio. "There was a lot of disagreement about where this should go," he admits.
With Aaron Sorkin brought in to rewrite while Zaillian moved on to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and with Rudin added as overseer, Pitt and Miller reworked every element during the following nine months.
"We talked a lot about documentarians and 1970s films and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest -- and how the character in that movie is the same beast at the end. That was relevant, because some people involved wanted to have a big epiphany and change, which wasn't true to life."
The filmmakers resisted attempts to reduce Beane's journey to the "arc" of a conventional Hollywood script. "I had some sleepless nights," says Pitt. "It was not without its pressure."
His determination to buck tradition continued even when he began preparing to shoot the film, having long conversations with Beane and hanging out to talk ball with the players. It carried into the shoot, when Pitt backed Miller's decision to use long shots rather than close-ups, letting them play without quick-cutting, an "elegance" Pitt admires.
None of this was accidental; none of it would have been possible without Pitt's willingness to challenge authority. "I do have a kind of knee-jerk reaction to go the other way than I'm supposed to," he notes slyly.
The result is a best picture nomination, along with the one for Tree of Life, which Pitt also made through Plan B Entertainment, the companyhe runs with Dede Gardner. Together, they showPitt the producer and Pitt the star workingspectacularly in tandem, with a boldness and depth nobody could have imagined when he started acting some 25 years ago.
Says one friend, "He's fully matured into a man."